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Clarkson receives EPA grant to study water decontamination

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POTSDAM — Clean drinking water is not only essential for life, but increasingly rare as well. That is why researchers at Clarkson University are seeking new, more efficient methods to decontaminate water.

Thanks to a $499,778 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Clarkson civil and environmental engineering professor Christopher Bellona and his associates will be able to pursue new water-cleaning technology.

“They sent a out request for proposals to address issues that small systems would have with organic contaminants,” Mr. Bellona said.“There’s something like 55 regulated contaminants but thousands of unregulated ones.”

Conventional water treatment plants don’t remove contaminants, such as antibiotics and pesticides, from water. Mr. Bellona said new research is into systems that would.

“Most systems don’t effectively remove the contaminants they have in their water supply, so the EPA is looking for new ways to address that on a system scale,” he said. “Conventional systems focus on removing particles, microbial pathogens, but not contaminants.”

The research is not in response to any newly discovered health risk.

“There has been a lot of research in looking at the occurrence of these chemicals in treated drinking water. They have analytical methods that get down to extremely low concentration,” said Mr. Bellona. “At these concentrations, there’s not an issue related to human health. It is more of a public perception issue.”

In a Thursday statement, the EPA acknowledged that drinking-water contaminants are a concern, but not an immediate threat to public health. A larger concern is the rising cost of treating water for public consumption.

“Concerns for man-made and naturally-occurring chemicals found in surface water, ground water, finished drinking water, and wastewaters pose a host of treatment and management challenges and potential health risks for communities served by public water systems,” the statement said.“These challenges are exacerbated for small systems, those serving 10,000 persons or less.”

Mr. Bellona said his research would benefit smaller systems.

Under Mr. Bellona’s process, water would go through two rounds of decontamination, through an ultra-fine membrane to sift out particles and pathogens, and then through a process of oxidation to remove contaminants. The result should be water that is pure, clean and drinkable — at a smaller price tag than similar processes.

“By cutting out the amount of chemicals required and increasing the robustness of the process, we can develop a process that is more cost effective than other advanced treatment processes,” Mr. Bellona said.

He said his research is the first time the two methods of purifying water have been combined.

“No one has ever tried to couple a membrane system with the advanced oxidation process into one technology, so we’re excited about it,” Mr. Bellona said.

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