In the summer of 1854, London experienced an especially virulent outbreak of cholera, a water-borne disease that even today kills over a hundred thousand people every year. However, in 1854, the population was unaware that cholera was caused by bacteria, and assumed that the suffering was the result of exposure to bad air or was a punishment for sin. It was only through the painstaking detective work of physician John Snow that the cause of the outbreak was determined and the source of contamination was pinpointed. Eventually the authorities were persuaded to remove the pump handle atop the well that contained cholera bacteria, and illness in the population quickly diminished.
As a result of Snow’s work and diligence, the City of London designed and built a new water and sewer system to ensure a clean water supply. Worldwide, the discovery of disease-causing bacteria in water led to scientific advancements in water treatment including filtration and chlorination. Currently in places with advanced water treatment facilities, water-borne cholera is largely unknown. In most underdeveloped nations, however, it still strikes regularly, affecting three to five million people a year. It also reappears as a result of disaster, either man-made or naturally occurring. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, cholera hospitalized or killed tens of thousands of people, and it’s estimated that more than 6 percent of Haitians have the disease even now. If you think cholera is a danger of the past, it isn’t.
Anyone aware of the ever-present need for clean sources of water worldwide will be encouraged by the cleantech breakthroughs involving ultraviolet light as a method for cleaning water. Researchers and engineers who work with UV light have discovered that this is a simple and inexpensive way to disinfect water and can easily be used in places where both water and advanced technology are scarce. Essentially UV light alters bacterial DNA, making it unable to function or reproduce.
Obviously UV light is not a one stop solution for all water contamination. Water treatment systems must meet stringent water quality criteria and filter for chemicals and heavy metals. Other diseases, like Ebola, are viral, not bacterial, and will require different kinds of disinfecting. But the growing evidence of more possibilities for solving cleanliness problems via the use of naturally occurring phenomena, whether light or biological organisms, is very promising.
We at AEC Systems look forward to seeing what researchers will discover in 2015 that will eventually affect all of our lives for the better, and we wish a very happy new year to all of our customers and readers! Best wishes to you all!