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NSF Awards University for Drinking Water Research

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

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At the beginning of the month, the National Science Foundation awarded the University of Pittsburgh a $500,000 CAREER award to address the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal.

For the project, lead researcher and assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, Leanne Gilbertson, will put together a team to create a sustainable material design framework to mitigate pathogen exposure for clean drinking water.

“In addition to tap water from large-scale, municipal distribution, there are many other scenarios where we may want to disinfect our water before we drink it, such as when it is sourced from private wells or nature,” said Gilbertson. “There are also emerging sources of drinking water, such as water reuse where wastewater is treated to potable standards, presenting new disinfection challenges.”

Specifically, Gilbertson’s team plans to examine graphitic carbon nitride (g-C3N4), a sustainable material due to its low-cost and abundant resources, the non-metal material possesses antimicrobial properties when activated with visible light.

“We will modify the chemistry of graphitic carbon nitride to improve its photocatalytic performance,” Gilbertson said. “When light is absorbed by the material, it generates reactive oxygen species that can kill microorganisms.”

txking / Getty Images

At the beginning of the month, the National Science Foundation awarded the University of Pittsburgh a $500,000 CAREER award to address the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal.

Over the course of the research, Pitt will be working with Aquisense, an industry leader in LED-enabled disinfection, to develop a point-of-use model. According to the university, the model will use a drinking water treatment device, such as a filter or portable reactor, to integrate enhanced materials for inactivating harmful bacteria.

“By manipulating the structure and composition of graphitic carbon nitride at the atomic level, we have the ability to control its optical absorption and performance for photocatalytic disinfection,” said Yan Wang, a postdoctoral associate at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and former PhD student in the Gilbertson Group who started this project.

“Using LED technology further enables us to flexibly configure the light wavelength best suited for maximum absorption of a designed material.”

In addition to modifying the chemistry of g-C3N4, Nathalia Aquino de Carvalho, a current PhD student in the Gilbertson group and lead author of their recent paper that lays the foundation for the project, notes that the team will also apply a life cycle assessment to the team’s findings to identify any environmental impacts associated with the synthetization.

“LCA will enable us to identify hot spots in the synthesis, tradeoffs of different synthesis routes, and opportunities to reduce the environmental footprint prior to scaling production,” said Aquino de Carvalho. “Applying LCA while we are designing the material enables competitive, environmentally responsible development of graphitic carbon nitride.”

In addition to the team’s goal of creating a point-of-use device that addresses the challenge of sustainably providing safe drinking water, they also hope to develop a series of educational resources for the general public through a podcast and a “Science Through Storytelling” program to engage elementary students in STEM.

Pittsburgh Water Work

Regarding clean water, back in 2019 the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority started opening street hydrants and flushing water mains in the anticipation of adding orthophosphate to the water supply, an additive often used to control the release of lead and copper.

The work arrived after Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed 161 criminal charges against the PWSA that February, alleging that the authority had failed to notify residents of when lead pipe replacements would be occurring, and failed to sample water within a specified timeframe after the pipes had been replaced.

“Orthophosphate addition is the interim step to reduce to the risk of lead in water found in some homes. Our long-term goal is to remove all lead service lines from the system,” said PWSA Executive Director Robert A. Weimar at the time.

PWSA spokesperson Will Pickering told the Post-Gazette that it could be several months before seeing a reduction in lead water levels. Main line flushing began March 18, and was slated to continue in different neighborhoods until March 29. The 2019 lead line replacement program was slated to start sometime that spring, with an ideal completion by June 2020.

More recently, earlier this year the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced that it had reached a consent agreement with the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority over various stormwater inspection and enforcement violations.

The agreement comes as a settlement following a variety of violations, including but not limited to failure to implement inspections and enforcement procedures for construction site erosion, sediment control measures and post-construction stormwater management best management practices.

The agreement comes as a settlement following a variety of violations, including but not limited to failure to implement inspections and enforcement procedures for construction site erosion, sediment control measures and post-construction stormwater management best management practices.

Under the agreement, both entities are required to:

  • Submit an updated stormwater code for approval to the Pittsburgh city council by July 2021;
  • Hire additional inspectors and enforcement staff for 2022; and
  • Put management partnership procedures in place by the end of January 2022.

The agreement requires the city and PWSA to comply with a schedule of activities to ensure full compliance with these requirements by March 31, 2022, and to submit quarterly progress reports to EPA.

EPA coordinated with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in developing the settlement. ALCOSAN is subject to a federal-state-county consent decree that requires it to reduce sewage overflows into rivers and streams and end the illegal discharges from sanitary sewer outfalls.

   

Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Colleges and Universities; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Health & Safety; Health and safety; Latin America; North America; potable water; Research; Research and development; Water/Wastewater; Z-Continents

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