Clean water is a universal need for every man, woman and child on this planet.
That’s one reason we are thankful for organizations like Water Defense. Founded by Oscar nominated actor Mark Ruffalo, perhaps most famous as Bruce Banner / The Incredible Hulk from Marvel’s The Avengers, Water Defense’s mission as stated is to support ‘a world where water is safe to drink, a world where the oceans don’t rise and the economy is powered by clean, sustainable sources of energy like wind, water and solar.’
Such a bold mission requires technology and leadership to match, and for this, Ruffalo hand-picked Chief Scientist, Scott Smith – pictured with Ruffalo above.
In our interview with Smith below, he shares more about what attracted him to his position as Chief Scientist of Water Defense, his background as the founder of the ground-breaking OPFLEX water purification technology, (the only technology endorsed, ordered, reordered and recycled by BP in the Gulf oil spill) and how the new developments he and Ruffalo are supporting have the potential to change the future of our world’s water radically for the better:
[At the bottom of this post, see a video shared by Smith sharing more about the history and background of OPFLEX, the water purification technology he founded and developed.]
You are the Chief Scientist for Water Defense, an organization founded by actor Mark Ruffalo.
In founding Water Defense, Mark joined Matt Damon – co-founder of Water.org – in leveraging his influence to become a champion for clean water. Why do you feel that clean water is an issue that celebrities like Mark and Matt have become so passionate about?
I believe Mark and Matt understand there is one world and one waterway, and we are all connected. If we don’t bring people together to solve water contamination issues, nothing else really matters. Water is one of the biggest resources we take for granted. Without water, life ends. We drink it, bathe in it and cook with it.
For something so crucial to our everyday lives, we are doing a poor job in protecting the nation’s waterways. Unfortunately, people learn this lesson the hard way, and we want to educate people to prevent any more needless loss of life.
Those who live along the Gulf Coast, in Mayflower, Ark. and most recently in Charleston, W.Va. have experienced this firsthand. Worse is the lack of information and transparency that’s afforded to the public when accidents happen. We still don’t know the long-term effects of fracking and exactly what chemicals and gases are being released from deep below the cap rock of the Earth.
[Note: for those unfamiliar with fracking, see more in this resource provided by the Ohio Environmental Council.]
Clearly, with the Bakken oil train explosions of Lac-Megantic, Quebec; Aliceville, Ala.; and Casselton, N.D., we have started one of the more risky experiments in North America that will continue to cause tragic loss of human life if we do not develop new protocols and standards for not just understanding what explosive chemicals are being transported, but testing baseline water, which includes cumulative water testing. This is why the issue is so important to all of us, and it’s our mission to inspire people to stand up and take action to demand their right to clean water access.
Last month, you and Mark spoke out on behalf of clean water during a talk at Cape Cod Community College. For our readers that were unable to attend, could you please share more about the issues you covered?
We unveiled a new project we’re working on with Cape Cod Community College to create new protocols for baseline cumulative water testing that will allow the community to better monitor contaminants that accumulate over time and reduce pollution of Cape Cod’s waters.
Cumulative water testing mimics how life interacts with water. For example, a fish does not swim in the water for a split second; a child does not swim in the water for a split second; and people don’t bathe in the water for a split second. This initiative is a perfect example of what we want to replicate in communities throughout the country.
All waterways are connected; if there is a spill of Bakken oil in North Dakota that goes into the Missouri river, within seven to 10 days, the contaminated water will be in the Gulf Stream, which then flows up the East Coast to the waters of Cape Cod.
Your recent background is as the founder and inventor of OPFLEX Technology, an open cell foam sponge that helps to purify water. What inspired you to dedicate your life to clean water and develop this product, and go on to work with Mark as a part of Water Defense?
In 2006, a company I started was wiped out by oil-contaminated 500-year floodwaters in St. Johnsville, N.Y. After experiencing its destructive power, I dedicated my life to developing a simple solution that filters oil from water. This was the inspiration for what became OPFLEX Technology, which removes the oil at the source of contamination and prevent our waterways from being destroyed.
