What's in our water?

Nov 05, 2009
What's in our water?
April Gu, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University, examines water in the lab. Photo by Craig Bailey

(PhysOrg.com) -- Although America's supply of drinking water is considered among the world's safest, there is an urgent need to develop more stringent regulations to guide how water is monitored for pollutants, according to April Gu, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University. Gu is working on the fundamental research underlying our ability to identify and monitor real and potential pollutants in water and remove them at lower cost than is now possible.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and the Environment Research Foundation, Gu and her colleagues hope to provide the necessary information to improve--both in cost and efficiency--how water treatment facilities remove pollutants from wastewater before it is released into the environment—our bays, harbors, rivers, and lakes.

Boston’s largest wastewater treatment facility, housed on Deer Island, treats 370 million gallons of sewage each day from 43 communities in Massachusetts. Gu is looking at how a treatment facility like this can improve current contaminant removal processes to make the water safer.

She is exploring a method to monitor how genes in bacteria are expressed when exposed to emerging contaminants, including nanomaterials and other toxic compounds that are products of new technology-driven industries. The data collected on the genetic reactions will provide fundamental toxicity data about the chemicals present in the water. This, said Gu, would provide a scientific basis on which to develop updated and accurate federal water regulations.

“Industrialization has led to a dramatic increase in the number of potential toxins in our water supply, yet we do not have sufficient monitoring systems in place that can detect them,” said Gu. “This sophisticated and reliable technique will help researchers evaluate and identify a greater number of potential contaminants, vastly improving our water assessment processes.”

Gu and her colleagues are also examining the impact of wastewater-derived organic nutrients on eutrophication, a process that leads to the overgrowth of nutrients in lakes, streams, rivers and other bodies of fresh water. The abundance of these nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorous, causes excessive growth of algae and other aquatic plants, which in turn causes fish and shellfish and other plant species to die from a lack of oxygen.

Eutrophication decreases the resource value of rivers, lakes and estuaries, and is still the leading cause of deterioration in our nation’s water supply, said Gu, whose research also focuses on improving ways to remove this form of pollution.

“We need to better monitor the water for pollutants, and most importantly, develop innovative and cost-effective ways to remove these pollutants to make drinking as safe as possible,” she said.

Provided by Northeastern University (news : web)

Explore further: Brazil carbon emissions rise for first time in decade

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers find key to saving the world's lakes

Jul 21, 2008

After completing one of the longest running experiments ever done on a lake, researchers from the University of Alberta, University of Minnesota and the Freshwater Institute, contend that nitrogen control, in which the European ...

Too much nanotechnology may be killing beneficial bacteria

Apr 29, 2008

Too much of a good thing could be harmful to the environment. For years, scientists have known about silver’s ability to kill harmful bacteria and, recently, have used this knowledge to create consumer products containing ...

Early-Warning Water Security System to be Tested

Aug 25, 2006

Colorado State engineering researchers have begun testing an early-warning security system designed to alert city utility officials when major pollutants are detected in water supplies.

Recommended for you

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.