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Engineering professors discuss clean water initiatives

Photo+by+Xidan+Zhang%2F+xidan.zhang%40marquette.edu
Photo by Xidan Zhang/ xidan.zhang@marquette.edu

Photo by Xidan Zhang/ xidan.zhang@marquette.edu

Photo by Xidan Zhang/ xidan.zhang@marquette.edu

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Most Milwaukee residents do not have to worry about finding clean water but, according to Marquette engineering professors, it may become harder to find.

Brooke Mayer and Patrick McNamara, assistant professors in the College of Engineering, discussed the consequences of micro-pollutants and water shortages at the “Water Talk: Discussion of Water Issues Around the World and Marquette’s Related Research” presentation for international education week. They spoke Monday in the Engineering Hall.

McNamara spoke about the dangers of micro-pollutants, chemicals that are more difficult to detect in a water supply than macro-pollutants like algae. He emphasized how every chemical a Marquette student ingests or uses ends up in Lake Michigan.

“Any chemical that we take, whether it’s a prescription drug, antidepressant, caffeine, ibuprofen, it’s going to pass through us … if it’s a soap or a shampoo it goes down the drain,” he said. “All these chemicals we use go into water.”

McNamara said personal care products and hand soaps are especially dangerous because they are not designed to be biodegradable. Although it is too early to tell the effects these chemicals have on humans, Milwaukee already had a significant waterborne outbreak almost 20 years ago.

“In 1993 we had the United States’ biggest waterborne outbreak and it was caused by cryptosporidium,” Mayer said.

Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes a diarrheal infection, according to the Center for Disease Control. The 1993 outbreak infected about 400,000 people and killed at least 69, paralyzing Milwaukee.

Mayer said the outbreak led to Milwaukee developing advanced water treatment plants, in addition to changed water regulations in the U.S.

“Our plant is really progressive,” she said. “It has ozone that combats this (cryptosporidium) nicely.”

Both professors also noted the challenges water shortages present in the American southwest.

Mayer stated that desalination is an effective method of harvesting water, but it is also the most expensive one. Her research focuses on methods of reusing water and creating better ways to treat waste water. “While there is often a negative public perception of reused water, it is sometimes of a higher quality than ground and surface water,” she said.

“The reality of our drinking water is it is not separate from our waste water,” Mayer said.

At his inauguration ceremony, University President Michael Lovell announced that Marquette will partner with the Global Water Center to help make Milwaukee a global leader in water research.

“We do a lot of research to kind of figure what is happening and I think the Global Water Center will be more, how do we fix these problems,” McNamara said.

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