Also, while working side by side with fisherman and people in the communities of the Gulf of Mexico during the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, I realized the world was relying on instantaneous water testing – taking water samples for a split second from the surface of the water. I found instantaneous water testing was giving false negatives of dangerous oil-related chemicals and started to deploy OPFLEX as an environmental indicator throughout the entire water column – from surface to bottom, where life exists – and found accumulation of previously undetected oil and related chemicals.
Upon this discovery, my life changed forever. I realized I had a duty and obligation to inform people about cumulative water testing and what could be done to protect human health and save our waterways.
Mark heard of my work on the ground in the Gulf and then in Mayflower, Ark. after the March 2013 ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline oil spill and specifically asked me to join his organization in the fight for clean water. Needless to say, the decision was easy.
OPFLEX [pictured below] has exciting potential to help solve our world’s shortage of clean drinking water. Could you please describe briefly the technology behind OPFLEX and how it works to purify water?
OPFLEX is a reuseable foam technology that sits in all levels of the water column and absorbs contaminants through a capillary network of open cells while repelling water.
Essentially, the OPFLEX technology is based on biomimicry of human lungs, where the open cells are like the alveoli, effectively acting as a filter and utilizing unprecedented surface area to rapidly filter water. It can be used both for water testing and in cleanup efforts, and OPFLEX technology was the only technology out of 43,000 ideas endorsed, ordered, reordered and recycled by BP in the Gulf oil spill.
In fact, this is referenced in a USA Today business section cover story from November 2010. OPFLEX Technology can be used by both companies and consumers alike to detect contamination and prevent our waterways from being contaminated.
Cost is oftentimes cited as a major hurdle in when we discuss how to solve global water issues, whether the proposed solution is distribution or purification. How do you envision OPFLEX helping to ease some of the cost issues involved with water purification?
What’s great about investing in OPFLEX technology is that it’s reusable, cutting down on long-term costs.
You can also use it for both water testing and cleanup, reducing the tools you need to one simple solution. Because of the surface area of OPFLEX, the cost is around $.10 per square foot, even without reuse (so if you use OPFLEX 10 times, the cost goes to $.01 per square foot).
Conversely, products that do not effectively filter the water and wind up in landfills cost $2.00 per square foot and cannot be reused.
Nearly 300,000 West Virginia residents recently suffered through an unprecedented chemical spill, leaving their tap water unusable. Because so little is known about MCHM, the chemical spilled into the water, we were unable to offer our customers any water filters certified to reduce this contaminant. How would a technology like OPFLEX help to purify water supplies contaminated by – for lack of a better word – the ‘unknown’?
We utilized the same lab as the state of West Virginia and detected MCHM at concerning levels within the open cells of OPFLEX deployed in a bathtub in Charleston.
The lab verified the efficacy of the OPFLEX technology with control samples, too. It appears the company testing the waters in Charleston did not have technology that could filter the MCHM.
We attempted to donate OPFLEX filter bags, but the governor and water company showed no interest, which is unfortunate for the community. However, we don’t ever give up and will keep trying.
In addition to West Virginia, there have been several more prominent water contamination issues over the past year, including water that was contaminated by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines to the recent finding of E. Coli in several New York City drinking water tankers. How would a technology like OPFLEX help to purify water in these two types of situations?
We continue to develop prototype filtration systems that utilize OPFLEX in different configurations, such as eelgrass and cubes, which have shown preliminary results in their ability to substantially reduce biological oxygen demanders, chemical oxygen demanders, suspended solids and dissolved solids.
We are now researching E. coli. Because OPFLEX repels water, the technology can be used in these situations to assist in cleanup efforts by absorbing and removing oil and related non-polar contaminants like a magnet, along with metals due to its molecular structure.
Our thanks go out to Scott Smith, Mark Ruffalo and all at Water Defense and OPFLEX for their fight on behalf of clean water. We encourage you to learn more about this fight by watching the video provided by Scott below, sharing more about his history and the founding of OPFLEX.