Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Environment News Network, via Worldwatch Institute: As global freshwater reserves dry up, desalination plants are receiving greater attention as an option for providing both drinking water supplies and agricultural irrigation. But a new study released on Thursday raises several concerns about the environmental impact and cost effectiveness of the widely touted technology to convert seawater to fresh water.

Desalination plants pose a risk to marine species when the water is collected from ocean areas, as well as when the salty discharge is deposited into coastal estuaries, according to the report, which was released by the U.S. National Research Council (NRC). Also, current desalination technology often does not adequately remove the chemical element boron, which occurs naturally in seawater and is considered toxic to humans, the report said.

Despite the "considerable amount of uncertainty" regarding desalination impacts, however, the study concluded that the projects can safely continue, though further research is necessary to help reduce potential risks. "It was the committee's feeling that the uncertainties are not at the level that we should stop moving forward," said Amy Zander, chair of the council's Committee on Advancing Desalination Technology. "There are environmental effects of any water source, so let's mitigate them."…

The Shevchenko BN350 desalination unit on the Caspian Sea, the only nuclear-heated desalination unit in the world, from Argonne National Laboratory, Wikimedia commons

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