“Fish, er, make love in it”

Was W C Fields right about the hazards of drinking water?

I always feel a little uneasy about people who don’t drink tap water, at least in the UK. The water quality here is high, and the reasons people give for avoiding the water often seem to be halfway to the wacky world of fringe medicine.

In any case, I tell myself, how dare these people shun our lovely British water at a time when people across the Global South are endangered by dangerous or scarce water supplies?

So I was intrigued to hear Letizia Bocchi of Italian company Medica SpA , speaking today at a press conference to launch next week’s big EU event on graphene technology. She said that within the EU, only 55 per cent of people drink tap water. This makes Europe one of the world’s biggest consumers of bottled water. Whether the other 45 per cent distrust the water or just hate the taste, something has to be done, for economic as well as environmental reasons.

Medica is leading an EU initiative to develop graphene as a water filtering technology, in a grouping that also includes the University of Manchester, long a global graphene powerhouse, and Icon Lifesaver, a UK company in the clean water business.

Within 3-4 years, she says, graphene may reach the point where it can remove heavy metals and drug residues from water. These two are the biggest concerns among non-users of the public water supply. In combination with other filters, there might be scope too for removing viruses.

Bocchi points out that while water purity can be poor in the South, thing are not perfect in Europe either. One use for this new technology is for to clean emergency water supplies, and she points to recent water quality emergencies in Europe, for example Venice.

While she concedes that graphene filters might cost more than existing materials such as activated carbon, Bocchi adds that much of today’s activated carbon comes from coconut shells. Producing it is a mighty environmental mess. I know from visiting Ghana that there are plans to turn its billions of spare coconut shells into fuel, which might well be a lot greener. In any case, it’s got to be a plus for the environment to reduce the number of water bottles used by Europeans each year.

About Martin Ince

UK-based science and higher education journalist, big strengths in universities and university ranking, futures, media strategy and training, Earth and space sciences
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