The environmental benefits of biking a short (< 5 miles) distance rather than using a internal combustion motorized vehicle are so numerous and significant I am not going to waste internet elaborating on them. (Yes, it even saves water). They are similar to the obvious benefits of putting your empty Coke can in the recycling bin versus throwing it in the trash. The question then becomes: Why don’t we consistently bike to work? Developing some of my own personal excuses, here is why I suspect we don’t:
1. Out of Shape
Biking is work, exerting a force over a distance. Using your legs to turn the crank to move your body is somewhat like staring at yourself in a mirror. A couple of things become immediately obvious to me: my weight and my aerobic capacity, and I don’t like what I see. There is a sublime ignorance to sitting in a car. I can’t sense how my physical body is affecting the transportation, and I don’t become winded by stepping on the gas pedal. And this ignorance is comforting, like putting your head in the sand. When this ignorance is shattered it can be tough to pick up the pieces. Thus, I don’t like to bike to work because I don’t like being reminded of how I have neglected my physical self prior to 9AM (or after 5PM). It’s the same reason that I dont step on the scale after brushing my teeth. Its just…easier that way.
2. The Raw Environment
The environment can be intimidating, even a little scary. Maybe thats why most newscasts in America do the weather right after the top stories, and the Weather Channel can make a very pedestrian rainy day seem like the next weather apocalypse. You need to know: should I be worrying about this? Most of the time that answer is no, unless you are on a bike, then the answer is yes. The wind, rain, snow, sun (do I need sunscreen?), are all factors of which you have no control over, and can be quite menacing when you are pedaling yourself to work against the elements. This lack of control, this subservience to nature, can seem pretty intimidating. It is the opposite of how we prefer things, most of the time. My hair gets messed up, I get wet, the wind dries out my face - nature is messing with my physical self.
All of this makes the climate control, reclining seats, and windshield of our automobiles very attractive. I can get to where I am going in total comfort, unaffected by and somewhat oblivious to the raw nature on the other side of the glass.
3. All My Stuff
My computer, charger, phone, phone charger, soccer cleats, textbook, pencils, headphones and water bottle all weigh me down. And I need all of these things, or at least I think I do. I can’t bike, because how would I get all my stuff where I need it. It makes the trunk of my car seem like something I cannot live without. I need the space.
However, if my life were simpler, I would not have all this cargo (weight) to transport along with my body to work. In this way, using a bike as primary transportation requires a revaluation of the material complexity of my life. This can be quite challenging, and makes biking less attractive.
4. Don’t Live Near Work
Many of us live relatively far away from where we must commonly be (i.e., the office). This wasn’t always the case, and we have the Interstate Highway System to thank for that, in part. Don’t get me wrong: the highway system in America is a national treasure; however, prior to its existence, Levittown was not capable of existing, and driving miles and miles into centralized commercial/industrial locations was just not a thing.
This suburban development in America has taking biking (or walking) to work from a common occurrence to something rife with nostalgia, or even odd. But now, in the age of $4.00 gasoline, climate change and traffic jams we must ask: why do we live this far away from where we are often required to be?
I can’t tweet while biking. I can’t tell all my “friends” how my night went while I am biking that morning, or what funny thing my roommate said at breakfast. I can’t look at your pictures on Facebook. I can’t call, email or text. I can’t sneak a peek at the headlines. I can’t purchase some new shoes. I just need to be a human being, alone (unless tandem bike), with my own legs and my own brain. Perhaps this is something that has become very difficult to do. Am I capable of being ‘offline’ long enough to bike to work?
So few people are aware of where their water comes from. This ignorance is inherently linked to environmental and infrastructure issues. Protecting and investing in our natural and built infrastructure becomes easier when we acknowledge the complexity, beauty and value of our drinking water systems.
Last week I eclipsed a significant training landmark: I’ve run over 1000 miles this year. At first this seems like a big accomplishment. It took 170 hours of running to do this. Some people have asked me how I find time to run almost every day; however, when put into the context of the global water crisis, the time I spent running pales by comparison to the hours of work done by those collecting water every day.
