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THIS MONTH'S FEATURE ARTICLE
Engineers will be called upon to find solutions for the challenges the world will face in the 21st century. These articles highlight the diversity of the work which continues in the search for those solutions.

New Potential Pollutants In Waterways Studied
May 2019

When you flush the toilet, you probably don’t think about the traces of the medicine and personal care products in your body that are winding up in sewage treatment plants, streams, rivers, lakes, bays and the ocean.


Pharmaceuticals and personal care products leave households through wastewater and may enter the environment after the wastewater treatment process. Credit: Abigail W. Porter/Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

But Rutgers scientists have found that bacteria in sewage treatment plants may be creating new contaminants that have not been evaluated for potential risks and may affect aquatic environments, according to a study in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

The scientists tested the ability of bacteria in sludge from a sewage treatment plant to break down two widely used pharmaceutical products: naproxen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, and guaifenesin, an expectorant in many cough and cold medications. They also tested two common compounds in personal care products: oxybenzone, a key ingredient in many sunscreens, and methylparaben, a preservative in many cosmetics.

Bacteria that don’t require oxygen to grow in the sludge broke down methylparaben, but the microbes only partially broke down the three other chemicals – and created new contaminants in the process, according to the study.

“The partial breakdown of pharmaceuticals and personal care products is important because it results in a stream of possible contaminants in waterways that may have biological effects on impacted environments,” said Abigail W. Porter, corresponding author and teaching instructor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “These contaminants and their potential risks have yet to be studied.”

Contaminants of emerging concern, including pharmaceuticals and personal care products, are increasingly found at low levels in surface water, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There is concern that these chemical compounds may have an impact on aquatic life and human health.

“Our findings can help us assess other widely used pharmaceutical and personal care products with similar chemical structures,” said co-author Lily Young, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences. “By predicting or assessing the chemicals that might form during the breakdown process, we can identify and quantify them in the environment.”

The Rutgers scientists are interested in how anaerobic microorganisms, such as bacteria that thrive in zero-oxygen conditions, break down the chemicals in pharmaceuticals and personal care products.

The team studied two bacterial communities: one in sludge from a sewage treatment plant and the other in low-oxygen subsurface sediment in a clean marine environment off Tuckerton, New Jersey. The researchers previously showed that bacteria can transform the anti-inflammatory drug naproxen.

According to information, the researchers found that the two microbial communities had different types of bacteria. But both communities transformed the four chemicals, which have very different structures, in the same way. Future research will look at sediment samples from different environmental locations to evaluate the long-term persistence of transformed chemicals.



Feature Articles
Below are listed the 12 most recent Feature Articles.
To see the entire list of Feature Articles, visit the Feature Article Archive.
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New Potential Pollutants In Waterways Studied
May 2019

When you flush the toilet, you probably don’t think about the traces of the medicine and personal care products in your body that are winding up in…

Researchers Study Waste Form Corrosion
April 2019

Although glass, ceramics, and metal forms have been around for ages, researchers don’t yet know key details about how materials crumble, dissolve, or otherwise come undone.

Technology Protects The Power Grid By Hacking Would-be Hackers
March 2019

Milos Manic, Ph.D., professor of computer science and director of VCU’s Cybersecurity Center, along with colleagues at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), has developed a protection system that…

NASA’s Webb Telescope To Study Cosmic Jets and Stellar Outflows
February 2019

Webb’s exquisite angular resolution will allow it to pick up the tiniest details.

High-Tech Heating Patches Created
January 2019

What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes – while significantly reducing your electric bill and carbon footprint?

Virginia Tech Innovation Campus Helps Attract Amazon
December 2018

Virginia Tech is making a historic commitment to build a revolutionary 1 million-square-foot, technology-focused campus in Alexandria…

Improving Smart-Window Energy Efficiency With Nanoparticles
November 2018

U.S. buildings leak an estimated 30 percent of their energy through inefficient windows, costing consumers an estimated $42 billion annually.

Biosensor Technology For Wearable Devices Invented
October 2018

Engineers have created a smart wristband with a wireless connection to smartphones that will enable a new wave of personal health…

Parker Solar Probe Launched On Historic Journey
September 2018

Hours before the rise of the very star it will study, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe launched from Florida Sunday, August 12th, to begin its journey to the Sun, where it will undertake a landmark mission.

Possible Treatment Target Identified For Alzheimer’s, Age-related Cognitive Decline
August 2018

Now research from a collaborative team of neuroscientists and engineers at Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia is shedding light on the underlying mechanisms of brain aging, along with associated neurological diseases.

New and Improved Version of Phased Array Feed Developed
July 2018

To accelerate the pace of discovery and exploration of the cosmos, a multi-institution team of astronomers and engineers has developed a new and improved version of an unconventional radio-astronomy imaging system…

FIRST® Announces Landmark 2019 Season Theme
June 2018

FIRST ® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), an international K-12 not-for-profit organization founded by prolific inventor Dean Kamen, recently announced that more than 575,000 students will explore space across all four FIRST programs…


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