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Contaminants of emerging concern in U.S. sewage sludges and forecasting of associated ecological and human health risks using sewage epidemiology approaches

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Many manmade chemicals used in consumer products are ultimately washed down the drain and are collected in municipal sewers. Efficient chemical monitoring at wastewater treatment (WWT) plants thus may provide up-to-date information on chemical usage rates for epidemiological assessments. The

Many manmade chemicals used in consumer products are ultimately washed down the drain and are collected in municipal sewers. Efficient chemical monitoring at wastewater treatment (WWT) plants thus may provide up-to-date information on chemical usage rates for epidemiological assessments. The objective of the present study was to extrapolate this concept, termed 'sewage epidemiology', to include municipal sewage sludge (MSS) in identifying and prioritizing contaminants of emerging concern (CECs). To test this the following specific aims were defined: i) to screen and identify CECs in nationally representative samples of MSS and to provide nationwide inventories of CECs in U.S. MSS; ii) to investigate the fate and persistence in MSS-amended soils, of sludge-borne hydrophobic CECs; and iii) to develop an analytical tool relying on contaminant levels in MSS as an indicator for identifying and prioritizing hydrophobic CECs. Chemicals that are primarily discharged to the sewage systems (alkylphenol surfactants) and widespread persistent organohalogen pollutants (perfluorochemicals and brominated flame retardants) were analyzed in nationally representative MSS samples. A meta-analysis showed that CECs contribute about 0.04-0.15% to the total dry mass of MSS, a mass equivalent of 2,700-7,900 metric tonnes of chemicals annually. An analysis of archived mesocoms from a sludge weathering study showed that 64 CECs persisted in MSS/soil mixtures over the course of the experiment, with half-lives ranging between 224 and >990 days; these results suggest an inherent persistence of CECs that accumulate in MSS. A comparison of the spectrum of chemicals (n=52) analyzed in nationally representative biological specimens from humans and MSS revealed 70% overlap. This observed co-occurrence of contaminants in both matrices suggests that MSS may serve as an indicator for ongoing human exposures and body burdens of pollutants in humans. In conclusion, I posit that this novel approach in sewage epidemiology may serve to pre-screen and prioritize the several thousands of known or suspected CECs to identify those that are most prone to pose a risk to human health and the environment.

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2013

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Single cell RT-qPCR based ocean environmental sensing device development

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This thesis research focuses on developing a single-cell gene expression analysis method for marine diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana and constructing a chip level tool to realize the single cell RT-qPCR analysis. This chip will serve as a conceptual foundation for future

This thesis research focuses on developing a single-cell gene expression analysis method for marine diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana and constructing a chip level tool to realize the single cell RT-qPCR analysis. This chip will serve as a conceptual foundation for future deployable ocean monitoring systems. T. pseudonana, which is a common surface water microorganism, was detected in the deep ocean as confirmed by phylogenetic and microbial community functional studies. Six-fold copy number differences between 23S rRNA and 23S rDNA were observed by RT-qPCR, demonstrating the moderate functional activity of detected photosynthetic microbes in the deep ocean including T. pseudonana. Because of the ubiquity of T. pseudonana, it is a good candidate for an early warning system for ocean environmental perturbation monitoring. This early warning system will depend on identifying outlier gene expression at the single-cell level. An early warning system based on single-cell analysis is expected to detect environmental perturbations earlier than population level analysis which can only be observed after a whole community has reacted. Preliminary work using tube-based, two-step RT-qPCR revealed for the first time, gene expression heterogeneity of T. pseudonana under different nutrient conditions. Heterogeneity was revealed by different gene expression activity for individual cells under the same conditions. This single cell analysis showed a skewed, lognormal distribution and helped to find outlier cells. The results indicate that the geometric average becomes more important and representative of the whole population than the arithmetic average. This is in contrast with population level analysis which is limited to arithmetic averages only and highlights the value of single cell analysis. In order to develop a deployable sensor in the ocean, a chip level device was constructed. The chip contains surface-adhering droplets, defined by hydrophilic patterning, that serve as real-time PCR reaction chambers when they are immersed in oil. The chip had demonstrated sensitivities at the single cell level for both DNA and RNA. The successful rate of these chip-based reactions was around 85%. The sensitivity of the chip was equivalent to published microfluidic devices with complicated designs and protocols, but the production process of the chip was simple and the materials were all easily accessible in conventional environmental and/or biology laboratories. On-chip tests provided heterogeneity information about the whole population and were validated by comparing with conventional tube based methods and by p-values analysis. The power of chip-based single-cell analyses were mainly between 65-90% which were acceptable and can be further increased by higher throughput devices. With this chip and single-cell analysis approaches, a new paradigm for robust early warning systems of ocean environmental perturbation is possible.

