Author Archives: sparrowofwisdom

Chlorination or chloramination? What is best for the drinking water industry

It is common knowledge that chlorine and its compounds are used to disinfect water before it is fit for human consumption, and this has been the case since a cholera outbreak in Maidstone, UK, in 1897, was cured by disinfecting the water.

As science and technology have advanced though, so has our understanding of the water we drink and it’s health implications. Currently, it would appear that although chlorination of drinking water is eliminating waterborne diseases and viruses, it can actually create carcinogens in our drinking water.

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Pesky pesticides

An article published online yesterday by the Guardian (a UK newspaper) stated that a major component of slug poison has been found in one in eight of England and Wales’ drinking water sources.

The chemical, metaldehyde, which is used by farmers to protect their crops from slugs, is almost impossible to remove from drinking water, with concentrations up to 100 times greater than the maximum contaminant level set out by EU regulations. Although it was been said that a person would need to consume 1000 litres for every day of their life for the poison to affect humans, nothing has been mentioned about the possible effects on the aquatic life in these bodies of water.

The oxymoronic Toyota Prius?

The Toyota Prius, called Prii collectively, have been a topic of great interest and confusion to me since I first read about them in 2003. Branded a green and economical car, people flocked to purchase one. As of March 2013, 2.93 million Prii have been sold worldwide.

Prii come in various models, but most have 2 engines, one petrol, and one electric. With power generating gimmicks such as recycling energy wasted when braking, the latest models are reported to produce 50mpg. Very economical and green, don’t you think? The petrol motor is used to power the car when the electric motor runs out of juice (which will re-charge through useage).


The Toyota Prius, hybrid car. Source

However, when you consider the various ‘rare’ metals and minerals that are used in the production of this car and its batteries, and the method used to extract them, their green credentials drop considerably.

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The financial and environmental costs of drinking water

Most people in the developed world take for granted the fact that they have pure drinking water plumbed into various rooms in their houses. I’m sure, when you turned the tap on to brush your teeth this morning, you didn’t think about where the water came from, or how much it cost to get the water to you, or how wasting water can impact the environment.


I was procrastinating whilst writing up my thesis today and I did a couple of small calculations, which showed that the cost of treating 1000 litres of water equates to costs of about $2 USD. The average American uses 100l a day and the average Brit uses 150l a day (and we thought the Americans were gluttonous).

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Hillside farming and the loss of biodiversity in National Parks

As I have mentioned before, I am very interested in sustainable agriculture. Whilst doing my usual morning sweep of tweets, I spotted a post about a recent report, ‘The State of Nature’, published on the RSPB website. This report looks at the current state of ecological decline in the UK, with worrying findings, such as 65% of UK upland species are in decline. The report was foreword by Sir David Attenborough and has received great interest, especially via Twitter. Attenborough suggests that increasing human population is one of the first factors affecting the loss of the UK’s wildlife.


However, a report by George Monbiot, a writer for the Guardian newspaper and author of recently published book; “Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding”, states that increasing human population is not directly to blame, and instead pins the main blame on government hand-outs and hill farmers.

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Terrestrial aquifers contribute to sea level rise – out of sight/out of mind?

Recently, i remembered a piece of work i completed in my 3rd year of my undergraduate degree, examining the detrimental effects a sudden draining of Lake Superior, one of the Great Lakes in USA and Canada, could have on the Gulf Stream/North Atlantic Drift. Although possibly a little far-fetched, but definately plausible, this memory was jogged this morning by an article published recently by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) (2013) showing that, over the last 100 years, USA has depleted enough of its underground freshwater supply to fill up Lake Erie twice.

Lake Erie is the 4th largest of the 5 Great Lakes in North America, and the 10th largest globally, containing 116 cubic miles of water. To look at that another way, between 2001 and 2008, Americans brought enough groundwater above ground to contribute to 2.3% of worldwide ocean level rise (USGS, 2013).

