Desalinization's leftovers may negatively affect oceans and ecosystems

ABC News | 1/17/2019 | Staff
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This is an Inside Science story.

About 700 million people worldwide lack reliable access to fresh water, a number which might grow due to population growth and climate change. This has pushed many nations to look to new, untapped water sources. One popular solution has been the construction of plants to remove salt from water sources such as seawater.

Research - United - Nations - University - Institute

However, new research from the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health in Canada is warning that a byproduct of these desalination plants -- super-salty, potentially toxic brine -- is being produced in large quantities and that it could pose serious environmental threats.

There are now almost 16,000 desalination plants in the world. Although the majority of plants worldwide are located in the Middle East and North Africa, many communities in the United States are looking into or planning their own desalination plants, noted Margaret Wilder, a geographer and ecologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson who was not involved in the research. El Paso, Texas, for instance, is home to the world’s largest inland desalination plant, capable of producing more than 27 million gallons of fresh water per day, according to El Paso Water.

Desalination - Technology - History - Edward - Jones

"Desalination is a technology that's been used throughout history, but most recently, since the 1960's, it's grown very, very big," said Edward Jones, lead author of the new study, who worked at United Nations University and is now at Wageningen University in The Netherlands.

Desalination plants take brackish water or seawater and use processes like heat treatment or reverse osmosis filtration to extract fresh water, which can then be supplied to people for important purposes such as drinking or watering crops. What's left is super-salty brine, which can then be disposed of.

Boom - Construction - Desalination - Plants - Decades

However, though there’s been a boom in the construction of desalination plants in the last few decades,...
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