Saturday, June 16, 2018

Water quality workshop for water filtration company

The regular followers of my blog should realise that most of my workshops are geared towards schools, whether for teachers of students. I have recently conducted one in collaboration with Singapore Red Cross and Lifelong Learning Council though.

But this time round, I organise a water quality workshop for a water filtration system company. Interestingly, the attendees were staff from sales & marketing, admin, installation and management. Quite a mix of job functions and technical background! Challenging for a trainer but nothing I have not seen before.

Regardless, the rules of pedagogy still apply. A trainer or facilitator should always present materials of use and interest to the audience. In a chemistry class, chemical equations of reactions in water are ubiquitous but to a sales staff (and his customer), the same equations become Greek and frankly of little use.

And whether in a chemistry class, public workshop or private workshop for a client company, it always bring satisfaction to a trainer when he sees his learners motivated to know more and keen to try out the newly acquired skills. In that sense, trainers (and learners) are perhaps not that different despite the differences in subject matter, background and current levels of knowledge and skills.

Figure: A practical session in water quality testing within the company's premises. No, those participants looking outside the window were not admiring the scenery. They were using the colour comparator (not visible) which needs a good souce of lighting e.g. daylight.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Worried about lead? Here's a simple test

Lead in tap water was mentioned in some of my earlier posts - 1, 2. Essentially, SG tap water is relatively safe when it comes to lead. "Unless you happen to live in a really old building which still retains its leaded pipes over the decades... and unless somehow your building falls under the radar of the extensive sampling and monitoring programme... then maybe you should be worried."

Nevertheless, I had a concerned reader contacting me about his worry of lead in tap water because he bought a water faucet over the net from Taobao. Apparently, he read (only after buying the faucet) about lead being used in fabrication of the faucet. With online shopping becoming more common now, who even knows much about the product one bought? Where are the parts from? Are they certified safe? Are the accreditation standards different from SG?

But I hear you say that it is SO convenient to buy online. Indeed it is. I too buy lots of stuff online...

Anyway, back to lead...

In another post, I recommended this product to test for lead in water painlessly.
PurTest DIY Lead Water Testing Kit. USD16.95
I chanced upon another similar product but of a different supplier on Amazon and got 2 tests for SGD33, inclusive of delivery.

Figure: Test kit for lead from USA. About as foolproof as a test kit can be.
Figure: The testing materials are all packed in a foil package. Open it only when you are ready to test your water.

Figure: A workshop participant residing in the Havelock area was concerned about lead in her tap water as her building was really old, say 40 years or older. An aliquot of her tap water was placed in the plastic container (part of the test kit) before dipping the test strip inside and waiting for 10min.
Figure: Just like a pregnancy test kit! The pattern of the 2 lines - 1 faint, 1 dark, indicate a negative result. As usual, such a test only tells you YES or NO or in this case, whether the lead level has exceeded the safety level. Do keep in mind that this test kit is designed for USA with a safety level of 15ppb (parts per billion) whereas SG follows WHO standards which stipulate a safety level of 10ppb. Nevertheless, I am not going to get a stressed up over a difference of 5ppb. If the lead level is safe enough for USA, it is good enough for me. Still, doing the test 1 or 2 more times and getting a negative will improve my confidence in the water's safety.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

No good place for field work? Finally settled on a new location...

I recently conducted water quality monitoring (WQM) workshop for teachers in a secondary school. Naturally, field work is part of the workshop's curriculum. However, I experienced a knotty issue in finding a suitable location in good old SG.

Here are some of the potential sites and why they were not selected.

Figure: Alexandra Canal - much of this upstream portion was fenced up and under construction
Figure: Alexandra Canal further downstream. Highly inaccessible with a a few metres down from ground level. No way I am climbing down there.

Heard about what a great place Berlayar Creek was. Finally took some time to check its suitability for field work.
Figure: Berlayar Creek is a nice mangrove stream leading to the sea. But it is not accessible without going through some serious mud and probably getting stuck. It sounds fun but may not be so appropriate for a group new to WQM and not used to bashing through the wild. In addition, I am not in favour of disturbing the ecology there by getting a group of humans fumbling through the place.
West Coast Park is another nice place that I have been visiting for years, either for WQM or biodiversity survey. Accessible, safe yet natural enough. What's not to like about it?

Figure: Photo of West Coast Park taken a few years back. Guess what? This nice brackish water body is now fenced off for renovation! I don't have a photo of it now though.
Ngee Ann Stream - one of my favourite locations of all time! Regrettably, I haven't been there for years and the last time I went, there were construction and development in one of the last bastions of nature in SG.

Regrettably again, I did not take any photos but unbelievably, the first part of Ngee Ann Stream (just opposite Ngee Ann Polytechnic) was hopelessly overgrown with vegetation! Without some heavy bashing or getting one wet in the stream itself, it was pretty impassable. Another dead end to finding a place for field work!


a place further than normally I would go with a big group....

Kallang River @ Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park

The river itself is mostly accessible. Toilets and shelters nearby. No need for bashing through. Some mud is unavoidable but not a problem. (Hey, this is field work, remember?)

Amazingly, there are even designated water sampling points!!! Stone paths leading down to the water edge clear of vegetation. Sounds too good to be true. (Read to the end of this post for an unforseen problem - something no recce would have uncovered.)

Figure: Bishan-AMK Park. This spot is not a designated WQM station but it is easy enough to access by the bank. Alternatively, a depth sampler can be released on the bridge to sample water right in the middle of the river.

Figure: Depth sampler. Quite bulky to carry around in its casing but immensely useful for sampling water from a bridge, jetty or in a boat. The yellow reel holds a rope which is marked along its length to measure the depth the sampling cylinder is submerged.
Figure: 1 of the designated sampling spot in Bishan-AMK Park. Paved stones leading down to the water edge.
Figure: WQM is not just for students. Teacher have to get their hands wet and dirty too. Testing the water sample for nutrients, hardness and other WQ parameters. The shade from this shelter was a bonus.
If you have been reading this far, you deserve to know a problem we encountered when we did the actual field work. (I assume you did not jump straight to the end here just to find out.) 

While we were thick in the middle of WQM by the water's edge, a security staff (Gosh, we have Cisco security in parks now!) came up to chase us off because Lower Peirce Reservoir was upstream of us and it was going to open its dam to release water into Kallang River. For our own safety, we have to climb up the slope beyond the safety markers which were some distance away from the water.

Too bad but safety always come first. We did manage to collect some water samples for further testing under the shade of shelters so it was not a total loss for us.