Clever, fundamental engineering could go a long way toward preventing waterborne illness and exposure to carcinogenic substances in water.
Most of us are used to turning on a tap and water coming out. We rarely question whether this will happen or whether the water is clean enough to bathe in or drink. Though the process of maintaining water quality is practically invisible to most of us, removing bacteria and contaminants from water requires a lot of effort from both humans and treatment systems alike.
Mohammad Alizadeh Fard, a doctoral student in Michigan Tech’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and Brian Barkdoll, professor of civil and environmental engineering, are developing low-tech, affordable solutions to improve water quality in municipal water tanks, and to remove micropollutants from water using renewable materials.
Their research has been published in three journals—Journal of Hydraulic Engineering (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)HY.1943-7900.0001459), Journal of Molecular Liquids (DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.molliq.2017.11.039), and Colloids and Surfaces A(DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.colsurfa.2017.08.008)—with a fourth paper pending review. Their work proves that solutions to vexing problems can be elegant in their simplicity.
An Elegant, Low-Tech Solution
In communities around the nation, there are large water-storage tanks for municipal drinking use. Many such tanks have a line in to supply the tank with water, and a line out. However, these lines in and out are frequently at the tank bottom. Though the tanks are refilled daily, the water at the top of the tank is never used and becomes stagnant. Even though many municipal water supplies are treated with chlorine, the top water layer can become a breeding ground for bacteria, algae or waterborne illness, such as giardia and E. coli.
“If the water is not moving, (bacteria and algae) can start growing,” Barkdoll says. “It may not be originally from the water source; it could be from the air. Or the chlorine in the stagnant water could be used up after some time. You want the water to keep moving, especially in hot regions of the country.”
Keep the water circulating: Barkdoll and Alizadeh Fard’s shower head-like attachments that can be added to new or existing municipal water tanks keep water in the tanks moving, which prevents stagnation.
But if there’s a large fire in the community or surrounding countryside, the water tank is drawn down significantly, and people then drink the stagnant water.
“So, when you have a fire, all the stagnant water goes out to everybody’s house,” Barkdoll says. “After a fire, people get sick, that’s a known thing. That’s the problem that we’re trying to fix.”
To remedy the problem, Alizadeh Fard and Barkdoll created shower head-like attachments that can be added to new or existing water tanks for minimal cost. Adding a PVC-pipe sprinkler at the top of the tank, and a reverse sprinkler at the bottom of the tank, injects water into the system and keeps all the water circulating. Alizadeh Fard and Barkdoll published their article on this simple but effective system in the Journal of Hydraulic Engineering March 15. They hope it will be a low-tech solution easy for water quality managers to adopt.
Unseen Menace: Micropollutants
But organic contaminants are not the only source of contaminated water. Few municipal systems are equipped to handle micropollutants—such as pharmaceuticals, hormones, microplastics, nanoparticles in socks and synthetic fleece, and antifungal compounds—even types of industrial waste that are present in very low concentrations. Despite the small amounts—mere micrograms—of these pollutants in water, they still have carcinogenic effects on humans and aquatic creatures. Retrofitting treatment plants to filter for micropollutants is expensive, leading Barkdoll and Alizadeh Fard to explore potential solutions.
“These contaminants have long-term effects on health,” Alizadeh Fard says. “Most of our treatment plants have not been designed to remove them from water, so it’s important to find a reliable solution to address the problem.”
The Latest on: Micropollutants
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The Latest on: Micropollutants
- 2020 SCWRC Call for Abstractson May 30, 2020 at 5:00 pm
including micropollutants and emerging pollutants, etc. Many diverse groups are generating environmental data that are available for monitoring, assessing and predicting aspects of water quality and ...
- The Science of the total environmenton May 18, 2020 at 5:00 pm
A case study of organic micropollutants in a major Swedish water source - Removal efficiency in seven drinking water treatment plants and influence of operational age of granulated active carbon ...
- Tried-and-Tested Ways to Tighten and Firm Your Neck Areaon May 18, 2020 at 7:39 am
Wash your neck before bed. It's annoying, but just as important as cleansing your face."If you don't shower at night, micropollutants and free radicals from the day can cause premature aging of the ...
- 5 ways to make sure your neck looks as young as your faceon May 14, 2020 at 4:26 am
It's annoying, but just as important as cleansing your face."If you don't shower at night, micropollutants and free radicals from the day can cause premature aging of the skin on your neck ...
- Chemistry & Sustainable Development Goalson January 23, 2020 at 3:05 am
Chemistry plays an essential role in helping society achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the world’s largest scientific society, the American Chemical Society (ACS ... for removal of ...
- We have 1.5 trillion gallons of drinking water. Are we keeping it safe?on January 21, 2020 at 6:42 pm
Manufactured compounds known as micropollutants have been found in local streams, rivers and aquifers, Eckberg said. Some common micropollutants include pharmaceuticals, chemicals in personal care ...
- Innovative Technology and System for Sustainable Water Useon August 28, 2019 at 12:30 pm
Reusing wastewater tends to employ extreme methods, such as reverse osmosis, because of overreaction to the risks associated with pathogens and micropollutants. Given these problems, this study aims ...
- Janssen, Elisabethon May 31, 2019 at 7:38 pm
My work is rooted in environmental and analytical chemistry of aquatic enzymes, natural toxins, and micropollutants. I investigate the environmental behavior of these molecules to define the exposure ...
- Scientists find cocaine in UK shrimpon May 2, 2019 at 7:56 pm
Scientists from King's College London and the University of Suffolk tested the exposure of freshwater shrimp to different micropollutants at 15 different sites in the county of Suffolk.
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