[ASC-media] New Nova: Science in the news topic

Australian Academy of Science scied at science.org.au
Wed Aug 2 09:23:45 CEST 2006

2 August 2006


Making every drop count


Would you drink a glass of treated effluent? That question has become
part of a heated national debate about water recycling. The Australian
Academy of Science's new Nova: Science in the news topic, 'Making every
drop count', has the latest information at www.science.org.au/nova
<http://www.science.org.au/nova> .


Wastewater has been recycled and used in Australian towns and cities for
decades, usually for watering recreational facilities such as parks and
golf courses. 


However, in a recent referendum, residents of the city of Toowoomba in
south-east Queensland rejected a scheme to recycle sewage to top up
drinking water supplies. 


The issue divided the small community and roused passions, but it also
highlights a major issue facing all Australians. A drying climate due to
global warming and a growing population has created the need to find and
adopt innovative, sustainable methods to slake our thirst for water. 


Researchers and water authorities in Australia say there's no scientific
or health reason that recycled wastewater can't be safely used as part
of drinking water supplies if treated properly. 


But there can be a formidable psychological reason. It's called the 'yuk
factor' - based on the thinking that the water in the glass in your hand
might have started off in someone's toilet bowl. But should we be


Although there are differing views, researchers and health authorities
say it's possible to recycle water to the relevant standard for any use
required. What's important, they say, is defining what standards are
required for particular uses, and then implementing relevant risk
management, quality assurance, and monitoring programs to provide safe
drinking water, or alternative uses that spare potable water. 


And then there's one other vital issue to consider, which you can sum up
with the adage: 'You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it
drink'. Overcoming the yuk factor might turn out to be the most crucial
part of the whole process. 


Information on this topic is available on the Australian Academy of
Science's Nova: Science in the news website at www.science.org.au/nova.
A glossary, student activities, further reading and annotated links to
relevant websites are also available. 


The Commonwealth Bank Foundation (www.commbank.com.au/foundation) is the
principal sponsor of Nova: Science in the news. The Australian
Foundation for Science is also a supporter of Nova. This topic is
sponsored by the Australian Research Council Linked Learned Academies
Special Project Grant




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