Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Toxic flood lifts lid on common urban pollution problem

20.09.2005


Broken sewers, flooded industrial plants and dead bodies are all likely to blame for poisoning the waters being drained from New Orleans.



But the water – and the muck it is leaving behind — also owes its contamination to a source as mundane as it is unexpected: Toxins common in most urban environments that made their way en masse into the water as it stagnated atop the city.

So says a University of Florida professor who has spent years studying the harmful contaminants that turn up in urban runoff, or rainwater that washes across streets and other hard surfaces in cities. Environmental engineering professor John Sansalone’s perspective is especially relevant because it is based on field research in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, where he was a professor at Louisiana State University before taking a job at UF this summer.


“What we see in New Orleans is that when you put a lot of water in contact with the urban environment, all the potential contaminants that stayed around in that environment are now back in the water – definitely, to our horror,” Sansalone said.

Federal and Louisiana officials continue to sound alarms about the contaminated waters and scum left behind by the retreating flood. Early September test results released late last week showed high levels of bacteria, lead and harmful levels of chemicals including arsenic, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

While the sources of these and other contaminants remain under investigation, public scrutiny has focused on broken sewer pipes and other major failures in the city’s infrastructure attributed to Hurricane Katrina. Though these are certainly real problems, it’s also highly likely that the stagnant waters are contaminated because they’ve soaked up “legacy” pollutants that accumulated during normal conditions on the city’s streets, sidewalks, roofs and other impermeable surfaces, Sansalone said.

These pollutants, which normally appear in urban runoff, are more toxic than commonly understood, he said. In a study published last month in Water Environment Research, Sansalone and three co-authors report that runoff from an elevated section of Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge contained some contaminants at levels “greater than those found in untreated municipal wastewater from the same service area,” according to the study.

The findings were based on periodic analysis of runoff that drains off Interstate 10 into Baton Rouge’s City Park Lake just below the highway. Based on data first gathered in 1999, they revealed high levels of particulates, or microscopic- to millimeter-sized particles of material, as well as high chemical oxygen demand, an indicator of the presence of organic chemicals in oil, gas, grease, cigarette filters and other pollution.

Other research on urban runoff, meanwhile, has detected high levels of toxic metals and nutrients including phosphorus thought to leach from building materials, Sansalone said.

Organic chemicals are particularly dangerous to fish and other aquatic life because they reduce the levels of oxygen in the water, impinging on its ability to support life. Particulates cloud water, reducing sunlight penetration and plant growth. Once they cross a certain threshold, organic chemicals and metals also can be harmful to people.

New Orleans officials remain extremely concerned about bacterial contamination in the flood waters. Typically the result of contamination from untreated sewage, bacteria also can come from urban runoff, Sansalone said. Although it was not measured as part of his published study, other studies have found that such runoff contains heightened levels of bacteria stemming from bird and animal droppings, among other sources.

Sansalone said based on his studies of urban runoff alone, it’s critical that environmental officials scour the city of flood residue. “How we clean up this residual matter – which will not be easy – will be a chronic issue to the health of the city,” he said.

He said the contamination in New Orleans also highlights the need for other cities nationwide to do more to remove the toxins in urban runoff before, rather than after, it gets washed into waterways. There are several good strategies, he said. Increasingly affordable “permeable pavements” allow runoff to be stored, evaporate or percolate through pavement and into the ground, where soil and microorganisms can help filter the contaminants. Planting vegetation and especially trees also creates aesthetically pleasing buffer zones, providing storm water flooding control and other benefits. Finally, cities can use high-tech street sweeping equipment that is very effective at capturing pavement contaminants.

“If you pick up this potentially toxic material before it gets into the hydrological cycle, it is far more economical than if you try to take it out of the water after the fact,” he said.

John Sansalone | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ufl.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Scientists on the road to discovering impact of urban road dust
18.01.2018 | University of Alberta

nachricht Gran Chaco: Biodiversity at High Risk
17.01.2018 | Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

Im Focus: Room-temperature multiferroic thin films and their properties

Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) and Tohoku University have developed high-quality GFO epitaxial films and systematically investigated their ferroelectric and ferromagnetic properties. They also demonstrated the room-temperature magnetocapacitance effects of these GFO thin films.

Multiferroic materials show magnetically driven ferroelectricity. They are attracting increasing attention because of their fascinating properties such as...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Thanks for the memory: NIST takes a deep look at memristors

22.01.2018 | Materials Sciences

Radioactivity from oil and gas wastewater persists in Pennsylvania stream sediments

22.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

Saarland University bioinformaticians compute gene sequences inherited from each parent

22.01.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks Wissenschaft & Forschung
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>