Thursday, April 30, 2009

Californian IPR wins Engineering Award

As many readers of this blog will know, the largest planned indirect potable water recycling (IPR) scheme in the world is the Groundwater Replenishment (GWR) System in Orange County, California.

I was interested to read this morning of the GWR winning the “Grand Conceptor Award” in this year’s American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Engineering Excellence award competition.

A quick Google search reveals plenty of previous “Grand Conceptor Award” winners, but still I may have to establish an award for anyone who can tell me what a “Grand Conceptor” is. I have still not quite learnt how to speak American…

Groundwater Replenishment System Wins ACEC Award
Water World, 29th April, 2009

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, April 29, 2009 — The 70 mgd Orange County Groundwater Replenishment (GWR) System, designed by the engineering firm CDM, recently won the Grand Conceptor Award in the 2009 American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Engineering Excellence award competition. This groundbreaking $480 million project, which converts highly treated wastewater into an indirect potable water source, officially went online on January 25, 2008. The award was formally presented to CDM at the official ACEC awards gala on April 28, 2009.

Orange County Water District and Orange County Sanitation District hired CDM to design a solution that would meet an increased demand for potable water while minimizing the impact of extended area droughts. The expandable GWR System treats effluent with a multi-barrier approach — microfiltration for pretreatment, reverse osmosis for purification, and ultraviolet light for disinfection — removing bacteria, emerging contaminants, chemicals, and viruses.

Following treatment, the purified water is injected into an underground seawater barrier or percolated into aquifers before becoming part of the drinking water supply for the county's residents. This solution takes advantage of water that was formerly discharged into the ocean, helping to protect the environment and providing a new water source for the county.

As part of the project, CDM also designed supporting chemical systems, buildings, an electrical substation, three water pumping stations, more than 13 miles of transport pipeline, 3 miles of barrier pipelines, and 16 injection wells on eight different sites. CDM provided bidding support and construction services, operations and maintenance services, and assisted with operator training and facility startup.

This pioneering advanced water purification and groundwater replenishment system helps drought-proof Orange County while providing safe, potable water to a growing population in an environmentally friendly and energy-efficient way.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Drugs in Fish

Sometimes you can wind up on the front page of the Canberra Times just by answering a phone call from a journalist...

There was a very interesting research paper published recently in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. The details (for anyone interested) are:

A. J. Ramirez et al (2009). "Occurrence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in fish: Results of a national pilot study in the U.S." Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry DOI: 10.1897/08-561.1.

The paper describes how “a national pilot study was initiated in the USA to assess the accumulation of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in fish sampled from five effluent-dominated rivers that receive direct discharge from wastewater treatment facilities in Chicago, IL, Dallas, TX, Orlando, FL, Phoenix, AZ, and West Chester, PA”.

For some years now, scientists have been reporting the presence of pharmaceuticals in waters receiving effluents from wastewater (sewage) treatment plants. So it is not terribly surprising to now learn that some of those chemicals are bio-accumulated and can be measured in the tissue of fish swimming in effluent-receiving waters.

Anyway, I received a call from the Canberra Times to ask whether such a situation could occur in Australia. I pointed out that it certainly could, but that we have not yet done sufficient research to know the extent of any impacts to Australian wildlife. The next thing I know, I’m on the front page of the Canberra Times with an old file photograph from 2005!

Chemical sewage causes fish to flounder
By Ewa Kretowicz
Canberra Times
6 April 2009

It's enough to make a fish gasp. Australian scientists fear that Canberra's sewage treatment plant could be filling the Murrumbidgee's fish with prescription drugs like Prozac.

Fish swimming below the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre could be high on a mixture of uppers and downers after American studies found fish from five US rivers were tainted with traces of medications and common chemicals, which are not removed by water purification.

Chemical contaminants in water expert Dr Stuart Khan said Canberra effluent was treated then released back in to the Murrumbidgee.

''[Canberra] would be an obvious place to look for high concentrations of pharmaceuticals in rivers and therefore potential concentrations accumulating to fish as reported in this study,'' Dr Khan said.

The common antihistamine diphenhydramine (Benadryl), an anticonvulsant and two antidepressants were among the seven types of pharmaceuticals found in the tissue and livers of fish from waterways in or near Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Orlando.

In Australia, as in America, federal standards exist for treated waste- water, but they do not address pharmaceuticals or most personal care products, and little is known about the effects they have on the environment and wildlife.

Actew's Ross Knee said Canberra's water treatment plant did not specifically target pharmaceuticals.

''In Australia it's never been identified as an issue ... we tested our effluent for over 200 parameters recently and it included a lot of organics and pharmaceuticals, pesticides and herbicides, a lot were below detection limit but all were within the drinking guidelines.''

Dr Khan is urging a national water survey to investigate and resource poor quality waste water discharged into river environments.

He said Australia's largest cities, like Sydney and Melbourne discharged effluent into the ocean, but lower inflow into our rivers could be compounding the problem.

The results of the US study were very concerning.

''We know these are biologically active chemicals and they are designed to have effects on the human body.''

He said no conclusion about the effects of exposure to very low concentrations of pharmaceuticals not prescribed to the person had been reached. '

'I would say the consensus would be that there is no evidence of ill effects of those chemicals but there is certainly widespread concern

That there are cancer-producing chemicals accumulating in biological organisms is certainly a concern for its own sake for the health of the ecosystem and if they become part of the food source for humans then I think there are obvious implications there as well for exposure to those chemicals.''

Just some of the medications and chemicals found from among the 36 tested for were the cholesterol drug gemfibrozil (Lopid), which researchers say had never before been found in wild fish; diltiazem (Cardizem), a medication that helps control high blood pressure; carbamazepine (Tegretol), a drug used for epilepsy and bipolar disorder; and norfluoxetine, an active ingredient in the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac).