Shock and show

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Shock and show

Though the United States has some of the cleanest and most reliable drinking water in the world, emerging environmental contaminants pose unknown risks. The Opus College of Engineering’s Water Quality Center is working to understand some risks and identify a way to remediate them.

Through a $200,000 National Science Foundation grant, Dr. Brooke Mayer, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering, and a team of researchers are studying a process that uses electricity to treat estrogens and viruses in water.

When an electrical current is applied to water it helps agglomerate small particles. The resultant larger particles can capture contaminants such as viruses and estrogens on their surfaces, which removes them from the water. Additionally the electric current creates reduction and oxidation reactions that can directly mitigate estrogens and viruses. “The process is called electrocoagulation and it involves passing electrical currents through electrodes in water,” says Mayer. “Unlike some conventional processes, no chemical has to be added to the system, which simplifies operational aspects.”

Viruses and estrogens exist in water naturally but human factors have increased the amounts found in bodies of water used for drinking. These contaminants are not currently regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency but are on the EPA’s Contaminant Candidate List as targets for priority research.

The results of this research will be valuable in making future regulatory decisions that provide a scientific basis for how the nation and world can improve water treatment processes. “Ultimately our results should lead to cleaner drinking water, healthier people and more efficient treatment processes that save cities money by using less energy than current processes,” Mayer says.

To complete the research, Mayer is working with Dr. Patrick McNamara, assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering, and Dr. Daniel Zitomer, professor and director of the Water Quality Center. Supporting the work are doctoral students Emily Gorsalitz and Joseph Heffron, and postdoctoral fellow Dr. Yi Yang. — AB

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