How can microorganisms help treat drinking water? That’s what Professors Lutgarde Raskin and Terese Olson are investigating through the use of cutting-edge molecular tools that characterize and optimize water quality process performance. By harnessing the power of microbes through technology, they hope to learn more about biological processes in engineered systems.
However, non-tuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) present in drinking water have the potential to cause disease in people with compromised immune systems. Scientists often refer to these bacteria as opportunistic pathogens. Evidence increasingly suggests that certain disinfectants used in drinking water treatment actually select for NTM. Rather than inactivating all bacteria, disinfectants can create an environment that kills certain bacteria but allows others, like NTM, to survive.
CEE Professor Lutgarde Raskin and Associate Professor Terese M. Olson are working with the Ann Arbor Water Treatment Plant to investigate ways to reduce this selection pressure in drinking water systems without impacting filtration performance. Their hypothesis is that reducing the amount of disinfectant used to clean filters will promote a more diverse bacterial community with fewer opportunistic pathogens.
The team hypothesizes that reducing disinfectant exposure of the microbial communities in BAC filters promotes more diverse biofilm communities with microbial populations that effectively outcompete pathogens, while achieving the same or better filtration performance. They will evaluate this hypothesis using a combination of full-scale and pilot-scale investigations at the Ann Arbor DWTP, with culture-independent, high-throughput microbiology. Specifically, we propose to test the impact of dechlorinating the backwash supply on filter microbial communities, focusing on whether this strategy reduces NTM levels.
Dr. Q. Melina Bautista, research scientist at the University of Michigan, is the day-to-day lead of this pilot-scale study. She is assisted by City of Ann Arbor personnel, PhD student Katherine Dowdell, master’s student Meghna Prasad and undergraduate student Michael Mata.
This research will result in strategies for utilities to reduce the levels of disinfectant-resistant, opportunistic pathogens in filters and thereby lower the likelihood of seeding the distribution networks with these microbes. While the work will focus on the Ann Arbor DWTP, it will be applicable to other utilities that practice biofiltration, especially those that pre-ozonate and use disinfectants in their backwash water.
Using autonomous sensors and valves to create “smart” stormwater systems to reduce flooding forecasting, and improve water quality.
Using wireless sensors to monitor water quality and flow conditions and to control drains to Ox Creek in Benton Harbor.
Optimizing phosphorus removal at Detroit’s water treatment facility, to keep it out of lakes and rivers.
Improving Benton Harbor’s aging water system using risk assessment and risk analysis techniques, as well as mobile sensors.
Limiting the volume of stormwater in the Detroit system to prevent untreated sewage from being released into the Detroit and Rouge Rivers.
Using big data, data mining, and artificial intelligence to improve performance of the highly advanced Grand Rapids Water Resource Recovery Facilities.
Using remote sensing and security camera data to better understand how people are using the Detroit RiverFront Conservancy public spaces.
Application of real-time sensing and dynamic control on existing wastewater infrastructure to reduce the frequency and volume of Combined Sewer Overflows.
A grassroots train-the-trainer program on how to install, operate and maintain faucet-mounted point-of-use filters to protect for lead in drinking water.
Installing special toilets and urinals at a University of Michigan building to concentrate urine, sanitize it, and prepare it for re-use as fertilizer.
Altarum/ERIM Russell O'Neal Professor of Engineering
Professor Lutgarde Raskin is the Altarum/ERIM Russell O’Neal Professor of Engineering at the University of Michigan, where she has been a professor of Environmental Engineering since 2005. Before this, she was a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for 12 years. She received a BS/MS degree in Bioscience Engineering and a BS/MS degree in Economics from the University of Leuven (KU Leuven, Belgium). Her PhD degree is in Environmental Engineering from UIUC. Raskin is globally recognized as an expert in microbial aspects of anaerobic waste treatment and drinking water treatment technologies.
Professor Raskin has a strong service record. She co-organized the 2013 IWA Microbial Ecology and Water Engineering (MEWE) conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She currently serves on the Leadership Committees of the IWA Anaerobic Digestion and MEWE Specialist Groups. She has served on the Program Committees for numerous IWA’s Specialist Group Conferences, including the Anaerobic Digestion, Biofilm, and Leading Edge Technology Conferences. She is an Associate Editor for Environmental Science & Technology and serves on the Editorial Board/Advisory Board of five other journals. She has served on various committees of other professional societies, including the AEESP, for which she currently serves on the Board of Directors.