Researchers test various means of water purification

Dr. Rominder Suri, a researcher in the Water and Environmental Technology Center, uses vibration and other methods to purify water.

Americans use a lot of water. The average family of four living in the United States uses approximately 400 gallons of water per day, compared with the five gallons used by the average family living in Africa.

Although water might appear to be abundant and free in the U.S., a lot of effort and money goes into providing consumers with a clean and safe product.

Environmental engineering professor Rominder Suri, Ph.D. is one of the many scientists who is developing more comprehensive and less expensive water treatment techniques. With the help of a grant from the National Science Foundation, Suri works in Temple’s Water and Environmental Technology Center searching for alternative water purification methods.

One such method involves the use of Ozone gas and ultraviolet light to destroy foreign contaminates. This method has already had a great deal of success in the laboratory and is in the process of being tested on a larger scale.

Every water treatment method in the WET lab must undergo a series of tests before it can be introduced into a commercial market. First, it must pass small scale experimentation, then it can be brought into an intermediary pilot stage and lastly commercial implementation. Suri is currently working on bringing four of his projects into their pilot stages.

One of these projects utilizes selective absorbance to purify water. In his lab, Suri has transformed water-soluble glucose molecules into insoluble forms to help remove organic compounds including estrogen from the water.

Estrogen hormones have become a problem as they make their way into the water system and have actually led to the feminization of some fish.

One study conducted by the University of New Brunswick in Canada demonstrated the harmful effects of these estrogen hormones, discovering that increased estrogen in a lake in Ontario resulted in the inability of the fathead minnow to reproduce at all. Eventually, 99 percent of the specie’s population in the lake was lost. A loss of this size then has the potential to disrupt the balance of the entire ecosystem. The study stressed the importance of developing water treatment techniques to fix this problem.

“Any chemicals that we use leave our homes and go to waste water plants, which weren’t designed to treat these contaminants,” Suri said. “So, they end up passing right through them.”

This holds true for antibacterial soap as well, when it is washed down household sinks into water ways. This could be responsible for increased antibacterial resistance.

Suri is also in the process of scaling water treatment methods involving the use of ultrasound and ion exchange. By sending sound waves through the water, he is able to create small cavities that kill foreign materials upon contact. By using ion exchange resins, he is able to remove contaminants from industrial wastewater. The benefit of this method is that these resins are reusable, which reduces overall costs.

Now the hope is that these methods will continue to work and be cost-effective when they are introduced on a larger scale.

“There is a lot of engineering involved in scaling up,” Suri said. “Many times things work at a small scale but as they get larger things go wrong.”

However, Suri is still optimistic about the prospects for his methods.

“It’s important to push science to new frontiers and develop more sustainable and cheaper methods,” Suri said. “That’s how as a society we progress.”

Amy Stansbury can be reached at

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