For example take Malawi, a wonderful country I have had the pleasure of visiting twice while volunteering for Water For People. A recent paper by Stanford University1 estimates that the average amount of time someone in Malawi spends fetching water is 32 minutes, every day. This translates into 195 hours, every year. This is significantly more time than I have spent running this year. And water is quite heavy, 8.3 lbs. per gallon. A 5-gallon bucket weights over 40 lbs. Obviously, I would not make it very far running if I had that much extra weight to carry.
This illustrates the severity of the situation in Malawi and many other developing areas. In just one day, it is estimated that more than 152 million hours of women and girl’s time is consumed collecting water for domestic use2. Taken together, the lost productive time due to water collection is greater than the combined number of hours worked in a week by employees at Wal-Mart, UPS, McDonald’s, IBM, Target, and Kroger, according to Gary White, co-founder of water.org.
So, if you find yourself remotely impressed by the amount of running I have done this year, please consider the immeasurable work done by the hundreds of millions of people every day to acquire water.
I have achieved 50% of my fundraising goal for the NYC Marathon. Thank you to all those who have supported this cause. Anyone interested in donating to my Water For People - NYC Marathon fundraiser can do so through this link: www.crowdrise.com/goodwill
There is a significant amount of training that goes into a marathon. During the course of preparing runners complete at least 250 miles, most much more. Therefore, if you watch a marathon and you see a person run 26.2 miles you are only witnessing 10% of the running work that person has done, at most. The key to marathon success is sustained running over a long period of time. Day after day.
The same goes for international water development. “Is water still running?” is perhaps the most important question when considering water initiatives worldwide. In this video, Water For People CEO, Ned Breslin, outlines the focus his organization places on answering that question, while describing the technology developed by Water For People that helps them make sure water is running, all the time.
I am not a great runner, but increasing global water and sanitation access is a great cause. I am running the 2013 New York City Marathon to raise funds and awareness for Water For People (www.waterforpeople.org). They envision a world where no one lacks access to water and sanitation, and I am happy to support them any way I can. Over the course of training, I will be blogging more about Water For People and drawing connections between water + sanitation issues and the marathon. My blog can be found at www.joeontap.com Thank you!
On November 3rd, I will run the New York City Marathon to support Water For People. Water For People envisions a world where everyone has access to safe drinking water and suitable sanitation facilities, forever. The task they are undertaking is great—over a billion people lack access to clean water and sanitation. Also, many attempts to increase water and sanitation access have failed. However, I believe that Water For People has an outstanding approach that includes developing local entrepreneurs, expanding education and partnering with local stakeholders—all combining to make programs that have a lasting impact. In addition, Water For People has been rated in the highest possible category by Charity Navigator for 10 consecutive years, placing them in the top 1% of charities nationwide.
Over the next two months, I will be raising awareness and funds for this great cause (in addition to doing a fair amount of training runs). I will be joined by a fantastic team of six other runners, all doing our best to complete the marathon while supporting Water For People. As part of my entry into the NYC Marathon I have committed to raising $2,500 for Water For People. Donations to my fundraising campaign can be given online at www.crowdrise.com/goodwill
I hope you will join me in this cause. In the coming weeks, I will be blogging more about Water For People’s work, and the experience of marathon training. Thank you!
1. The water community is vibrant and dynamic, with over 11,000 people attending ACE13. The list of organizations represented included consulting firms, research institutes, universities, water utilities, small businesses, non-profits, government organizations and many others.
2. Dr. Mike McGuire is a cool guy, and more than willing to lend a hand to young professionals. Also, he’s humble about the success of his new book.
3. Post-filter manganese contactors are gaining traction as a viable manganese treatment solution. This approach is currently being adopted at a water utility in Connecticut.
4. Corrosion products (e.g, rust, etc.) in water distribution systems play a role in the biodegradation of disinfection by-products (DBPs).
5. Plastic pipe coatings are a sound alternative to physical replacement of lead service lines. Rather than full excavation, certain coatings can be placed inside the pipe, thus keeping water out of contact with the lead material.
