Clean Water Technology Center Proposes Alternative for LI Wastewater Treatment

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The New York State Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University has developed a potential replacement for Long Island cesspools that can remove high amounts of nitrogen — the primary cause of local water quality degradation — from household wastewater.

The system incorporates simple design with locally sourced, natural materials to position it as an economically viable alternative for high-performance onsite wastewater treatment, a crucial infrastructure need for restoring Long Island water quality. Pilot installations of the system are underway at a test center and are scheduled to begin locally by early fall as part of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services demonstration program for innovate/alternative septic treatment systems.

SoMAS Professor Chris Gobler

SoMAS Professor Chris Gobler

“These simple systems comprised of sand and finely ground wood are demonstrating an ability to treat household wastewater as well or better than the most advanced wastewater treatment plants,” said Professor Chris Gobler, Center Co-director and Associate Dean for Research at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook. “Similar in footprint and basic functionality to a drain field, the most common form of onsite wastewater dispersal around the country, we call them Nitrogen Removing Biofilters (NRBs), and the next step is to pilot them at residences to see if they can consistently perform in more dynamic situations,” he added.

“Beyond the high nitrogen removal rates these systems are achieving in test scenarios, they are also showing highly efficient removal of most pharmaceuticals and other personal care products,” said Professor Harold Walker, Center Co-director and Chair of the Department of Civil Engineering at Stony Brook. “Additionally, they are passive systems by design, which means they are low maintenance and require little energy to operate.”

CEAS Professor Harold Walker

CEAS Professor Harold Walker

The science behind the non-proprietary system, as well as the history of its development, is detailed in a white paper, which is available at stonybrook.edu/cleanwater. Walker and Gobler also underscored the collaborative nature of the Center’s work on the approach, which has involved engaging leading experts from the public and private sectors, including Suffolk County Department of Health Services and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, to design the optimal system configurations to pilot on Long Island.

The NRB is one of several treatment approaches the Center is pursuing with the goal of providing affordable, high-performance technologies suitable for widespread deployment on Long Island. The promise of the NRB, a form of passive treatment, was underscored by a technology assessment report recently completely for the Center by the NY-based engineering firm Hazen and Sawyer.

The full results of the technology assessment report and the details on the Center’s strategic plan and research investments will be presented at a Symposium on Thursday, June 23, at Stony Brook.

More About the Center
The Center for Clean Water Technology is leading an initiative to marshal the region’s public and private resources to develop and commercialize water quality restoration and protection technologies, focusing first on more affordable and effective solutions for removing nitrogen and other contaminants discharged into groundwater by some 360,000 individual septic systems in Suffolk County.

A venture led jointly by the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Center is headquartered in the Stony Brook Research and Development Park. Funding for the Center began in 2015 by the New York State Environmental Protection Fund, administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, along with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

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