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How 3D Printing Can Help Us Monitor Contamination In Our Water

Have you ever drank tap water at a restaurant and notice the difference in quality? Perhaps enjoying a glass with other family members out-of-town? Drinking water comes in all different forms and that’s due to location, environment, and human activity. There’s been places that have suffered from poor water quality, but researchers at the University of British Columbia are hoping to cure the problem with a 3D printer.

Flint, Michigan, is the greatest example of why we need to check our water quality more frequently. The ongoing crisis first spiraled out of control when General Motors downsized and the town was hit with massive debt. They switched to a new water source in 2014, the local Flint River, which had been contaminated since the 1970’s after the town stopped using it as water supply and moved to Lake Huron.

It didn’t take long after the switch to find severe problems with the switch. GM imported water from Lake Huron just months afterwards and after a year of constant contamination issues, Flint switched back to Detroit. However, it’s lead to ongoing issues with the infrastructure and they will need to replace numerous pipes. 

There needs to be more checks from the water source to consumer’s faucets. Flint is an outlier on how bad things can get, but issues can arise anywhere because once water leaves the treatment center, it travels through old pipes with limited checking points. Too often, it simply costs too much money to adequately check these pipelines, and there’s already limited regulations on contaminants as it is.

University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia’s Mina Hoorfar, a director at the School of Engineering, has been the leader in creating a 3D-printed water quality monitor that’s able to fix that problem with its low costs. Hoorfar tells the school’s news department that with limited “hand testing,” there would be “a higher probability of disease outbreak.” She further explains how the sensor works and all the important factors it checks.

“This highly portable sensor system is capable of constantly measuring several water quality parameters such as turbidity, pH, conductivity, temperature, and residual chlorine, and sending the data to a central system wirelessly. It is a unique and effective technology that can revolutionize the water industry.”

Perhaps the best aspect of the 3D-printed sensors is the ability to individually check supply. That means if one fails along the way, there won’t be an inefficient reading when the others send data to the monitoring system. 3D printing isn’t a new idea in itself, but technological advancements have made it mainstream and it’s helped with other sustainable projects like solar panels.

With how important water is in our lives, it should be checked more frequently as it travels through pipes that may have developed problems over time. These new water monitoring systems would prevent a crisis like Flint has dealt with at an affordable rate.

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