Regional
4:06 pm
Wed May 22, 2013

UTEP Researchers Search For Ways To Treat Contaminated Water

  Chemists, biologists and engineers at The University of Texas at El Paso are developing a treatment to remove endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) in reclaimed water and drinking water.

EDCs are chemicals commonly found in household and industrial products, including BPA in plastics and nonylphenols found in detergents and pesticides, that are capable of disrupting hormonal balance within humans and wildlife and leading to reproductive disturbances.

“The release of these compounds is continuous, and an emerging concern worldwide,” said Wen-Yee Lee, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry and principal investigator of the study. “For instance, BPA is released from plastics and you digest it. It then goes down the drain. Nonylphenols in detergents are washed with our laundry, and also go down the drain.”

The EDCs end up in wastewater treatment plants, which are unable to entirely remove them.

According to Lee, who has sampled the region’s wastewater before and after treatment, a significant amount end up escaping the treatment process, and ultimately reenter the environment via reclaimed water and drinking water pipes. 

“We’re not just dealing with one compound, but a complexity of them all mixed together that create a sort of soup,” she said. “And we’re not sure how this mixing alters the compounds and affects us yet.”

In order to remove the compounds from the water, the team constructed a small wastewater testing facility where they found that additional disinfection processes via UV rays and chlorination lead to the removal of EDCs.

They hope to validate their results this summer by expanding the study to six existing municipal wastewater treatment plants in El Paso and Socorro, N.M. Their goal is to develop an effective treatment for the complete removal of the compounds.

There are currently no regulations that require the removal of EDCs from water systems, but the team hopes the results will provide water utilities worldwide with an effective treatment process to respond to future regulation.

Co-principal investigators in the study are UTEP’s Shane Walker, Ph.D., assistant professor of civil engineering; Marc Cox, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences; and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology’s Frank Huang, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental engineering. UTEP doctoral civil engineering student Cesar Bezares is also on the team.