Improving the Point of Use Water Treatment MadiDrop+ Tablet with the Application of Silver and Copper; Environmental Justice and the Flint Water Crisis: An Analysis of What Happened and What Has Been Done Since

Cecchetti, Victoria, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Smith, James, EN-Eng Sys and Environment, University of Virginia
Wayland, Kent, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

My technical and STS reports both address aspects of the socio-technical challenge of water insecurity. Water insecurity is experienced by many people around the world, most notably in developing countries that lack the infrastructure for water collection, treatment, and distribution. Developed countries are not invulnerable to water insecurity, however; dated infrastructure, changes in climate such as larger more frequent storms and sea level rise, as well as human errors all contribute to cases of water insecurity. My STS report will explore one of these specific cases in which a combination of human and non-human factors led to thousands of people being exposed to lead contaminated drinking water during the Flint Michigan Water Crisis. My technical report highlights a technology that attempts to tackle water insecurity on a global scale through small scale solutions. Specifically, the report will discuss an applicable at-home water treatment method that I have contributed to improving through applied research at the University of Virginia.

The Flint Water Crisis occurred in 2014, when lead leached into the tap water into the homes of ~100,000 residents of the financially struggling, majority black city of Flint. This crisis was the result of a series of political and engineering decisions that resulted in highly corrosive water flowing through lead pipes throughout the city. The lead contaminated water caused many physical, behavioral, and psychological problems for the children and adults that ingested the water. In my STS report, I will review the water crisis from an environmental justice perspective, which is a framework that evaluates whether or not racial disparities are present in a situation where environmental harms are occuring. Furthermore, I will discuss what led to the crisis occurring, what has been done to remediate the problems since the crisis started, and also suggest further reparations that could be done.

My technical report will explore a point of use water treatment method that my team and I have worked on developing in the water resources laboratory at UVA. The MadiDrop+ is a ceramic tablet that slowly releases silver microparticles into untreated water, and can treat up to 10L of water daily for up to a year. The main purpose for this tablet is for people who harvest their own drinking water and do not live in a place that has municipal water infrastructure. My team and I have been working on implementing copper into the tablet as well to be even more effective at killing pathogens, as well as simultaneously testing the effects of copper and silver on mosquito larvae emergence rates. For the former experiment, the copper implementation shifted to testing copper release from different copper media. For the latter, the higher concentrations of copper and silver trended to having lower mosquito emergence rates. The MadiDrop+ will benefit from further research on the best way to release both copper and silver to optimize pathogen treatment while also lowering mosquito emergence rates. Overall, the MadiDrop+ as an at-home method of treating water has the capacity to both kill pathogens and mosquito larvae while being safe, inexpensive, and effective.

Doing both the STS and technical report in concurrence is bringing more value and perspective to each compared to if they were being done in isolation. Both of my reports are touching on the same shared theme of water insecurity, but in very different lights. My STS report is exploring a case study that illustrates the shortcomings of municipal water treatment and insecurities that societies can face with water even in the most developed countries in the world. Exploring this study enriches my technical report by highlighting why water treatment should not be taken for granted and is a reminder that anyone can be a victim of water insecurity regardless of where you live. My technical report explores the applied research I have been involved in for the MadiDrop+ point of use water treatment system. This research directly enhances my STS project by proposing practical solutions to situations such as the Flint water crisis, but also on a broader scale solutions to many people who do not have access to clean water globally.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Environmental Justice, Water Insecurity, Water Treatment, Point of Use, Flint Water Crisis

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering
Technical Advisor: James Smith
STS Advisor: Kent Wayland
Technical Team Members: Lorin Bruno and Julia Davis

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