Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass Professor Reckhow receives Chancellor’s Medal following presentation on clean drinking water

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(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

Civil and environmental engineering professor David Reckhow presented his lecture “Drinking Water in Crisis: Lead, Lignin, and Legionella,” the latest installment of the University of Massachusetts Distinguished Faculty Lecture series on Wednesday in the Bernie Dallas Room in Goodell Hall.

Following the presentation, Reckhow received the Chancellor’s Medal, the highest recognition awarded to faculty, by Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

In the aftermath of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, the threat of contaminated drinking water in communities has been at the political forefront and an especially important point of research on the UMass campus.

With the help of over 80 graduate student researchers, Professor Reckhow, who also serves as director the Environmental Protection Agency’s Water Innovation Network for Sustainable Small Systems, has made major contributions in teaching, research and public service surrounding clean water.

“It’s unique in the sense that not many universities are involved [with] these activities,” Aarthi Mohan, civil engineering Ph.D. student working with Professor Reckhow, said. “I’m from India, a developing country, and I’m from the far south and I’ve been through a lot of water scarcity and water quality issues for quite some time during my childhood days which led me to pursue a Master’s [degree] in the United States… The program was interesting and the research was even more interesting and it led me to pursue my Ph.D.”

Reckhow spoke about the historical, biological and political roots of lead contamination and its harmful byproducts.

He explained how the organic compound lignin, which is found in trees, reacts with chlorine to form halobenzoquinones, which are linked to bladder cancer, birth defects and premature death.

“Many good intentions by water professionals have ultimately created unanticipated problems,” Reckhow said.

Tracing the history of water issues dates back to the 19th century. Reckhow explained how we can learn from and improve upon our current water treatment methods. He used Flint as a case study for how low-income communities typically suffer from water quality issues because they lack the resources to upgrade their infrastructure. He said the lead poisoning crisis of 2014 was exacerbated by a “long process of denial.”

To conclude the presentation, Reckhow offered solutions for how governments can improve water treatment and conservation in the future by optimizing corrosion control technologies, developing new technologies for emerging contaminants and moving toward a more decentralized water treatment model. Advocating for a more holistic view of our water consumption, he suggested more on-site reuse, local water harvesting and better plans for disposal and recovery.

“We have to value knowledge even when it is inconvenient,” he said, “And no alternative facts.”

Sarah Robertson can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @srobertson__.

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