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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 2019

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

Over the first period of 2019, the team continued working on the planned activities. In fact, the team tried to improve effluent treatment technologies by adopting the use of innovative iron-based Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOF). Upon successful synthesis of new MOFs, experiments were done in persulfate (PS)-spiked reactors to assess the role that MOFs can play in the activation of PS toward the formation of reactive oxidation species (ROS). The first results showed mitigated outcomes in terms of efficiency of degradation of organic contaminants (OCs) namely pharmaceutical active ingredients (PAIs) e.g. Sulfamethoxazole and Naproxen. However, the team overcome this drawback by suggesting simultaneous irradiation of MOFs by UVA light similar to that received by the sun so as to make the treatment process more ecological and sustainable. The results were very successful and part of them were submitted to the 258th ACS Fall meeting at San Diego. On the other hand, the team continued the development of the solid surface room temperature phosphorimeter by developing a LabView based software allowing for the control of the apparatus and its different components. The software’s main features are the measurement of the decay of the room temperature phosphorescence signal of a water contaminant and its quantification upon spotting on filter paper disc through a calibration curve obtained from prepared standards. A semi-automatic sampler is under development in order to minimize human intervention causing errors in the volume spiked on the filter paper for better reproducible work.

During this period, one of the graduate students working on PEER presented successfully her pre-defense. The Principle Investigator also conducted a number of meetings to build connections with possible new stakeholders that can benefit from this development. Meetings were done with: (1) the new Minister of Environment to advertise the project and its important outcomes for the treatment of hazardous waste; (2) the syndicate of pharmaceutical industries in Lebanon to help with writing a policy dealing with regulations and guidelines on how to treat pharmaceutical effluents since such a policy is absent in Lebanon.

Moving forward, the team plans to continue investigating the development of new MOF-based catalysts for the activation of Persulfate and introduce UVA irradiation as a trigger for PS activation in heterogeneous oxidation mediums. They will also follow-up with relevant stakeholders on activities undertaken in the previous quarter and recruit additional students to the team. Dissemination will be carried out in these meetings along with international conferences such as ACS.

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