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Safeguarding the World’s Water Supply

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A growing population is putting increasing demands on the world’s water supply; more water is needed for drinking, agriculture and industry, along with more contamination being introduced from waste products. It is vital that we safeguard water sources to protect ecosystems and ensure that future populations will have access to clean, safe water.
To discuss current water supply challenges and some of the solutions being developed to help overcome them, we spoke to Craig Marvin, Global Environmental Industry Manager at Agilent Technologies. 

The state of the world’s water supply is of increasing concern. Can you tell us about some of the challenges facing the population?

Craig Marvin: The global population is currently more than 7.3 billion and grows every day. Millions live without water sanitation and lack access to clean potable water. Because of this, billions of dollars are lost due to health effects related to unsafe drinking water. The United Nations predicts water demand will increase 55% by 2050 and expects a 40% shortfall in water availability by 2030. 

Sustaining the growing population will require significant increases in crop yields per acre and developing a sustainable access to clean safe water. The use of chemicals in agriculture increase opportunity for water contamination. Increased water demand for irrigation represents a high percentage of human water usage, and can exacerbate water shortage in drought challenged areas. 

Drought conditions and water shortages drive demand for new water sources including desalination and reuse of treated waste water for municipal purposes, e.g., irrigation and direct potable drinking water operations. Similarly, everyday industrial contamination introduces new chemicals to the ecosystem. 

How is Agilent Technologies helping to address these challenges?

CM: Understanding chemical composition of waste effluent, source waters and finished drinking water help to protect the environment and human population. Through collaborations with key opinion leaders, our technical teams help support innovative research focused on identifying, assessing and quantifying chemical contaminant loads in environmental samples, how these chemicals affect cell metabolism and intracellular metabolic and physiological processes, and understanding processes for water purification and reuse. Agilent manufactures research and analytical tools that facilitate the identification of emerging contaminants and assessment of their chemical toxicity. Our analytical systems are the gold standard for environmental monitoring requirements, especially our gas chromatograph (GC)/mass selective detector (MSD) solutions. 

You can find out more about some of the ways that Agilent is helping to address the world’s water supply challenges here

Can you describe the impact pharmaceuticals have on water supplies and resources?

CM: Pharmaceuticals and personal care products are becoming ubiquitous in environmental waters. Research has demonstrated that the presence of hormones in water has affected the reproductive development of fish and amphibians. Concerns exist that exposure of developing adolescents may have similar disruptive effects on their endocrine systems. In most cases, active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) are present at concentrations below therapeutic doses but the toxicological effect of chronic (daily) exposure to humans is unknown. These compounds can undergo natural transformation that yield secondary compounds (metabolites) having potentially greater toxicological impact. Research is underway to understand how the interplay between varying families of compounds at lower doses affects biological systems. Drinking water treatment may not remove all APIs from treated water raising concern that the purification processes and final polishing can yield disinfection by-products that present a risk to biological systems. 

How does Agilent Technologies help to address these issues?

CM: Agilent actively supports research involving water safety, quality and sustainability. We collaborate with a number of laboratories working to identify emerging contaminants and related transformation products and to characterize water treatment efficiency and biological exposure in aquatic systems. These relationships provide experts in their field access to analytical technology that elevates the depth of investigation and help drive innovation that allows for optimization of treatment systems. 

Similarly we support regulatory agency research into chemical risk, update existing methods and developments of new methods designed to monitor environmental contaminant levels, regulate industrial discharge permit compliance, and ensure that potable water from municipal distribution system meets regulatory requirements. Our analytical solutions are used for regulatory analyses performed by routine third party laboratories accredited to perform compliance monitoring. 


You can find out more about how Agilent is helping to address the impact of pharmaceuticals on water supplies here.

Can you tell us about some of your research partnerships that aim to safeguard water sources?

CM: Agilent has a long standing partnership with many experts including Prof. Shane Snyder at the University of Arizona. Dr. Snyder’s research focuses on water sustainability, water reuse and understanding the biological impact of transformation and disinfection by products. Collaborative projects involve understanding efficiency of waste water treatment processes, characterizing chemical removal and transformation through the treatment process, production of disinfection by-products through drinking water polishing and the toxicological impact of these by-products on biological systems. 

Through his involvement with the Network of reference laboratories, research centres and related organisations for monitoring of emerging environmental substances (NORMAN Network), a consortium of laboratories monitoring chemical contamination of the Danube River, our collaboration with Prof. Christian Zwiener helps develop methods for identification of emerging contaminants and transformation products in natural waters. 

The Advancing Canadian Wastewater Assets (ACWA) represents a unique research opportunity. Built in conjunction with the Pine Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, ACWA opens the door to a direct access of waste water effluent to laboratory, pilot plant and controlled field streams for environmental contaminant and exposure research. Agilent’s ongoing partnership with Prof. Lee Jackson, Director of ACWA and Professor at the University of Calgary supports research with several unique approaches to characterize treatment processes and environmental impact. The research streams mimic aquatic ecosystems that can be dosed under controlled experimental design to measure the chemical effects on the ecosystem. The pilot plant provides a platform for evaluating novel and developing technologies for wastewater treatment, and the laboratory supports non targeted screening for as-yet unknown chemicals and quantitative analysis using Agilent analytical solutions.

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Craig Marvin was speaking to Anna MacDonald, Editor at Technology Networks.