The article continues, explaining that lowering aquifer levels can result in springs and wetlands (a huge carbon sink) turning dry, and are also removing a dependable source of water for local communities. Ultimately, in agriculture, this will result in an essential movement from water intensive crops such as corn, towards a different agricultural practice, so land owners can continue to turn revenue.

continental-us-aquifers525 This map of major aquifers in the U.S. highlights the High Plains Aquifer (green) and the Dakota Aquifer (white, outlined in black), both depleted over the past century (L.F. Konikow, U.S. Geological Survey)

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The importance of locally grown produce

I will start by admitting that my posts are less scientifically based than other writers on this blog, and instead they are topical subjects that I personally have a passion about. Nevertheless, here is my latest offering on my opinion on how important locally grown produce is.

Locally grown produce is a common push/pull factor for the ecologically conscious of us when food shopping. Strawberries from Kent obviously have a smaller carbon footprint than strawberries from the States, and eggs from England have greener credentials than eggs from Egypt. And this is great; it is a step in the right direction if UK, as a nation, wants to reduce their impact upon this world. The supermarkets are slowly cottoning on too.1

However, in the grand scale of things, this change, I think, is pretty small, and I propose that where possible, local communities, such as small towns and villages, should sell their excess produce (arable and livestock) locally. There are numerous benefits of this, which I will outline below:

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Aquaponics – low cost, green, low carbon and sustainable?

I have always had an interest in agriculture from as long as I can remember, stemming from trips to my grandparents’ house and walking through their vegetable garden. I have always had a patch of waste land in the garden in which I could grow my produce with varying degrees of results. Beetroot crops eaten entirely by worms, strawberry plants burnt by an intense summer, and my refusal to use non-organic fertiliser/plant food to keep the plants healthy has resulted in numerous poor harvests, but other harvests have been good, including 36 gallons of cider from apples one year, several large pumpkins and many carrots/potatos/berries of various varieties. In my humble opinion, I think it is becoming more and more important that people can rely upon supermarkets less, by having a local, green access to produce.


(Me with one of my home grown pumpkins…!)

This led me to research an increasingly popular agricultural practice called aquaponics. Stemmed from hydroponics (growing of plants in a mineral rich water, with no soil), aquaponics introduces fish to the system, which completes the nutrient cycle.

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Anti-desertification and its potential to revolutionise the modern world

I was recently introduced to a talk on the TED website which expresses genuine ideas about re-establishing areas that have been struck by desertification.

The speaker, Allan Savory, suggests that two thirds of the world is desertifying, involving most continents, as seen below.


Many people have been led to believe, through school and university education, that over grazing causes desertification, and due to this aridity, very little rain falls, maybe only one a year. Most grassland in arid environments contains soils that are covered in a thick ‘crust’ of algae, which makes the ground hard and causes major surface runoff, meaning that any rainfall cannot penetrate the ground and provide life. It runs off into gullies and any rainfall remaining on the surface is instantly evaporated. Furthermore, bare land emits carbon as the organic matter in the soil becomes available for decomposition. 10,000 years of extremely knowledgeable pasturers has been blamed for the desertification, followed by 100 years of scientists stating that overgrazing has caused the desertification. However, all knowledge on this area is about to be turned on its head, following a revolutionary discovery by Savory.

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The perils of safe drinking water


River draining catchment and feeding reservoir at Alwen Reservoir, North Wales

I’m sure one of the last things to run through your mind when pouring a glass of water, taking a shower or filling your very middle-class espresso machine for your morning cup of ‘Joe’, is that the water coming out of your tap can be potentially lethal. Well, over this past academic year, I have been discovering the processes of cleaning and disinfecting water for human consumption, and the health risks associated with it. The whole process, from catchment to reservoir and beyond, is very sleep inducing for many ecologists (as I have discovered at various presentations), but I will attempt to briefly explain the process and then the potential dangers.

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