2002: A year of gloomy water predictions but promising water treatment markets

2002 promised blossoming markets for the water industry in Africa, Asia and Latin America but saw the Bush administration repeatedly criticised for its failure to tackle the nation’s aging water infrastructure. Sugar and nitrogen gas were amongst the many new ingredients used to treat water, while monitoring programs picked up hormones, drugs and arsenic in drinking water. Stormwater storage was hailed for its ability to eliminate pathogens in run-off, but was also discovered to be a potential breeding ground for mosquitoes carrying the deadly West Nile virus.


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Australia’s New Year’s resolution turned the country’s salinity crisis into a potential money spinner, with a report that the salt building up in the Murray Darling basin alone could be worth AU$200 million (see related story). Elsewhere, a US military site began testing a corn starch sugar solution to treat contaminated water (see related story), while international reports promised lucrative water treatment markets in South Africa (see related story) and Mexico (see related story).

A more worrying January report suggested water chlorination and air pollution could cause birth defects and miscarriages (see related story). In the same month Nigeria took more than 1,000 water companies to court (see related story) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released new effluent guidelines to reclaim abandoned mine sites (see related story).

February saw the World Bank lending Colombia US$145 million to help rehabilitate Bogota’s water and sewer system and surrounding wetlands (see related story).

US scientists developed tiny sensors based on xerogels to detect chemicals in minute samples (see related story).

Canadian religious communities who avoid the use of electricity were warned to properly treat and monitor water for their schools, or face fines of up to CA$6 million and up to five years in prison (see related story).

February also saw the launch of a novel method for combating ship ballast corrosion and preventing the spread of invasive species through ballast waters, using nitrogen gas (see related story).

US scientists also developed a new technique for comparing pollution at different estuaries (see related story), but warned that the Exxon Valdez oil spill is continuing to pollute Prince William Sound 13 years on (see related story).

March revealed the results of the first-ever study of pharmaceuticals and hormones in streams across the US, with steroids and non-prescription drugs among the most common chemicals found (see related story). World Water Day released dire warnings of the potential human misery likely to occur if governments failed to address global water shortage (see related story), while an Australian study discovered that storing wastewater and storm runoff water in underground aquifers purges it of pathogens, enabling the water to be recycled for irrigation (see related story).

A Venezuelan hydrologist won the 2002 Stockholm Water Prize for his work in furthering the understanding of how climate, landscape, and surface water interact (see related story), and March also saw the Bush administration reject Senate legislation that would set aside billions of dollars to upgrade the US’s aging water infrastructure (see related story). Climatologists argued over predicted sea level rises (see related story), a US steel company was fined $8 million for consistently violating the US Clean Water Act (see related story), Thailand was warned that its economy has grown at the expense of the environment (see related story) and scientists established the missing link that brings mercury into the food chain – algae (see related story).

April brought warnings that the high costs of producing clean water in Malaysia could push the government to privatise the country’s water supply (see related story), while US reports warned that nearly half of the US coast was polluted (see related story) and that East coast marshlands were under threat from global warming (see related story).

A new salt-based treatment for radium-contaminated aquifers was hailed as a cheaper option to conventional systems, potentially saving millions of dollars (see related story), while the Canadian government agreed to invest CA$50 million to clean up the Great Lakes (see related story).

May saw the US criticised for its confused and inconsistent advice on the proper disposal of mercury (see related story), while the US Senate approved the nation’s new Water Investment Act authorising US$20 billion for clean water projects (see related story) and the US EPA proposed a scheme to trade water quality credits which was criticised by conservation groups (see related story). The Asian desalination market was predicted to reach US$1.3 billion by 2010 (see related story), trihalomethanes – formed when chlorine reacts with organic matter in treated water – were discovered to increase significantly in the human bloodstream after showering (see related story) and

Israeli scientists identified genetic markers to detect bacteria in water (see related story).

A June ruling by a federal judge outlawed permits for coal mining in which mountaintop ridges are sheared off and the rock pushed into nearby streams (see related story), while dentists were accused of being the US’s biggest mercury polluters (see related story). A second ruling empowered the US EPA to set limits for non-point sources of pollution such as sediment run-off from timber harvesting (see related story), and US scientists discovered that human gut bacteria was causing white pox disease in Caribbean coral (see related story).

A July report criticised Australia for wasting huge amounts of water, including 92% of its city runoff water and 86% of its effluent water (see related story), while Africa was warned that action was required immediately to prevent it’s environment from getting worse (see related story). Asian delegates attending a conference in Bangkok were told that compromises on water disinfection were unacceptable (see related story), while 22 California cities sued the EPA over water regulations (see related story).

July also revealed that US beach closures increased by 19% in 2001 (see related story), European and US pollution may have triggered Africa’s droughts (see related story and water companies seeking to break into the Asian desalination market had their work cut out for them (see related story).

The World Summit in August was deemed a success in terms of sanitation targets, but a failure on most other environmental issues (see related story and related story). An international symposium called for immediate action to protect the world’s water (see related story), while a US report showed that 30% of US polluters were greatly exceeding permitted levels of pollutants (see related story). Stormwater retention ponds were discovered to be potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying the deadly West Nile virus (see related story), while endocrine disrupting chemicals were found to be affecting fish genes as well as fertility (see related story).

September saw a new study suggesting gel ‘flocs’ formed around mining sites were carrying toxic mine waste downstream (see related story), while EU Initiatives united countries over common waters, forging international partnerships to implement water and sanitation targets set at the World Summit (see related story), and scientists expressed concern at the slow recovery of the North American Great Lakes (see related story).

The triple bottom line concept was discarded in October to be replaced by the ‘triple top line’ encouraging companies to make money by thinking green from the very beginning of the production line (see related story). The US Bush administration was once again criticised for making decisions detrimental to clean water (see related story), while the world was warned it could be facing a global water crisis by 2025 if current trends in water policies and investment continued (see related story). A new US research centre was launched to generate new designs and concepts for water desalination and purification (see related story, but the US was warned that its water infrastructure was facing a US$535 billion shortfall in funding (see related story). Microbial communities were linked to coral decay (see related story).

November bore the good news that dental clinics using amalgam separators were reducing their mercury emissions into wastewater (see

related story), but Bangladesh was warned that irrigation was altering arsenic levels in drinking wells (see related story). Deep sea reservoirs of methane hydrates were proposed as new sources of natural gas and freshwater (see related story), while a US judge allowed a billion-dollar lawsuit relating to contaminated water and miscarriages to go ahead (see related story). Rubber worn from tyres was found to be damaging aquatic habitats (see related story), and bacteria capable of breathing chlorine pollutants from groundwater were discovered (see related story).

The year ended with a warning to US feedlots that they would be facing tighter legislation (see related story)

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