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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 Dates: December 2016 - November 2021

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 this period, the team able to perform many activities related to results dissemination, as well as performing research work and meetings to plan for future actions. A first successful attempt was done on the tuning of the room temperature phosphorescence automatic sampler after receiving aluminum and 3D printed spare parts. This allowed high reproducibility of the measurement along with high accuracy in the results much demanded in analytical chemistry. The software was also updated upon receiving from Princeton perpetual license for free based on the good relation the team has with the company.

In addition, the team was able to perform new experiments on the degradation of a specific drug tramadol done by new graduate chemistry student. During this period, a graduate student passed her pre-defense upon presentation of her work on naproxen degradation using solar PS activated systems compared to UVA activation systems. The PI was able to enlarge his research team after securing USAID MEPI Tomorrow's Leader grant allowing student recruitment under work study program and the purchasing of missing elements for the industrial effluent demonstration plant. The plan is to reach KPI by creating a start-up under Create X project to address industrial effluent treatment in Lebanon and in the region.

Finally, results dissemination also took place where the PI submitted two abstracts to the ACS meeting that were recently accepted. The PI also talked about PEER results and PEER importance in two international virtual meetings organized by USAID and by HORIZON EUROPE. Despite the actual economic crisis that Lebanon is going through, the team was able to sustain activities and to continue building capacities through the recruitment and training of students.

As the project reaches its final phase, the team plans to complete the following in the coming months:
  1. Completing the tuning and tests of the SS-RTP apparatus software.
  2. Testing the heating pad incorporated in the autosampler and studying the heating time effect on the emission signals of some organic pollutants.
  3. Continue the editorial work on the Sulfamethoxazole paper as part of the thesis work of Ms. Zahraa Abou Khalil.
  4. Follow up on the SA/SEP project with LAU consult and provide any required technical information.
  5. Complementing the new Create X team with students from the computer science department and mechanical engineering department.
  6. Ordering some supplies and tools with the remaining budget that should be totally spent by November 2021.
  7. Submitting recorded oral presentations to the Fall ACS meeting after receiving acceptance for virtual participation.
  8. Following up on the responses to Examiner on SACOS patent filed in Europe (results from PEER 1). The first response was sent on March 2021 and no answer yet from the examiner.
  9. Working on Naproxen degradation as part of the work of graduate student Ms. Sarah Ghazali.
  10. Following up on the assigned work of graduate student M. Weam Bou Karroum who is working on comparative study on the degradation of tramadol by thermal and solar assisted PS AOP based techniques.
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