Appropriate Technology

Part 3

Pristine Environment:

Reality or Show?

by Dan Schafer

In the first issue we described our predicament. We thought of our clean, fish-filled pond as an environment friendly reservoir to absorb and terminate our factory's wastewater cycle and our jewelry catalog had presented it that way too. Then in the last year we found it contained levels of lead above the pollution control standard. Last issue we saw that the first priority was, rather than immediately reaching for some expensive high tech solution, to begin quietly, sytematically, and scientifically analyzing the problem. Our success there was to find that our apparently clean, artistic craftsperson-oriented enamelling department was producing trmendous amounts of lead laden waste water. In fact, demonstrably, almost all of the lead content was coming from it and from a related enamel grinding department.

Now we were ready to think about a solution: how to keep the lead in that water from entering the pond. We could quite clearly see that our enamel washing was carrying a lot of suspended enamel dust away with the waste water. With centuries of enamelling craft loudly and persistently proclaiming that the enamel must be repeatedly washed this way, we could not suddenly invent a new way of preparing our enamels and still think our delicately balanced manufacturing process would go unaffected. In fact, we know that the slightest variation in our enamel quality can bring the whole factory to a halt. So, for the moment, any solution was going to have to take that flow of lead laden water as a given.

Our waste water sampling had proved that the fewer the number of suspended particles of enamel, the lower was the analyzed level of lead content. The obvious solution was some sort of filter, but our experience was that there was so much of the powder and it was so fine that whatever we used: sand, various filter cartridges, resin, became clogged up so soon that keeping the system operational was not only consuming a lot of time, going through a lot of filtering material which, when discarded, produced that much more unuseable waste, but our efficiency of getting rid of the lead was quite low.

Then our waste water management man, came up with an idea. We had tried settling the enamel powder out by letting the water stand, but it just seemed to stay suspended, and presumably was letting more lead dissolve into the water the longer it floated there. We had tried a commercial polymer, which we use in our other waste-water treatment, to agglutinate the tiny particles into sticky clusters that would be heavy enough to sink, but with little benefit.

Jumnong had grown up in a Thai village and had seen how people there cleared up cloudy water to use domestically. They would put the dirty water in a container, take a chunk of alum (from which commercially products like talc and baby powder are made) on a string, stir it around through the water for a few minutes, then wait ten minutes or half an hour until the dirt was all settled to the bottom and the water was clear. He decided to try it on our cloudy enamel water. He called me out to show me. Five minutes after he pulled out his chunk of alum, I could see the water in the top of the beaker clearing up already. A half hour later the water appeared as clear as could be and the enamel was all on the bottom.

Alum is almost as common and basic an item in Thailand as potatoes are in the West. It is cheap and available in the local market. It goes without saying that I would never have thought of it. I thought of a $50,000 reverse osmosis system which may or may not have solved our problem. We may still have to deal more with the problem of the lead already in our pond, but at least now we know how to stop putting more in.

Is there a moral to the story, besides letting your water maintenance man deal with the problem? Well, that is part of the moral. The truth is God has gifted each person and each country with the talent and resources to do His work. If our aim is not to please men or to become anxious over what they think but to actively get on with our tasks, He will bless in His ways. Einstein said that all ideas come from God. If they come through a person who doesn't know Jesus' name they are no less His and are an indication of the truth that each person is made by Him, is part of Him and is precious to Him.

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Dan Schafer is the Production Manager of Fish Enterprises (Thailand) Ltd.