How much can chemicals reduce water pollution?

05 February 2007 00:00  [Source: ICB Americas]

Specialty chemical products help reduce water pollution but will the skeptical environmentalist believe that? 

LINDSEY BLANCHFIELD/NEW YORK

INCREASINGLY, THE world is recognizing that the availability of clean water is in danger in many areas, and has never been established in others. The chemical industry is stepping up to meet the challenge of solving this global crisis. For UN water goals, go to www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/unwater.html

"There is growing acceptance and awareness that fresh water is a limited resource," says Laura Tew, Arch Chemical's director of stakeholder relations, who works closely with the company's global water products business on key international initiatives. "In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that 1.2bn people lack any access to sources of clean drinking water, and that more than 2m people a year die from waterborne diseases."

"Obviously there's been a real heightening of awareness of issues around water supply and water quality, recently," says Hank Waters, president of Ashland Water Technologies and Ashland Performance Materials.

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The drive for clean water is strong, but the need to reuse and recycle water has also moved to the forefront. Water filtration and treatment chemicals have aided in the push to make water a renewable resource.

"As water reuse becomes more common, the drive to use chemical solutions that do not have a negative environmental impact also becomes more important," says Jim McCummiskey, head of business line water treatment at Ciba Specialty Chemicals. "We are continuously developing technologies that have lower intrinsic toxicity and reduced impact on the environment."

The world's view

Environmental regulations have driven chemical manufacturers to invest more in research and development to prepare to meet more stringent standards in the future. However, some passionate environmentalists still question the use of chemicals to purify water, and in everyday life.

"Synthetic chemicals may be seen to serve useful purposes and to bring substantial benefits to our lives and our health," Greenpeace's website states. "At the same time, however, many are already known to possess dangerous properties, while many more have never had their safety properly assessed."

Water treatment chemical producers have and are working hard to explain the benefits of their products, as well as ease fears and dispel misconceptions.

"Ciba's contributions to cleaning water and reducing its use have been generally well received by NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] as we are open to their perspectives and are always looking for ways to innovate for a better future," Ciba's McCummiskey says.

"Environmental groups will always pay attention to water issues because clean water is a basic human need," says Pete Nassos, division vice president, industrial and institutional services, Nalco. "In developed countries, water quality has dramatically improved over recent decades, with the water discharge of industrial customers often being of very high quality. However, the municipal infrastructure in the United States requires significant additional investment that we would expect to be the focus of water quality advocates in the years to come."

Ciba's McCummiskey agrees that there is no slowdown in sight for the water treatment chemicals market and water management obligations.

"Water will become scarcer, and the need for proactive management and innovative solutions will drive market growth," he says. "Moreover, increasing levels of regulation will lead to more controls on water discharge."

The big challenge at the moment, especially in areas like China where the market is growing rapidly, is hiring and training on-site experts to pursue market opportunities, according to Nalco's Nassos.

Chemical manufacturers have recognized the need for strong leadership in the water treatment market in order to ensure the safety of the world's water and to harness resources to provide clean drinking water to the portions of the world without it.

"Ashland has been a part of American Chemistry Council's Responsible Care Program for years," Ashland's Waters says. "The chemical industry, specifically the water treatment industry, has been very active in taking a leadership role around commitments to try to make sure as many people on the planet as possible have access to safe drinking water."

Companies contribute

In South Africa and South America, Arch Chemicals' Water Products business is treating the water of more than half a dozen Coca Cola bottling plants," says Paolo Vodopivic, who heads up Arch's international commercial and drinking water treatment businesses.

Arch's products and systems successfully treat the water and keep chlorine sanitizer levels within international standards at all times.

About seven months ago, Ashland purchased the Stockhausen brand business of Degussa, which had a major presence in the wastewater treatment polymer market.

"These polymers are used in plants and wastewater treatment facilities, as well as in the municipal wastewater treatment facilities for the removal of the organics and other substances that are put in, either by people in cities or obviously inside of an industrial facility," says Harold Moffat, Ashland's vice president of marketing.

Dow Water Solutions is focused on high-end water treatment technologies to address industrial, municipal and drinking water needs of water-challenged regions globally, according to Dow Chemical officials. The Water Solutions segment is focused on portions of the treatment technology sector. The components segment is about $10bn, and includes a wide range of technologies with varying degrees of technological complexity.

"Green is not only a discussion in the water treatment area, but all areas of industrial production - power production, fossil fuel usage in all areas, etc. - so water treatment is just an off-shoot of a general green movement throughout the world," says Nalco's Nassos.

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