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Cycle 5 (2015 Deadline)

Enhancing water quality monitoring and improving water disinfection processes in Lebanon

PI: Antoine Ghauch ( , American University of Beirut
U.S. Partner: David Sedlak, University of California, Berkeley

Project Overview:

5-018 Ghauch photo 1
Freshly graduated with a BS in Chemistry and a USAID scholarship student Omar Tantawi during testing a Concentrated Solar Power system developed in our laboratory for Persulfate activation toward the degradation of organic contaminants and the disinfection of water. (Photo courtesy of PI Antoine Ghauch)
Relative to its neighbors, Lebanon has often been considered as a water-rich country. Unfortunately, the combined effects of climate change, population growth, and infrastructure underinvestment are creating considerable water stress in Lebanese cities. Specifically, an extended drought coupled with increased water demands from the arrival of large numbers of Syrian refugees is increasing the potential for water supply problems and degradation of water quality. International support for capacity building came first from USAID, which funded three municipal wastewater treatment plants to serve the population in the Beqaa and rehabilitated the main water establishments in the country by improving existing infrastructures. These efforts improved water quality, but there are still significant unmet needs. Development of existing but underdeveloped and new water resources would require consideration of the potential impacts of water pollution due to chemical contaminants and infectious disease pathogens. Currently, a lack of inexpensive water quality monitoring tools and the absence of advanced treatment technologies for industrial waste, hospital effluents, solid waste leachates, and municipal wastewater limit Lebanon’s ability to respond to challenges posed by water pollution.

This project will improve water technologies and expand local capacity to monitor organic contaminants (OCs) and eradicate pathogenic bacteria in drinking water supplies. Previously, the research team received a PEER Cycle 1 award to investigate the use of activated persulfate (PS) to degrade trace concentrations of OCs in wastewater and water supplies. Dr. Ghauch and his colleagues also developed a room temperature phosphorimeter (RTP) capable of detecting special dyes used for verifying the authenticity of official papers such as banknotes. The first generation RTP was used for this application because it lacked the sensitivity needed to detect low concentrations of chemicals with low phosphorescence yields. In this new PEER Cycle 5 project, the team will now develop an innovative instrument to detect trace amounts of OCs in water by using a solid surface to pre-concentrate the OCs. Research will be conducted to identify materials that can be functionalized to improve the phosphorescence yield of the deposited OCs. After its accuracy and precision are verified, this new instrument will be used to assess the performance of different types of water treatment systems. It will also be used to monitor some OCs in Lebanese waterways that pose potential health risks (for example, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons produced by cars and solid waste incineration). Technologies to be investigated include PS chemical and thermal activation methods and solar-based photolysis, with and without added oxidants. This approach can be used to degrade OCs while simultaneously inactivating bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens responsible for infectious diseases in contaminated drinking water. Experience obtained from studies with the new apparatus and different types of treatment systems will be used to develop a miniaturized prototype of the RTP, with the main goal of creating an inexpensive, robust sensor for monitoring trace OCs and the performance of water treatment systems. These objectives, once accomplished, should have important societal impacts by helping to decrease the toxicity of industrial effluents and sewage that are contaminating drinking water supplies and increasing the likelihood that infectious diseases will be spread. The team's results should also provide analytical and technical support to the nation’s water systems and help to involve stakeholders in efforts to improve water quality and the sustainability of drinking water availability.

Summary of Recent Activities

During the summer period of 2018, the project team investigated the degradation of theophylline drug in a real sample collected from MEPHICO and the team demonstrated the effectiveness of the suggested treatment in eliminating 100% of this drug. UV/Persulfate technology has proven its efficiency on a laboratory scale reactor and can be easily implemented on a larger scale. At the same time, the research team launched new investigation into the preparation of Metal Oxide Frameworks (MOFs) in order to improve persulfate activation over long time period with the possibility of recycling the catalysts. They continued the testing phase of the SS-RTP system and were able to define new specifications of the optical fibers so that to improve signal sensitivity based on the high iCCD output. We also planned for the measurement of RTP in solution and ordered a peltier cooled fluorescence/absorbance q-pod cell in order to secure measurement of OCs in solution as well. This will open the way toward additional analytical development in RTP for potential improvement of analytical responses of probes in solution. A specially designed optical fiber was ordered having similar properties as the bifurcated one use for SS-RTP. In addition, data gathered over this period was submitted and part of it is already published in peer-reviewed international journals or accepted for presentation at international conferences in the form of an oral or a poster presentation.

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