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University launches new institute to address issue plaguing 1 in 10 people globally: 'Can save more lives than doctors'

The institute's researchers will address a range of issues.

The institute's researchers will address a range of issues.

Photo Credit: iStock

Though H2O is vital to our survival as a species, we face many water-related challenges, like a lack of access to safe drinking water.

Rice University in Houston recently launched the WaTER Institute to investigate issues like access to clean water, water infrastructure, solutions for water conflicts, and more.

According to the university, 43 million Americans have no access to municipal water, and 1 in 10 people across the globe lack access to clean drinking water (and another World Health Organization estimate suggests even a higher percentage doesn't use safely managed water).

Lack of safe water sources can lead to the spread of diseases and health conditions such as dysentery, diarrhea, and hepatitis A. Drinking unsafe water can also exacerbate malnutrition

"Clean water can save more lives than doctors," Pedro J. Alvarez, the WaTER Institute's director and George R. Brown Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said in a news release.

One of the many issues the institute's researchers will address is the removal of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (also known as PFAS or  "forever chemicals"), which are breaking through traditional water treatment systems. 

A recent study by the United States Geological Survey found that PFAS can be found in nearly half of U.S. drinking water. These chemicals have been linked to cancer, developmental delays in children, and reproductive complications.

Scientists have already been working on techniques to remove PFAS from our water. In fact, a team at the University of California, Riverside, found a way to break down two common PFAS compounds — PFOA and PFOS — in less than an hour. 

"I am excited about all the ways the WaTER Institute can speed up our collective work to create low-cost, no-fuss methods to destroy PFAS," Mike Wong, a Rice researcher and one of the institute's leaders, said in a statement.

The WaTER Institute joins many other research initiatives aimed at solving water-related challenges, including the University of South Florida Water Institute and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Water Institute

"I'm excited to see how the WaTER Institute, drawing from the expertise of institutes and disciplines across campus, develops transformative solutions that economically produce clean water while minimizing energy and chemical requirements," Ramamoorthy Ramesh, the university's executive vice president for research, said in the news release.

"Loads of water talent at Rice, across many departments!" a LinkedIn user commented on one of the institute's posts.

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