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It's in the Water

Making H20 Toxin-Free


At Carnegie Mellon, a number of research centers and institutes are working on ways to make our water free from harmful toxins such as pharmaceuticals. According to the Associated Press, the problem of pharmaceuticals in the water supply is a growing concern for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

David Dzombak, faculty director of Carnegie Mellon's Steinbrenner Institute, says this is an issue worthy of the attention of researchers and consumers alike.

"We know these [pharmaceutical] compounds are widely distributed at very low concentrations," said Dzombak. "We also know that most of them pass through our simple treatment of the public water supply."

While researchers study the long-term effects that pharmaceuticals in the water supply have on humans and wildlife, Dzombak urges consumers to be aware of their options. Consumers may consider purchasing water that is treated to a higher degree than the public water supply or investing in a point-of-contact treatment system, such as a reverse osmosis system, for the home.

In the meantime, however, Dzombak said there are number of ways the Steinbrenner Institute — which coordinates Carnegie Mellon's environmental research, policy and education initiatives — and researchers at its 18 interdisciplinary centers are working to help.

Researchers at WaterQuest are working on the technological and methodological advancements necessary to deal with contaminants in an urban water supply.

With air and water routes being interrelated, the study of atmospheric toxins is naturally connected to the study of water toxins. To that end, scientists at the Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies examine the behavior of air particles and how they affect climate and human health.

Ideally, harmful toxins would be removed from chemical and industrial processes to avert contamination in the first place. Researchers at the Institute for Green Oxidation Chemistry designed a new group of catalyst molecules, called TAMLs (tetra-amido macrocyclic ligands), to do just that.

The TAMLs have been shown to destroy pesticides, dyes and other contaminants as well as to kill harmful bacteria.

Methods of addressing health risks in regulations are studied by researchers at the Center for the Study and Improvement of Regulation, located in Carnegie Mellon's Department of Engineering and Public Policy.

Currently, there are no regulations around the end-use of pharmaceuticals, so the center's work may affect the future development of regulations on pharmaceuticals that enter the water supply through wastewater.

This work — and the work of countless Carnegie Mellon researchers — is focused on improving the quality of our water supply and addressing potential health threats. For more, visit

Related Links: Steinbrenner Institute  |  WaterQuest  |  Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies  |  Institute for Green Oxidation Chemistry  |  CSIR  |  Engineering & Public Policy

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