Whenever we build neighborhoods, parking lots, roads, and even farms, human activities result in pollution that enters surface water during rain events. For the past 20 years, we have required many parking lots and concrete pads to have retention ponds mostly for the prevention of flash floods. However, when we look at these ponds we see how much pollution is actually in runoff. Let's look at the pollution in runoff:
Current efforts focus on creating awareness of the pollution in runoff, but are not enforcing any treatment requirements. As our population and development increases and non--point source pollution starts to contribute more "loadings" to the environment that municipal water treatment plant or industrial wastewater treatment discharges, the pollution issues may require more neighborhoods, farms, and commercial areas to have stormwater discharge permits.
ACS article on using silicone wrist bands to determine chemical exposure from daily routine activities.
It would be interesting if we could see data from various volunteers in various professions, geographic regions, and urban/rural environments. As the costs come down, maybe more data will be collected as the silicone band is much easier to test than volunteer blood samples.
At Aster Bio we have spent the past month rebuilding our website (www.asterbio.com) which has included going though old case studies and proposals including some going back to the 1960s. While bioaugmentation technologies were in their infancy and wastewater treatment had fewer effluent requirements, much of the work is a very good read today.
One thing I noted was how common tricking filters were for wastewater treatment. Of course these trickling filters typically were rock based versus modern plastic media. As a result of the rocks, the filters were relatively shallow in depth with no need for blowers to supply oxygen in the lower regions. They selected trickling filters over lagoons (the alternative common technology) because it had greater treatment efficiency and took up less space than a facultative or partially aerated lagoon.
This is very similar to today's fixed film systems including RBCs, MBBR, and even modern trickling filters. Our new systems are designed with added aeration for high DO residuals along with greater surface area per square meter which allows for more biomass per unit volume. Why did they abandon tricking filters for activated sludge in the 1960s - 70s. Well it was a case of more stringent permits and modern fixed film system not being fully developed at the time.
For you reading pleasure, I am including an old case history of parallel tricking filters with a bioaugmentation trial that was run over a 6 week period. Because of parallel setup, there was a control and experimental for the test.
Nature magazine recently published an article on recent modifications to the "Tree of Life" - or how organisms are related on a genetic basis. The modifications to the tree of life are based on recent advances in high throughput metagenomic testing. Even just 30 years ago, we could only get information on microbes that grew in a lab environment. This excluded a majority of environmental microbial species. The first attempts to organize the microbes into phyla was based on growth and metabolic (physical) characteristics.
What is interesting is the same technologies used in creating the new Tree of Life are also being used by companies such as Aster Bio to fully understand at the DNA level the microbial diversity and processes in both soil and water. Using metagenomic testing on environmental samples, we are able to determine what organisms are present along with relative frequency. From this, we get snapshots of ecological changes that occur in both time and spatial horizons.
Here is the resulting graphic and a link to the article: http://www.nature.com/articles/nmicrobiol201648
While we often forget about water scarcity in the USA, the lack of access to fresh, quality water is a problem worldwide. Even places with high levels of precipitation such as Florida, face a lack of freshwater during the dry season. Much of our freshwater supplies are used for agriculture, including water in areas were aquafers are being consumed at unsustainable rates.
What can be done about the lack of water access? First, water needs to be treated as a vital commodity. Besides reducing use through conservation, we should also work to minimize pollution and recycle wastewater as much as possible.
The following article appeared in the Albany Daily Star and has a great map to show areas with water scarcity.
For years, we have known that low levels of many common pharmaceuticals remain after biological treatment. As a result, many lakes and streams also exhibit low concentrations of xenobiotic pharmaceutical compounds. Key is that this is not an entirely new phenomenon. The combination of increased pharmaceutical use by the population and improved detection at the ppb level have made us more aware of the problem. So what should be done? Or more importantly, could be done?
The pharmaceutical products that remain after biological treatment are at low concentrations where bacteria usually do not directly produce enzymes to initiate biodegradation. We rely instead on co-metabolism or non-specific enzymes. In co-metabolism, enzymes produced by the system's microbes while degrading plentiful organics also break down bonds in the pharmaceuticals. Once enzyme actions start to work on the product, it is often transformed into less harmful forms and starts to degrade through biomediated or environmental chemical transformations.
Current discussions involve using oxidation, carbon adsorption, UV treatment, or engineered enzymes or microbes. The big question is can any be used in cost-effective manner with such a low concentration of target substrates. If not, could an activated carbon filter concentrate enough of the pharmaceuticals to allow for efficient treatment via oxidation, enzyme, or biological treatment in a separate unit.
At Aster Bio, we first worked with domestic wastewater with high concentrations of pharmaceuticals when we developed a program to improve biological waste treatment at a camp for special needs children. Due to high use of various pharmaceuticals by the children, the small biological treatment system had trouble maintaining any kind of stable biomass. We looked at various organisms having the capabilities to degrade a wide range of pharmaceutical compounds (they are commonly found in pharmaceutical wastewater treatment plants) while being able to grow readily on domestic waste. Using a simple routine dose of the microbial blend, we were able to establish a biomass that was resistant to the ever changing and relatively high concentrations of pharmaceuticals in the camp wastewater. This in concept would be similar to a biological treatment process that could be used on pharmaceuticals concentrated on activated carbon - where naturally occurring microbes can be harnessed to directly degrade or co-metabolize pharmaceuticals once critical concentrations are reached.
Many years ago, I worked on a project to develop a microbial based floor cleaner for use in maintaining kitchen/bar area floors. If you have ever worked in a commercial kitchen, you know about the slip hazards and difficulty in removing "stains" from the grout. Both problems are related to fatty acids/grease forming a water resistant film that most cleaners have problems with cleaning. In addition, grease residuals in floor drains can contribute to blockages and increased numbers of insect pests (drain flies, etc).
Well over the past year, I noticed a number of companies selling microbial based floor cleaners that were similar to what my team developed in the 1990s. In the intervening 20 years, microbial technologies have improved with greater understanding of biosurfactants and enzymes. So in 2015, my team at Aster Bio began to redesign the Floor Cleaner product to reflect R&D lab advances (seen in our industrial waste treatment products).
The new formulation was build on a Aster Bio's core strengths of microbes, enzymes, and biosurfactants. Here is what we came up with:
Erik Rumbaugh has been involved in biological waste treatment for over 20 years. He has worked with industrial and municipal wastewater facilities to ensure optimal performance of their treatment systems. He is a founder of Aster Bio (www.asterbio.com) specializing in biological waste treatment.
Click to set custom HTML