Nitrate removal from small community water systems (Fall 2017 - Present)

Motivation

Nitrate is a common contaminant in drinking water sources, such as ground and surface water supplies. Concentrations are typically highest near urban and agricultural runoff and industrial and municipal wastewaters. Consumption of nitrate contaminated groundwater by infants and pregnant women is linked to causing methemoglobinemia (i.e. blue baby syndrome).  To minimize these public health impacts, the US EPA has created a primary guideline of 10 mg/L as nitrogen for nitrate.

Small community water systems (CWS), which serve of less than 10,000 people, are especially vulnerable to these health challenges. These communities generally have limited access to the financial and technological resources necessary for employing physical and chemical nitrate removal methods. The development of inexpensive and low-complexity nitrate removal technologies for small CWS is crucial for providing potable water to these spaces.

A small community water system (CWS) located in Polk County, FL that we have incorporated into previous research efforts.

A small community water system (CWS) located in Polk County, FL that we have incorporated into previous research efforts.


Research

Various sulfur-bearing minerals in the lab.

Various sulfur-bearing minerals in the lab.

Our research harnesses natural biological processes ubiquitous throughout the planet. This is a promising approach for creating affordable and low-maintenance technologies for small CWS. We are examining the performance of sulfur-bearing minerals to mediate biological nitrate removal. Previous research has found success in employing specific sulfur-bearing minerals for treating nitrate contaminated wastewater. Therefore, we are interested in assessing and comparing the performance of these minerals to promote nitrate removal from drinking water supplies. Furthermore, these minerals are abundant and widespread and can potentially be easily acquired for application in engineered systems.

 
Microscope image of a microbe in a specimen collected from one of our engineered systems.

Microscope image of a microbe in a specimen collected from one of our engineered systems.

Interdisciplinary component of our research

Our research also seeks to understand the underlying biological mechanisms that promote nitrate removal using sulfur-bearing minerals. We are combining principles of environmental engineering with bioinformatics to acquire knowledge on these mechanisms. I am currently working with Dr. Emmanuel Talla at the French National Center for Scientific Research to examine microbial diversity and abundance in samples collected from engineered systems containing sulfur-bearing minerals. Our objective is to evaluate microbial community evolution and characterize the population during peak nitrate removal performance. We hope to apply the results from this study to refine the design of our engineered systems.

 
Erica will be spending six months beginning July 2019 at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Marseille, France. She will work with Dr. Emmanuel Talla and use bioinformatic tools to examine microbial community structure in experiments geared towards biologically removing nitrate from small community drinking water systems. This project is supported by the Chateaubriand Fellowship Program ( https://www.chateaubriand-fellowship.org/ ).

Erica will be spending six months beginning July 2019 at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Marseille, France. She will work with Dr. Emmanuel Talla and use bioinformatic tools to examine microbial community structure in experiments geared towards biologically removing nitrate from small community drinking water systems. This project is supported by the Chateaubriand Fellowship Program (https://www.chateaubriand-fellowship.org/).

 

Mentoring

Our research engages biotechnology students from the Hillsborough Community College located in Brandon, Florida. Students have the opportunity to gain hands-on and cross-disciplinary research experience. At the end of their internship experience, students can:

  • Develop experimental protocols

  • Perform analytical water quality measurements using standard methods

  • Operate and maintain ion chromatography instruments to measure specific anion and cation chemical species

  • Apply molecular biology methods (e.g., DNA extraction, polymerase chain reactions, gel electrophoresis)

  • Process and interpret data

  • Problem solve and troubleshoot

  • Provide clear and concise oral deliverables during weekly group meetings

  • Work collaboratively with other team members

  • Present research findings at local and national conferences