“by the way, what is polluted and what is clean?”
“by being able to monitor the environment ourselves, we de-mystify the work of scientists”
“does all water for human use have to be immaculate?”
㊌ Pacco-test (2013-17)
There is something paradoxical about water in cities: on the one hand it falls from the sky and is freely available in rivers, canals and fountains; on the other people are prepared to pay more for water than for fuel. The reason is obvious: public water can be polluted and one does not take risk with health. But is water really that polluted? Are we not frightened into suspecting all un-packaged water by water-bottlers? And, by the way, what is polluted and what is clean?
Testing the quality of water is most often left to scientific experts in government institutions, universities and large companies. They dispose of expensive and complex equipment, specialised training and own agendas they need to meet. Because the environment as such is already a complicated system, and made even more so by human intervention, this expertise plays a crucial role in our daily lives. Scientific analysis is crucial in the development of legislation for human activity impact control on the environment and our health.
Being able to monitor the environment ourselves, we de-mystify the work of scientist. Understanding leads to knowledge and along with knowledge comes the power to make decisions that increase the quality of our lives, to pay less for water that does not have to be of the highest quality for every use, and to signal pollution in local surface water and make data available to scientists who study changes in water quality.
The Pacco-test emerged from City Mine(d)’s action EauPropre I ProperWater in the summer of 2012. This aimed at confronting those involved with the technical character of water storage and purification, as well as with the not always founded fear of the wider public for unbottled water.
The technical character of water is translated in the way it is managed in the city: purification, distribution and evacuation require heavy infrastructure. The pressure on this system is often unnecessarily increased but the general use of drinking water, even at times when a lower quality would suffice. On top of that, rain in cities is often evacuated through the sewage system, rather than by means of natural infiltration.
As said, the wider public’s fear of water has to do with pollution – meaning river and canal swimmers are often labelled as desperado’s – , but also with a health concern that creates the impression that all water for human consumption has to be immaculate.
Both cases are caused by the lack of knowledge about water in general, and about the local source in particular. Together with a group of scientists, a solution was searched for an awareness-raising campaign about water. A first version would use test strips to measure the quality of water and allow the user to roughly estimate the quality of following a flow chart.
The strips proved highly inaccurate, making the data useless for the scientists involved. Therefore, work started on an electronic test-kit. Based on an Arduino microprocessor and affordable sensors, a kit was compiled, the Pacco-test, that can measure the quality of water and store it in its memory.
The Pacco-test suitcase to be
The Pacco-test eventually will become a small case with 5 probes for testing the quality of surface water, and translating the outcomes to parameters for everyone to understand. It measures conductivity (amount of particles dissolved in water), acidity (water’s Ph), temperature, dissolved oxygen and oxygen level (amount of oxygen and oxidants in water).
Individuals, groups, schools or neighbourhood associations will be able to borrow the little case, allowing themselves to have a better indication of the health of a local pond or stream. A geotag puts every measurement on a map which in turn will be available online. Thus every test contributes to localizing water in the city, as well as to a clearer picture of its quality. Meanwhile a database is created, aiding the work of researchers studying surface water.
The Pacco-test combines awareness-raising with accessible technology and citizen science. The lasting impact is user’s awareness of the quality of local surface water, the impulse for them to no longer water plants and wash bicycles with drinking water and the dataset made available to scientists. Repeated use of the Pacco-test can reveal an evolution over time, and it can help identify sources of pollution.
The name Pacco in Pacco-test
Although the name Pacco in Pacco-test stands for Ph, Aquatic oxidation potential, Conductivity, Celsius and Oxygen, it bears suspicious resemblance to Antoine Pacco’s last name. He is the chemist at the origin of this citizen-science initiative.
A prototype of the Pacco-test probes were tested by the public in May 2013 during the Biodiversity Parcours organised by the Royal Belgian Institute for Natural Sciences (RBINS). On the occasion 20 water points in the Europena neighbourhood were sampled and tested. A fully functioning version of the Pacco-test is due in the autumn of 2013.
Contributed to the Pacco-test:
Antoine Pacco, Guy Vanbelle, Annemie Maes, Carole Paleco, Kevin De Bondt, City Mine(d), Research in Brussels, Natacha Brion / VUB, Bob Motté, Matthieu Melcot.
July 1, 2014: we are finishing the hardware phase of the Pacco-test
For the first time all parts are connected, AND are working autonomously from a 12V battery.
ATTENTION ALL (POTENTIAL) PARTNERS !
Organisations and groups who want to use the Pacco-test as part of their work should contact us NOW. Towards the end of the summer the software phase will be finished, after which we will start calibrating the machine to make it scientifically accurate. If your organisation has certain conditions, requirements or wishes; NOW is the time to contact us, so we can include what you want in the final design.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Pacco-fest report [15/02/2014], the starting of an open process to collectively build and use a scientific measuring instrument for water quality hat is relevant for citizens as well as scientists.
The Pacco-fest is a festive brainstorm that consists of an intercative expo, a point d'idées and conversations. The different subjects are subdivided in 7 groups, each of which named after a physical part of the Pacco-test. The groupes not only collect practical questions, but also more conceptual, social and political ones. The groupes are: the box, the screen, the computer, the lending point, the data-base, the users and water.
Each question is an opportunity for more or less formal discussions. After 15 February three working parties [Science, Computer, Quartier] will be formed around different subject of debate. They can help find solutions or take on the challenge.
Eau Propre | Proper Water
by City Mine(d)
is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Belgium License