Flint Michigan Water Crisis Lends Favor to New Forms of Water Purification Systems

Published on October 3, 2019

This year’s plate of natural disasters has been deadly and left the environment in shambles. While individuals are left without homes, food, water, and other vital resources, global warming continues to strike, leaving humans open and vulnerable to poor and even more harmful water conditions.

Over the past decade, 63 million Americans were exposed to potentially unsafe water.

A Look Back At Flint Michigan’s Water Crisis

Take Flint, Michigan and its previous water crisis, for example. More than five years after the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, began, many residents still don’t know if they can trust the water coming out of their taps.

In April 2018, then-Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration told the public they could, noting that lead levels in the city’s water supply hadn’t exceeded federal limits in nearly two years. That month, the state stopped distributing free bottled water—which it had provided since January 2016 to Flint residents.

Back in June, the Environmental Protection Agency head administrator, Andrew Wheeler, declared that Flint’s water was “safe to drink.” Last week, an EPA spokesperson reaffirmed Wheeler’s declaration, saying that the drinking water “currently meets all health-based standards.”

However, Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, isn’t entirely convinced, having dismissed these affirmations as “premature.”

Nobody wants to say that Flint water is safe to drink more than myself and the residents of Flint, but, before we say it, we want to be absolutely sure it is true,” she said in June in response to Wheeler’s comments.

Just today, Wheeler, admitted his agency’s shortcomings in its communications with the public during the Flint Water Crisis.

Wheeler believes the agency needs to improve its risk communications.

There’s the Kanawha River in West Virginia, the Gold King Mine in Colorado. And of course, more recently, there was Flint, Michigan, which has become the poster-child for our need to improve risk communication,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler ended Tuesday’s event by announcing the federal government’s action plan to reduce childhood lead exposure, which will include new regulatory actions from the EPA.

PBS just released a new Frontline investigation, called “Flint’s Deadly Water,” that lays out a devastating case for why the extent of Flint’s 2014 Legionnaires’ outbreak—and the attendant death toll—may be far worse than previously reported.

The Fifteen Deadly Tornadoes of Dayton, Ohio

Following the Memorial Day tornadoes that struck Dayton, Ohio, the state isn’t convinced that the damage is entirely done with. According to text messages between Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and Ohio Governor Mike DeWine the morning after the fifteen storms, restoring power to the water supply was Dayton’s “biggest concern.”

The lack of power to the water system is a major concern,” Whaley told DeWine, as obtained by the Dayton Daily News team through Ohio’s public record laws.

After the fifteen tornadoes cut power to treatment plants and pumping stations, Dayton’s water system lost pressure, prompting an emergency boil advisory that lasted four days. While Dayton city employees estimated the water system has functioned for over 30 years without losing pressure prior to these storms, this is yet another example of why inserting smart technology into city utilities and resources is all the more necessary.

The government can only do so much (if anything), so it’s up to entrepreneurs and start-ups to find solutions to help improve health and wellness for us all.

Having been victimized by the Dayton tornadoes personally, as I live out here, I decided to reach out to Oollee, a water purification startup, that’s on a mission to address poor water purification methods and plastic use at the point-of-contact.

Its two founders, Umit Khiarollaev and Anatoly Aseev, both have impressive resumes. Khiarollaev, a graduate from Moscow State University with a degree in chemistry and focus on filtration elements, along with Aseev, an earth-scientist currently undergoing his PhD at Stanford University, are manually creating a system, running manual water quality checks in the Bay Area to create a unique water quality map, with plans to automate that data collection through the company’s Oollee device.

In my conversation with the company, discussions arose over their recent announcement that it has raised $1 million in pre-seed round funds to help bring this product to life.

Water pollution is a tremendous problem,” Umit Khiarollaev, CEO and Co-Founder of Oollee told me.

Each year, nearly 3.6 million people die from water-related diseases, most of whom are children. And I’ve analyzed tap water supply chains for years and found that sufficient government maintenance is almost impossible. Unfortunately, plastic water bottles are not a feasible solution either. Currently, the forecast is for 250 million tons of plastic in the ocean by 2025. That’s why we created Oollee. We want to make clean drinking water available and affordable in an environmentally friendly way.

Its portable water-filtration system uses “reverse-osmosis,” and a filtration system to clean water at the point-of-contact. “Reverse-osmosis” works as water is forced across a semipermeable membrane, leaving contaminants behind, which are then flushed down the drain. The clean drinking water collects in a holding tank. Usually, though, the installation and subsequent maintenance of an RO filter requires a large sum of money and is too cumbersome for a house.

According to the company, its water purifier simplifies this process. It’s part of an Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, with an app reminding users to replace their filter element and letting them order it with a single click. Users can also check water condition, volume, temperature, and other factors.

Minerals are then re-introduced during the final stage of the filtration and contaminants caught in the filter can easily be disposed of.

For consumers, the company’s product is a subscription-based service, joining the growing list of e-commerce products that have adopted the user-subscription-based pricing model. Integrating artificial intelligence and smart technology into the product, the product will also allow users to check water conditions, volume, temperature, and other factors.

Just now introducing the product into the U.S., Oollee has already on-boarded over 30,000 subscribers in Kazakhstan. With the help of this funding round, Oollee hopes to on-board 1 million users by 2027 and make water, the most-consumed product there is, accessible, affordable and safe.

Andrew "Drew" Rossow is a former contract editor at Grit Daily.

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