The issue with arsenic

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Arsenic. Hearing the word in America usually brings up black and white mental images of the film "Arsenic and Old Lace." Yet, it is not an old issue. People around the world are exposed to dangerous levels of arsenic in their water.

Speaking today at the American Geophysical Union, Lex van Green discussed the issue of arsenic in well water in the Asian sub-continent, primarily in Bangladesh and Bihar, India. His concern is that even though people are aware of the problem, very little is being done to address it.

People continue to drill new wells without determining their safety (safe levels are set at less than 10 micrograms per liter of water). Van Green's data, collected from 2012-13, show that 50% of people in the area assessed drink water containing arsenic at unsafe levels. However, 100% of people live near safe wells. Additionally, only about a third of people who become aware that their wells are contaminated switch to new wells by either drilling new wells or using their neighbor's wells.

The difference between a safe well and an arsenic contaminated well is depth. Sedimentation by ancient arsenic rich waters along river deltas left layers of arsenic containing soil near the surface of the Earth. To get past the arsenic to clean aquifers, one has only to drill deeper than 100 meters down. However, wells are expensive to drill, and the deeper the well, the more expensive it will be.

So, the problem in these areas where there is no infrastructure to deliver treated water to people boils down one of inequality. Only the wealthy are able to afford a deep enough well. And, although the government has initiated subsidy programs to help with the digging of wells, research suggests that the wells end up clustered within a small subset of villages where the inhabitants are wealthy and support the political party in power.

In response, he and a team of researchers have developed affordable field test kits that can be used by private individuals or organizations to test wells for their arsenic content. The test results can be localized using GPS and smartphones. One of his collaborators is using Formhub, a system for mobile data collection, to improve data collection itself, quality control, and dissemination of information to impacted areas and individuals.

It's already looking like technology will speed up the spread of awareness about arsenic levels in wells and the availability of tests. Van Green showed a couple of slides supporting this point with data collected in the past week that visually demonstrated that many more people are beginning to take advantage of the testing compared to the 2012-13 test period.

This project, while important in the developing world where many millions more people are affected, could also be useful within the United States and Canada. The USGS has collected data on arsenic in water, and based on that information it is estimated that more than 40 million people in the U.S. are drinking arsenic laden water, many at levels well above 10 micrograms/liter.

The test kits do contain strips laden with mercury bromide, so there are concerns about their use. No one wants a baby getting one of the little strips in their mouth. But, there is no reason to think that an affordable, at home solution to testing for arsenic shouldn't be implemented if safety concerns are properly addressed. The risk from ingesting arsenic is much more serious and pressing.

So, do you know how safe your well is? You should, and you can.

VIDEO: Hallucinatory NARCOSE captures free diving's beauty and danger (NSFW)

Thalassophobes and NSFW-phobes will want to skip this beautiful short about deepwater free diver Guillaume Néry and the kinds of hypoxia-induced hallucinations he experiences when free diving to depths beyond 100 meters. Thalassophiles who love beautiful underwater cinematography and trippy dream sequences will find the underwater footage hypnotic.

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Charity:Water's powerful video on water in Mali and Niger

Rael Dornfest from Charity:Water says, "Today is a huge day at charity: water as we launch our annual September Campaign. It's our biggest campaign ever as we try to raise $4 million to bring 100,000 people clean water in the Sahel region."

"The key to our campaign is a powerful 6 minute video our team shot earlier this year in Mali and Niger. Women there pull dirty water by hand out of 60 foot holes in 100 degree heat. Access to clean water completely transforms their lives."

September Campaign | 2014 | charity: water (Thanks, Rael!)

History of the Slip 'N Slide

My wife (and kids) are big fans of the classic Slip 'N Slide on a summer day. The New York Times Magazine has the history of its invention which involved belly-flopping on a concrete driveway.

Like any concerned father with ready access to rugged, waterproof synthetic fabrics at work, Robert Carrier took home a 50-foot roll of beige Naugahyde in hopes of persuading his son to splash down on something safer. He unfurled it in the yard, hosed it down and watched as every kid in the neighborhood showed up and stayed to slide for hours.

Realizing he had a hit on his hands, Carrier used his sewing skills to refine his product. “He stitched a long tube along one side, sewn shut at one end, with spaces between the stitching so that when you attached the hose, the water pressure would build up and water would squirt out those openings and lubricate the surface of the material,” (explains Tim Walsh, author of "Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them.")

(Thanks, Tanya Schevitz!)

Crowdfunding the Drinkable Book: a book of silver-doped water-filters for the developing world

Jonathan writes, "The Drinkable Book is a water filter and an instruction manual for how and why to clean drinking water. The drinking paper uses a thick, sturdy sheet of paper embedded with silver nanoparticles, which are lethal for microbes. Funds will go to print 1,000 Drinkable Books and distribute them in Ghana, Haiti, India, and Kenya with water nonprofit Waterislife."

