Cleaning Up After Ourselves
Our wastewater is a frightening brew of pathogens, heavy metals, and toxic chemicals. Wastewater facilities are designed to remove these contaminants, but unfortunately current treatment processes aren't up to the task. In fact, in the course of treatment, some substances are absorbed and concentrated in solids and then accumulate in even higher concentrations. Besides cleaning up after ourselves is not only about removing waste from the water, it's also about dealing with the waste once the water has been safely disinfected. Certain pathogens and chemicals remain and there are major risks associated with their discharge to the environment.
Banu Örmeci knows a lot about wastewater. She focuses on water treatment sludge, the semisolid material precipitated by treatment, and she has already developed early stage technology to reduce the volume of sludge leftover from wastewater treatment using innovative "dewatering" techniques. By removing the water from the sludge, the volume of the sludge being generated is reduced.
As the Canada Research Chair in Wastewater and Public Health Engineering, Örmeci studies the fundamental processes involved in wastewater treatment to see what happens to the pathogens and chemicals during and beyond the treatment processes. She is especially interested in those that persist and in the management of the leftover residuals. Her project also includes evaluating the impact of wastewater particles and characteristics on the ultraviolet and chlorine disinfection of wastewater. UV disinfection eliminates the production of byproducts caused by chlorine, the cheapest, most widely used method of disinfection in North America. UV light safely destroys microorganisms with the added advantage that you are not adding any more chemicals to the water.
Through her research, Örmeci hopes to improve the performance of treatment processes for both liquids and solids, and even develop new technologies to achieve treatment goals.