Chair’s message, March 2016

The SCVACS is entering the aqueous phase of its 2016 event programming.

Our next two months’ events involve water, from the different perspectives of politics and purification.  Where’s the chemistry?  See items 4, 9 17, 21 & 23 on the “What’s Next” list in my February 2016 Chair’s Message.

Our April speaker is Dr. Peter Gleick, author of Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World’s Fresh Water Resources and Bottled & Sold: The Story Behind Our Obsession with Bottled Water.

Dr. Gleick is the co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank that carries out independent research and outreach to improve the understanding of threats to sustainability.  Based in Oakland, the Pacific Institute incorporates into studies of water policy the interrelated issues of environment, security, and economic development on global and statewide scales.   More will be written on Dr. Gleick and his SCVACS presentation in our April newsletter.

Our March event is a chemist’s tour of the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center (SVAWPC).  This center is not to be confused with a water treatment plant.  The purification center’s incoming water comes from a waste water treatment facility.  It is secondary treated waste water (recycled water) when it enters the center’s purification process and exits as pure, clean water that meets all state drinking regulations.  The process includes steps of microfiltration (100 nanometer pore size), reverse osmosis, and UV irradiation. The resulting water is nearly devoid of dissolved material, so ‘pure’ that its use as drinking water is brought into question because of its potential to extract nutrients.  Currently the water from the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center is only used for enhancing the quality of recycled water.

Sam Kean – author of The Disappearing Spoon, an outstanding collection of short stories about elements of the periodic table – provides us with an apt introduction to the March SCVACS event with his recent article in the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s periodical, Distillations. Waste Not, Want Not – Is recycled wastewater too much to swallow? describes the “toilet-to-tap” recycling of water as once offensive yet likely to become mainstream as droughts and overpopulation persist.  From a public-health perspective, recycled waste water is purer than tap water and far purer than bottled water.  “By the time water in the Mississippi River reaches New Orleans, scientists estimate that five different animals have swallowed each molecule and urinated it out”.

Kean’s colorful description of a water molecule’s history, though lacking in literature citation, reminds of the shared nature of water, the solvent of life on our planet.

Closer to home, he cites the example of San Diego where a $2.9-billion sewage-treatment plant expansion to recycle wastewater is planned to fill one third of its water needs, compared to current importing of 90% of its water from distant sources.

The Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center in San Jose is the largest advanced water purification plant in Northern California.  This state-of-the-art facility opened in 2014.

Join us on Saturday morning, March 26, for a tour of the center and to see Sam Kean’s writing in action.  The registration form required for the tour can be found in this month’s newsletter.  A link to the Powerpoint presentation for the tour is at the bottom of this article.

The Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Distillations quarterly magazine contains outstanding writing on science, culture and history.  Contact me for a free trial subscription:

Miguel Silva’s outstanding presentation at our ACS tour of the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Treatment Center: SVAWPC_ACS_Tour_03-26-2016_Silva

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