Environmental Engineers' present solutions to water and wastewater challenges

By Peter Murphy

Published March 13, 2018

Three environmental engineering students presented research at the New York Water Environment Association, Inc. (NYWEA) conference in New York City, last month.

“Although our chapter is small, the research our students conducted had an impact. We're excited to feature our students more prominently at similar events. ”
Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering

Two of the three UB participants placed first and second in different competitions at the conference. Each participant took advantage of the experiential opportunities and the chance to make connections with professionals from different fields.

NYWEA is a non-profit, educational organization that serves the public interest by promoting sustainable clean water quality management through science, education and training.

“The conference definitively showed me there’s so many different things you can do in water quality, water treatment, water remediation,” says Jeremy Nyitrai, a junior, and one of the youngest presenters at the conference. “It’s a very broad field, and open to a lot of different types of engineers and scientists.”

Kristina Macro, a student pursuing a MS in Environmental and Water Resources Engineering, and the only one of the group to attend multiple NYWEA conferences echoes this sentiment but offers a different perspective.

“I was able to reconnect with people I met before at the conference. On one of the days, I attended a women’s networking event. It was a led discussion, and it was interesting to hear from different female engineers and wastewater operators discussing their experiences in the field and office,” Macro says.

The conference lasted three days and had a number of activities similar to the women’s networking event. Students participated in design competitions, conducted technical and poster presentations. Other NYWEA members and professionals gave educational seminars on research and infrastructure projects, while companies exhibited equipment providing novel solutions for the environment and water sector.

UB’s NYWEA chapter was well-represented in the poster and PowerPoint presentation competitions. PhD student Abdulrahman Hassaballah won first place in the poster presentation competition for his research on peracetic acid (PAA). Hassaballah’s research explores new disinfection technologies for water resource recovery facilities. Most of these facilities utilize chlorine-based disinfection methods that are toxic to aquatic species and harmful to the environment.

“Peracetic acid is not popular or well-known in wastewater industries. Its biggest advantage is that it produces little harmful byproducts.” Hassaballah says. “I’m trying to see how PAA compares to traditionally used chlorine at removing fecal indicator bacteria or microorganisms that indicate water is polluted or contaminated. This research will help managers make more informed decisions on how we treat our water.”

Macro received second place in the PowerPoint presentation competition for her research working with a local municipal sewer authority to create an optimization tool for planning green infrastructure projects.

“Specifically, I’m working with rain barrels,” Macro says. “The authority has a stormwater management model for the entire city, and eventually want to use the model to decide which green infrastructure projects to implement in an effort to reduce combined sewer overflow events. The main reason for implementing green infrastructure is to solve the overflow problem, and I’m helping to develop a decision support tool.”

Nyitrai presented a PowerPoint on his research to develop a water reuse and conservation system for a country club located outside of Rochester, New York. The country club’s golf course used roughly 600 gallons of water a day over the summer to wash the landscaping equipment. After the equipment was cleaned, staff would collect water in a trough and discharge the grass, sediment and bacteria into the nearby woods. The country club asked Nyitrai to develop a treatment system to ensure the safe reuse of the water.

“We ended up going with a slow sand filtration with UV disinfection. It’s easy to operate and maintain. We built filter prototypes in the lab, tested them for their ability to remove turbidity and bacteria from samples I collected from the golf course,” he says, “we used a UV lamp to see how well this system could treat water in an overnight holding tank. We were trying to mirror what it would look like.”

The country club finished building the system in October of 2017, and Nyitrai collected samples a month later.

“This was a great opportunity for our students, and for UB’s NYWEA Chapter,” says assistant professor Ning Dai, environmental engineering faculty member and faculty advisor to the group.

Lauren “Lou” Sassoubre had similar sentiments, “although our chapter is small, the research our students conducted had an impact,” she says, “we’re excited to feature our students more prominently at similar events.”