Editorial: Emerging Threats to Our Water Supply | AIChE

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Editorial: Emerging Threats to Our Water Supply


Emily Petruzzelli, Editor-in-Chief

This month’s Environmental Management article, “Dealing with PFAS in the Water Supply: Creative Solutions to Emerging Threats,” discusses how the presence of poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in groundwater basins is increasingly threatening water supplies throughout the U.S. “PFAS are a group of highly versatile, manmade chemicals that are widely used in many industries and consumer products,” writes author Susan C. Paulsen (Exponent). “There are thousands of different PFAS, which makes it challenging to draft consistent regulations… For many of these compounds, we lack a clear understanding of the extent and nature of contamination; the sources and behavior of these compounds in the environment; the concentrations that may cause health or environmental effects; and the parties responsible for mitigation and cleanup.”

Exacerbating the problem of PFAS contamination on our water supply is drought — which is both increasing in intensity and frequency due to climate change. Drought is not only affecting the western U.S. (as shown in the dramatic picture of Lake Mead on the front cover of this issue of CEP), it is also a global issue. In June, I had the opportunity to travel to the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, known for its outstanding cuisine and being the birthplace of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. While touring a Prosciutto di Parma factory, our guide pointed out the sorry state of the Parma River in the valley below. What used to be a steady stream is now a bed of gravel winding its way through the Parma valley. In July, the Italian government declared a state of emergency in several northern regions due to record low water levels in the Po River, a crucial artery for irrigation that runs along the Northern border of Emilia-Romagna. Italy’s minister of agriculture has warned that one-third of the country’s agricultural production (including winemaking) is at risk because of the severe drought.

With such high stakes, predicting climate-change-driven weather patterns is becoming a commercial enterprise. In July, BASF announced a collaboration with PASQAL, a quantum computing start-up, to explore how quantum computing algorithms could be used to predict weather. “With climate change, we are seeing more extreme weather patterns, which makes accurate and timely weather prediction increasingly more important for business and society,” says Georges-Olivier Reymond, CEO of PASQAL. BASF uses parameters generated by weather models to simulate crop yields and growth stages as well as to predict drift when applying crop protection products; such parameters also form the basis of BASF’s digital farming product portfolio.

Even though new technologies like quantum computing have the ability to help us predict and prepare for the effects of climate change, further action is needed. The next issue of CEP will feature a special section on Accelerating Decarbonization. It will discuss the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Fossil Energy and Carbon Management Strategic Vision, examine the economics, regulations, and frameworks surrounding carbon, and assess decarbonization technologies and strategies. Transitioning to net-zero carbon emissions to address climate change is now more urgent than ever.

Emily Petruzzelli, Editor-in-Chief


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