Rhode Island To Test UC Solution to Contaminated Water

A cure for cleaner air and better gasoline has become a threat to safe drinking water. Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a suspected carcinogenic gasoline additive, has been finding its way into groundwater in many areas of the United States. In addition to the health risks, water contaminated with MTBE has a foul taste and smell.

Thanks to five years of research by University of Cincinnati Professor Makram Suidan, cleaner, safer drinking water is on the horizon. Suidan, from the UC College of Engineering's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Albert Venosa of the Environmental Protection Agency developed the Biomass Concentrator Reactor, a process for biological treatment of drinking water, wastewater and industrial wastes.

MTBE was first used as an octane-enhancing replacement for lead in gasoline in the 1970s. In the mid-1990s, refineries began using MTBE to reduce auto emissions to comply with EPA regulations for cleaner-burning fuel. Leaking gasoline storage tanks has allowed MTBE to contaminate aquifers in many communities, mainly in coastal states.

The Biomass Concentrator Reactor is a highly-efficient process that utilizes bacteria to remove contaminants from water. Early testing of the device was successful, and a full-scale field model will be installed in Pascoag, Rhode Island, this summer. The device is economical as well as effective. "Because of the gravity-fed design, energy consumption and operating costs are reduced, and operating efficiency of the process is increased.  In field applications over the long-run, these factors will be significant,” said Suidan.

A small-scale model was successfully tested at UC's Engineering Research Center of the College of Engineering in Cincinnati. Venosa said, “If we see the same effectiveness of the process in the demonstration phase in Rhode Island, then I think we can project that we have found an excellent solution to the MTBE problem nationwide.”

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