Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2020AL042B

Development of a Practical, Efficient, and Inexpensive On-Site Sensor for Real-Time Effective Determination of Trihalomethanes in Treated Drinking Water

Institute: Alabama
Year Established: 2020 Start Date: 2020-03-01 End Date: 2021-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $25,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $50,000

Principal Investigators: Evan Wujcik

Abstract: The widespread provision of safe drinking water in the United States was the most important factor in the reduction of child-mortality in the early-20th century (Cutler and Miller, 2004). Chlorination to inactivate pathogens and maintain a protective disinfectant residual was a major component of this strategy. However, chlorination results in the unintended formation of disinfection by-products (DBPs), chemical compounds with diverse chronic health effects including cancer. The most common of these DBPs are trihalomethanes (THMs). Knowledge of the health effects associated with DBPs led to a series of changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act that went into effect between 2002 and 2014 (USEPA, 2002). In parallel to the DBP regulations, the EPA also implemented stricter regulations for monitoring bacterial contamination in drinking water systems. Bacterial contamination in water distribution systems is typically controlled through increased chlorine residual. The balancing act between controlling bacterial growth while keeping DBPs below regulatory maxima is the major regulatory challenge for drinking water systems today. Nearly all EPA violations for drinking water contaminants in Alabama in 2018 were for THMs ((ADEM, 2019), also see attached letter from ADEM). Despite this ongoing challenge, THM contamination is still monitored by collecting samples manually and sending those samples off to an EPA certified laboratory; no sensor for THM contamination in drinking water distribution systems is available for utilities to simply and affordably monitor THMs in their own systems. This work proposes a pilot THM-in-treated drinking water sensor that will provide a simple and affordable sensor for drinking water systems that can predict THMs well-below the regulatory limits. The research objective is to investigate the realizable potential of the developed method towards a pilot on-site, real-time sensor that may offer new paradigms in portable water sensor components. This sensor’s widely applicable approach could also be pragmatic for contaminants of concern with algal blooms (e.g., chlorophyll a, microcystin, nutrients) and in many other systems. The long-term goal is to develop and understand this pilot sensor platform, applicable to a wide array of future water sensing functionalities and integrations, through the work plan: OBJECTIVE 1: Develop the pilot on-site, real-time THM sensor based on previous studies and preliminary data. OBJECTIVE 2: Devise and develop the pilot THM sensor calibration curve— with both qualitative and quantitative measurement analyses—and realize the full working range of the sensor. OBJECTIVE 3: Explore the performance and realizable potential of the pilot visible colorimetric THM sensor through field testing with our prototype sensor in collaboration with one or more Alabama drinking water utilities struggling with THMs. OBJECTIVE 4: Strengthen The University of Alabama’s water and sensor-related research community by training students and spreading public awareness and involvement of the community by encouraging university student involvement in meritorious research and collaboration with state drinking water utilities.