Drinking water research wins two awards

A multi-institutional team of collaborators, including professor David Reckhow of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, has won two awards for its topical research on the use of ultraviolet radiation (UV) to treat water supplies.

The project won the Grand Conceptor Award from the American Consulting Engineers Council of Massachusetts, a prize based on “highest degree of engineering excellence and ingenuity,” and the Grand Prize for Research from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers.

The team’s project, funded three years ago by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) Research Foundation for $100,000, studied the side effects of treating drinking water with UV to kill giardia and cryptosporidium, two disease-causing protozoa that remain hardy and persistent inhabitants in many U.S. water supplies. The study determined that UV was not only effective at rendering these protozoa harmless in Boston’s raw water, an effect also reported in other cities since the late 1990s, but the treatment produced no additional disinfection by-products and did not increase biodegradable organic carbon in the water. One remaining issue is whether or not UV treatment might alter molecules containing nitrogen, a question that will require further study.

UV treatment is very simple and inexpensive, with drinking water coursing through two pipes of about five feet in diameter that are equipped with a series of UV lamps. New York City is one of the many waterworks currently installing UV.

“It’s an extremely interesting and topical subject,” says Reckhow. “Secondly, it’s a very high-level team we put together, with some of the best engineers and scientists in the field. Thirdly, the quality of the work, and the measurements and data gathered, were extraordinary.”

In addition to earning awards, the study will also be disseminated far and wide by the AWWA, the largest organization of water-supply professionals in the world. Some 4,700 member utilities, serving roughly 180 million people in North America, will have access to a report on the study and profit from its information.