6. The AWWA and its sponsor organizations really invest in their young professionals (YPs). There were numerous events at ACE13 that focused on YP issues. This included a career fair, an evening networking event, a breakfast and a social media scavenger hunt.
7. The “Universities Forum” at #ACE provided a unique opprotunity for students to present their research to a larger audience. There were many interesting talks there, and I hope more attention continues to be payed to this important feature of ACE.
8. Desalination membranes don’t necessarily do a great job of removing bromide, which I assumed they did. This can lead to issues with brominated forms of DBPs even after using reverse osmosis (RO) membranes.
9. Water For People has an amazing new office space. They’re kicking butt.
10. It’s harder to run in Denver than in Amherst. Elevation and heat being the main factors. Also, in related news, Denver consideres 30% humidity “very humid”.
11. Denver Water is leading on water conservation. They do this with expertly executed engineering, operating, marketing and education. Its a model for other utilities. Also, their water is tasty.
12. Biofiltration can be successful at removing dissolved manganese. However, the final fate of the manganese in this process is not 100% understood. This is an area of emerging research.
The first day of the conference was very busy, in the most positive of ways. It’s difficult to find time to sit down and write a proper blog post, but I at least wanted to enumerate the things that stuck out during this first day.
1. The history of using activated carbon in drinking water treatment is fascinating. Also, the uptake capacity of activated carbon for emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals etc. is much higher than for bulk dissolved organic carbon.
2. Water For People knows how to throw a party.
3. The impact of Marcellus Shale development in the Pittsburgh watershed can be quantified by looking for changes in bromide concentration in tributaries to the Allegheny River.
4. The Rocky Mountains are stunning (already knew this, but nice to be reminded).
5. The oxidation of brominated species with ozone can lead to the formation of NDMA, a disinfection by-product of growing concern.
The AWWA Annual Conference and Exposition (ACE) is replete with in-depth presentations, competitions, networking opportunities and some old-fashioned fun. Its a little hectic, and getting the most out of it can be challenging amid the fast-paced environment. Fortunately, AWWA has created a mobile application for ACE13. I recently downloaded the application (its free) and found it quite valuable.
The app provides important logistical information about the conference all in one place. This includes contact information for the convention center, transportation providers and most of the popular hotels in the area. News from the AWWA Facebook and Twitter account is also streamed to the app. The most valuable feature is the Events feature, which contains a full conference schedule. The app also allows any given schedule event to be downloaded to the users mobile calendar. Essentially, its like having a conference program on your phone.
Right now, science and I are not BFFs. I need to have one of these days soon. Yogi Berra said “you can’t think and hit at the same time”. At some point, and in some ways I think this can be said of lab work, too.
In an ever-changing world, the basic design of the toilet remains unchanged. Through a humorous critique of this “antique device”, Mathew Lippincott asks us to think a little harder about how society deals with the problems of sanitation. (Filmed at TEDxConcordiaUPortland)
Each week, we choose four of our favorite talks, highlighting just a few of the enlightening speakers from the TEDx community, and its diverse constellation of ideas worth spreading. Browse all TEDxTalks here »
Last night, our research team won first prize in the MinutePitch competition component of the UMass Innovation Challenge. We pitched our Green Latrine technology and sanitation-as-a-business model to a panel of judges, in competition with 33 other teams from the university. I am proud of our team for their hard work on this. I think I speak for all of them when I say that it feels encouraging to have positive reinforcement for our idea and research. Clearly, there is significant potential to develop our technology in a way that provides sanitation access to those that currently lack it.
Many small drinking water systems are at a comparative disadvantage due to their size (e.g., limited financial and human resources), and sometimes due to their remote location. The challenge in meeting emerging regulations can be a formidable one. The objective of this research is to test the ability of ferrate oxidation to solve a wide range of water quality and treatment problems faced by small systems. The general working hypothesis is that ferrate is: (1) more effective and less prone to unwanted side effects than conventional technologies such as chlorination, chloramination, and permanganate oxidation, and that it is (2) comparable in performance to advanced technologies such as ozonation or chlorine dioxide oxidation that are more costly, more hazardous or require specialized expertise to operate.
