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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 2020

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

The period extending from December 2019 till end of March 2020 was one of the most challenging periods at two levels so far during implementation of PEER 5-18. First, Lebanon went through a revolution and we had lot of political instabilities that resulted in closing AUB for many weeks; Second, as the whole world, the project also lived the consequences of COVID19 spread in terms of lock-down and reduced activities where AUB was close starting early March and it seems to continue until the end of the spring semester. Despite all of these events, our project was only partially affected. In fact the work on the decontamination of pharmaceutical effluents has progressed positively by obtaining additional results from bench-work experiment in the lab to degrade efficiently naproxen and sulfamethoxazole drugs in effluents under several conditions. The latter included the use of UVA lamps to trigger the activation properties of the used MOF MIL-88-A as to produce sulfate radicals from persulfate under heterogeneous conditions. Part of these results were submitted as a full research paper to Chemical Engineering Journal. The manuscript was evaluated by international reviewers and is currently under revision for re-submission, hopefully by end of April 2020.

With that being said, the team expected to start tests on the automatic sampler for the Room Temperature Phosphorescence apparatus as a sensor to probe toxic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in water. A first run was done on some 3D printed parts and the team adjusted the design accordingly to optimize the sampling process. The whole system should have been tested in March, but unfortunately because of the COVID-19 pandemic issue, this does not happen and is actually postponed until resuming regular activities at AUB. Meanwhile, the PI was following up on SACOS patent application under PEER 1-84 in China and the good news is that the patent got granted officially in January 2020 after some modifications done on the claims. The next quarterly report should bring additional results.

A meeting was held with the IAEA National Liaison Officer Dr. Bilal Nsouli who showed interest in using the SS-RTP system for forensic science. The team agreed to build a proposal and submit a technical cooperation project to the IAEA for the next cycle. This will allow improving capacities building in the lab and enlarging the analytical pool of instruments to meet some international standards and protocols used in forensics.

For the coming period, the PI is looking forward to: 1) Finalizing revision of the current CEJ paper by end of April 2020, 2) Starting testing the SS-RTP apparatus including the new auto-sampler under development, 3) Analyzing the RTP response of some selected PAHs separately and in mixtures, 4) submitting two abstracts for consideration for the ACS Fall meeting at San Francisco in August 2020.

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