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Foundation Instruments, Inc.

Superfund Research Program

SBIR Phase II: Evaluating the Feasibility of the TotalTHM-NOW for Drinking Water Treatment Plants to Improve Water Quality, Reduce Costs, and Lower Cancer Risks

Project Leader: Paul Brister
Co-Investigators: Michael Brown, Gary Emmert
Grant Number: R44ES031465
Funding Period: Phase II: June 2022 - May 2024
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There is an increased risk of cancer associated with long-term exposure to drinking water disinfection by- products (DBPs). Trihalomethanes (THMs) are the most common class of DBPs formed during water chlorination. Despite the THMs being regulated for 40 years, many drinking water treatment plants (WTPs) still do not have affordable, on-site tools needed to maintain compliance. Superintendents at these WTPs may allocate more than two-thirds of their operating budget for treatment processes, with a significant portion being devoted for THM control strategies. However, without real-time THMs concentration data, WTP operators blindly adjust the treatment processes which may lead to inefficient practices and higher operating costs. While there are commercial devices for on-site THMs monitoring, they are not affordable to most WTPs. This is especially true for very small, small, and many medium sized utilities. Many of these WTP are often rural and located in economically distressed regions, but they are under the same regulations as their larger Metropolitan counterparts. The research team is working to revolutionize water treatment by providing to all WTPs the ability for affordable, on-site process control of THMs. In Phase I, two instruments were proven to be technically feasible. The TotalTHM-NOW, where NOW refers simply to getting the results “now”, is based on proven, peer- reviewed and patented science. The THM Meter is a spin-out device of the Phase I research efforts. Both the devices are based on the same chemistry, the key difference being that the TotalTHM-NOW is a fully automated, on-line analyzer for Total THMs whereas the THM Meter is semi-automated. The TotalTHM-NOW will be targeted at the large number of mid-sized WTPs, large, and very large WTPs. The research team's lower-cost THM Meter will be the only device available designed specifically for all very small, small, and medium WTPs. These systems are “game- changers” with regards to price and performance for an industry that has struggled for almost a decade to meet affordable price points for on-site THMs monitoring. In Phase II, the research team is demonstrating the commercial feasibility of these systems. The specific aims are to reduce the instrument footprint and further optimize the TotalTHM- NOW to produce beta prototypes; to package and optimize the THM Meter; and to conduct a series of nationwide beta tests to ready the devices for industry adoption and commercialization. The TotalTHM-NOW and THM Meter will lead to better process control of THMs concentrations at the WTP, a more complete understanding of THMs formation, and thus lower THMs concentrations at the plant and in the distribution system. WTPs across the United States will have the tools they need to: (1) experience fewer THMs violations, (2) reap economic/environmental benefits through reduced energy and chemical usage, (3) achieve higher community confidence in their drinking water, and ultimately (4) lower cancer risks through reductions in THMs exposure. The trihalomethanes (THMs) are the most common class of regulated, halogenated disinfection by-products and suspected carcinogens. The TotalTHM-NOW and THM Meter instruments developed in this research will provide drinking water superintendents the THMs concentration information necessary to optimize treatment practices and minimize THMs concentrations. Minimization of THMs concentrations over the short-term will aid in compliance with drinking water regulations and over the long-term it will lower cancer risks for whole cities and counties at a time.

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