Bench-scale experiments were conducted using raw water from numerous drinking water systems representing a wide range of quality characteristics and treatment needs. In general, primary treatment goals included the oxidation and removal of inorganic contaminants such as iron or manganese in the presence of dissolved organic material (3-5 mg/L TOC). In this way, the ability of ferrate to oxidize various contaminants while producing lower levels of regulated disinfection by-products than other common oxidants was assessed. In addition, some samples were spiked with wastewater contaminants, in an effort to understand the ability of ferrate to control such trace contaminants under conditions typical of water treatment. Conditions (e.g., ferrate dose, pH, etc.) were established to achieve a range of treatment goals.
Results from the bench-scale experiments indicate that ferrate is a powerful oxidant that rapidly oxidizes inorganic contaminants such as iron and manganese. However, fractionation of oxidized metals shows that oxidation with ferrate often yields colloidal particles that may challenge subsequent treatment processes. These particles could be effectively destabilized through charge neutralization.
In the presence of naturally occurring organic matter, oxidation of inorganic contaminants was negatively affected. Complete oxidation of iron and manganese in waters with elevated TOC required many times the estimated stoichiometric dose for complete oxidation and removal. Analysis of chlorine demand and disinfection by-product (DBP) formation following ferrate addition showed slightly decreased chlorine demand and lower amounts of DBPs.
Data from the bench-scale experiments will be presented and conclusions will be drawn regarding implications for treatment at the full scale. We will provide guidance for the beneficial use of ferrate in small systems and highlight the ways it can be used to improve water quality, lower cost and provide a more sustainable treatment alternative to other technologies.
Our latrine structure is nearly complete. From the outsiders perspective we have finished. While the latrine itself is done there remains a significant amount of work related to the start-up of the microbial communities required for our fuel-cell.
For example, we need a critical mass of microbes in both the anode and cathode of the fuel cell prior to sending any waste to the system. So, we must in inoculate our MFC and provide organic material. The solution: dog food. By adding the dog food to our bacteria, we can feed and grow the bacterial until they can handle human waste. The warm and humid climate of southern Ghana creates an excellent environment for bacterial growth. This, in combination with the locally sourced dog food, should enable us to start-up our system relatively quickly with a strong microbial community.
Our team has been working quite hard these past to weeks in Nyakrom and we have agreed to take a break this weekend. Friday was African Union Day, which gave us a nice long weekend.
This time off as afforded us the opprotunity to hit that important pause button, and temporarily halt the hectic and rigarous tempo of design and construction.
As is often the case, we have now begun to view our work-to-date with the benefit of hindsight. So now, while (essentially) camping in Mole Nafional Park, my thoughts focus on what we have done well, and what challenges remain…
Things that have gone well:
1. Hiring skilled local labor was the smartest thing we have done, and the principal reason for our projects success this far. These guys are good. And, more importantly, they are really excited about our project.
2. We used all local material (well, almost, see challenges section). Like the labor, this again has increased the sense of local participation in our project. For example, the shop-keeper of the store where we buy cement, Cynthia, nowa us by name, and is anxious to use our latrine once it is completed.
1. We now need to actually set up a microbial fuel cell. We have done it before, but now it’s game time, and we have to “do it live”. We had a great idea given to us on how to initially inoculate our chambers…more on that later (if it actually works).
2. We have had to import one component of the MFC latrine. We will need to design this feature out of the MFC latrine if we are to e land it’s use.
3. I neglected to bring or otherwise purchase any actual shampoo on this trip. Two weeks of erratic bar soap hair wash plus hot humid weather, and you see why my buddies from high school would call me “Joe Fro”.
My UMass research team is on the front lines of this challenge of reinventing the toilet. One advantage of our system is that it directly converts biomass into electrical power without the need for solar, or any other external power source. We will be taking our system out of the lab next month and into the field with a demonstration installation in rural Ghana.