Our goals include: 1) Engage local communities in protecting and cleaning their drinking water. WATERisLIFE has ties to rural communities in Ghana, Haiti, Kenya, and India, where feedback from local folks in these communities will be gathered in Fall 2014 through Winter 2015. "WATERisLIFE is a big believer in "boots on the ground," according to founder Ken Surritte. So the books will go with teams traveling to parts of Africa and India, where they'll hold educational sessions on maintaining a clean water source."

2) Theresa will also explore other filter prototype designs to determine the best way to clean water with this pAge drinking paper technology. While in South Africa, Theresa worked with Corinne, a MS engineering student from Carnegie Mellon University. Corinne has led a group of students to design an emergency water filter using pAge filters. This new filter design also shows great potential, especially for emergency response and disaster relief applications! Initial field studies on this new filter prototype will start at the end of the summer 2014.

3) The number of books needed is many more than Theresa has ever made in the lab, and the production needs to be scaled up.

The Drinkable Book

"Underwater" library music c.1969

Scan 21

Via the Toys and Techniques blog, Franco Potenza's "Vita e lavoro nell'acqua" ("Life and work in the water"), c.1969, is a beautiful example of library music meant to accompany underwater-themed visuals. In the media business, library music is music that's usually owned outright by a company and then licensed to customers who use it as soundtracks for TV shows, radio programs, and industrial films. There's still a wealth of amazing vintage library music warping away on vinyl in warehouses, basements, thrift stores, and record shops around the globe awaiting rediscovery by intrepid crate-diggers.

Previously: "BBC radio documentary on Library Music"

Scientists unearth ancient water in Virginia

Researchers taking a core sample of sediment beneath Cape Charles, Virginia, found something surprising sandwiched between the layers of mud and ooze. Locked inside a rocky layer 5000 feet down, they discovered water — water from the early Cretaceous period.

Face scrub micro-beads are choking the Great Lakes

Microplastic pollution in the surface waters of the Laurentian Great Lakes, a new paper in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, looks at the prevalence of micro-plastic beads, thought to originate with face-scrub, in the great lakes. These beads pass through water-treatment processing, and have long been suspected in freshwater pollution. The paper has occasioned a pledge from several big cosmetics companies to phase out the use of beads in their products. Five Gyres, an NGO that worked on the paper with SUNY Fredonia, has proposed model legislation banning the use of microplastics in consumer products. In the meantime, they've got an app that helps you find products that are free from microplastics.

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The water sommelier of Los Angeles

Waiaikeaaaa

Martin Riese is the water sommelier at Ray's and Stark Bar at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Yes, you read right. Don't miss reading the full tasting menu (PDF). More at myFOXla.com. (Thanks, Bob Pescovitz!)

The Great Sahara Sea

In the 1870s, a French geographer proposed digging a canal from the Mediterranean to flood a low-lying part of the Sahara Desert. He pitched it as good for business and good for local environments, writes Ron Miller at i09. But I can't help but think of Plagues and Pleasures of the Salton Sea — a documentary about the development, culture, and slow, ongoing destruction of a salty, inland sea that accidentally formed in southern California in the first part of the 20th century.

Drowning without a sound

Drowning, in real life, doesn't look or sound the way it does on TV. It's not loud. It's not thrashy. And it can happen just a few feet away from you without you even noticing. At Slate, Mario Vittone explains the Instinctive Drowning Response — a physiological knee-jerk reaction that pretty much prevents all the signs and signals most of us look for in order to identify a person in the water who needs help.

"Definitive proof" of Mars water

Mars' landscape was formed by flowing water, and the proof is in the pebbles. [BBC]

How clay water filters for Ghana are made

Gmoke sez, "Susan Murcott and her team's factory making clay filters for Pure Home Water in Ghana. Over 100,000 served, so far."

They're shooting for 1,000,000.

Pure Home Water, Ghana: AfriClay Filters

There is a national competition for best-tasting tap water

Top contenders this year: Louisville and Fremont, Nebraska. Time to start filling out those brackets, water fans!

More evidence linking fracking wastewater disposal to earthquakes

Here at BoingBoing, we've talked before about the fact that earthquakes can be triggered by things humans do — everything from building particularly large reservoir to, most likely, injecting wastewater from fracking operations into underground wells. After a 5.7 earthquake hit Oklahoma in 2011, researchers there began gathering evidence that is making the link between rumbling earth and oil-and-gas discovery a lot stronger. At Mother Jones, Michael Behar has a story about this research and and how it is (and isn't) affecting the industry.