Harmful Algae Blooms – the cancer of water
With algal blooms becoming an increasing challenge for water companies, Yousef Yousef believes we need to look holistically beyond the treatment plant and look deeper into the reservoir management. Aquatech Online catches up with the CEO of LG Sonic to find out more and why he thinks algae toxins are becoming the biggest challenge in water treatment.
Algae in the Dominican Republic
“Are you Mr Yousef? Please follow me.”
It’s not every day you’re personally greeted off of a plane by the High General of the Dominican Republic. But then it is not every day your company can be credited with helping to solve an urgent algae issue in the Caribbean.
As Yousef Yousef recalls: “It was one of the most special experiences I had in my life.” The CEO of Dutch technology company, LG Sonic, refers to when the Dominican Republic had a challenge with algae.
After contacting Colombian utility company, EPM, which has been using the company’s solutions for over five years, the authorities reached out to place a direct order for a 7 km2 dam which provides water to over two million people.
“We were asked by the government directly to intervene and received an immediate order,” says the CEO. “After further contact and using remote sensing imagery, we could see how serious the problem was.”
Within a month, the company mobilized nearly 50 of the buoy units to the Dominican Republic. After one month, the algae was stabilized and within three months, it was cleared.
“That's one of the projects which really touched me as a person, because you can see the positive impact that our product can have on people’s lives. With one project, we helped save drinking water for two million people,” recalls the entrepreneur.
The “cancer of water”
To help understand the urgency of the algae challenge, the CEO believes there is an important connotation to cancer, admittedly a highly charged word that has affected everyone, whether directly or indirectly.
“There is a similarity in the way that both can grow exponentially while killing cells to survive, they also take over the complete body they are inhabiting if left untreated,” he says. “Harmful Algal Blooms devour the whole water body by causing the fish and the plants to die until they dominate. Later on, HAB affects the human body.”
Yousef notes a past case in the US, where more than 400,000 people in Ohio did not have access to drinking water because of cyanotoxins causing water scarcity in one of the most developed countries. The tap water was deemed unsafe even if the water was boiled. People had to line up at water distribution centers for $1 per gallon of water- and the local authorities warned people about how algae toxins can affect the liver.
Cyanotoxins effects start with nausea, skin rash, stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea and the list goes on. Further on, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, cyanotoxins even in low concentrations can affect brain functions, cause tumor growth and acute liver failure.
“Cyanotoxins can kill animals who consume the contaminated water, like in June 2020 when more than 330 African elephants died from ingesting cyanotoxins. We don’t have time to lose. We need to save all the lakes from this harmful disease,” adds the CEO.
Reservoir treatment needs to become a part of water treatment
Algal blooms are certainly not a new phenomenon with recorded incidents stretching back hundreds, if not thousands of years.
However, the frequency and impact of algal explosions is growing with more people, heavy industries and intensified agriculture that all have an influence on surface water and algal blooms.
The LG Sonic CEO believes there needs to be a broader vision when it comes to water treatment by treating water directly at the source which in most of the cases are the open reservoirs, dams or lakes.
“Water treatment plants are getting more advanced with smaller footprints, while water reservoirs have not received the same level of attention. Of course, lake management needs different knowledge and treatment methods, because you are dealing with nature, so there are uncontrollable parameters which make it more difficult to treat. That is why lake treatment needs to be based on recovery to a healthy ecosystem.”
“If you compare the levels of investment into treatment plants compared to the source, you will be shocked. One of the reasons why there is an investment gap between treatment plants and open water sources, is because most of the reservoirs are managed by the government so there is no direct business model behind it. While the plants are run by commercial companies which is driven by economic benefits.”
Yousef adds: “The biggest problem of fresh water in the world is there is too little. The second biggest problem is the algae which we have more of because of higher temperatures and the too high loads phosphate in the lakes. That is why we need to invest more in treating the source.”
Recovering lake ecosystems
LG Sonic is working on a new solution to help remove phosphate from source waters. Later this year it is planning on announcing two pilot projects, in partnership with Dublin City University: one in North America and the second in Europe.
He summarizes the aims of the project succinctly: “Remove phosphate, give oxygen, control the algae.”
“At LG Sonic, we are designing our company to recover the water ecosystem in open water sources,” he adds.
“We treat the lake as a doctor will treat a human body. First, we find what is wrong by monitoring the water quality with in-situ sensors, remote sensing and wet chemicals. Based on our findings and history of the lake, we start the treatment for diseases. Such as ultrasound for the algae, removing the extensive phosphate, adding oxygen where necessary. By this combination, we recover the ecosystems in the lakes back to a healthy ecosystem.”
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