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2013

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Environmentally responsible use of nanomaterials for the photocatalytic reduction of nitrate in water

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Nitrate is the most prevalent water pollutant limiting the use of groundwater as a potable water source. The overarching goal of this dissertation was to leverage advances in nanotechnology to improve nitrate photocatalysis and transition treatment to the full-scale. The

Nitrate is the most prevalent water pollutant limiting the use of groundwater as a potable water source. The overarching goal of this dissertation was to leverage advances in nanotechnology to improve nitrate photocatalysis and transition treatment to the full-scale. The research objectives were to (1) examine commercial and synthesized photocatalysts, (2) determine the effect of water quality parameters (e.g., pH), (3) conduct responsible engineering by ensuring detection methods were in place for novel materials, and (4) develop a conceptual framework for designing nitrate-specific photocatalysts. The key issues for implementing photocatalysis for nitrate drinking water treatment were efficient nitrate removal at neutral pH and by-product selectivity toward nitrogen gases, rather than by-products that pose a human health concern (e.g., nitrite). Photocatalytic nitrate reduction was found to follow a series of proton-coupled electron transfers. The nitrate reduction rate was limited by the electron-hole recombination rate, and the addition of an electron donor (e.g., formate) was necessary to reduce the recombination rate and achieve efficient nitrate removal. Nano-sized photocatalysts with high surface areas mitigated the negative effects of competing aqueous anions. The key water quality parameter impacting by-product selectivity was pH. For pH < 4, the by-product selectivity was mostly N-gas with some NH4+, but this shifted to NO2- above pH = 4, which suggests the need for proton localization to move beyond NO2-. Co-catalysts that form a Schottky barrier, allowing for localization of electrons, were best for nitrate reduction. Silver was optimal in heterogeneous systems because of its ability to improve nitrate reduction activity and N-gas by-product selectivity, and graphene was optimal in two-electrode systems because of its ability to shuttle electrons to the working electrode. "Environmentally responsible use of nanomaterials" is to ensure that detection methods are in place for the nanomaterials tested. While methods exist for the metals and metal oxides examined, there are currently none for carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and graphene. Acknowledging that risk assessment encompasses dose-response and exposure, new analytical methods were developed for extracting and detecting CNTs and graphene in complex organic environmental (e.g., urban air) and biological matrices (e.g. rat lungs).

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2013

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Identification of N-Nitrosodimethylamine precursors to improve their control

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N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) is a probable human carcinogen and drinking water disinfection by-product. NDMA forms as the product of reactions between chloramines and precursor compounds in water. This dissertation aims to provide insight into the removal of NDMA precursors, their nature,

N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) is a probable human carcinogen and drinking water disinfection by-product. NDMA forms as the product of reactions between chloramines and precursor compounds in water. This dissertation aims to provide insight into the removal of NDMA precursors, their nature, and a method to aid in their identification. Watershed-derived precursors accounted for more of and greater variability to NDMA formation upon chloramination than polymer-derived precursors in environmental samples. Coagulation polymers are quaternary amines, which have low NDMA yield but high use rates. Watershed-derived precursors were removed up to 90% by sorption to activated carbon, but activated carbon exhibited much less (<10%) sorption of polymer-derived precursors. Combined with literature NDMA molar yields of model anthropogenic compounds, where anthropogenic chemicals in some cases have NDMA yields >90% and biological compounds always have yields <2%, trace, organic, amine containing, anthropogenic chemicals were implicated as the most likely source of NDMA precursors in the watershed. Although activated carbon removes these precursors well, identification of individual compounds may result in more cost effective mitigation strategies. Therefore, I developed a method to isolate NDMA precursors from other organic matter into methanol to facilitate their identification. Optimization of the method resulted in a median recovery of NDMA precursors of 82% from 10 surface waters and one wastewater. The method produces 1,000X concentrated NDMA precursors and, in collaboration with the University of Colorado Center for Environmental Mass Spectrometry, time of flight mass spectrometry (TOF-MS) was performed on multiple treated wastewater and raw drinking water isolates. During TOF-MS, tertiary amines can cleave to form a neutral loss and an R group ion that is dependent on the original structure and I wrote a software program to “trawl” exported TOF-MS spectra for the diagnostic neutral loss resulting from fragmentation of tertiary amines. Methadone was identified as one new NDMA precursor that occurs at concentrations that form physiologically relevant levels of NDMA in surface water and wastewater. The approach used here to identify NDMA precursors is adaptable to other unknown disinfection by-product precursors given that a functional group is known that can 1)control sorption and 2)produce a predictable diagnostic fragment.

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2015

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Assessing outdoor algal cultivation in panel and raceway photobioreactors for biomass and lipid productivity

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Over the past decade, there has been a revival in applied algal research and attempts at commercialization. However, the main limitation in algal commercialization is the process of cultivation, which is one of the main cost and energy burdens in

Over the past decade, there has been a revival in applied algal research and attempts at commercialization. However, the main limitation in algal commercialization is the process of cultivation, which is one of the main cost and energy burdens in producing biomass that is economically feasible for different products. There are several parameters that must be considered when growing algae, including the type of growth system and operating mode, preferred organism(s), and many other criteria that affect the process of algal cultivation. The purpose of this dissertation was to assess key variables that affect algal productivity and to improve outdoor algal cultivation procedures. The effect of reducing or eliminating aeration of algal cultures at night, in flat panel photobioreactors (panels), was investigated to assess the reduction of energy consumption at night. The lack of aeration at night resulted in anoxic conditions, which significantly reduced lipid accumulation and productivity, but did not affect log phase biomass productivity. In addition, the reduction in aeration resulted in lower pH values, which prevented ammonia volatility and toxicity. Raceways are operated at deeper cultivation depths, which limit culture density and light exposure. Experimentation was accomplished to determine the effects of decreasing cultivation depth, which resulted in increased lipid accumulation and lipid productivity, but did not significantly affect biomass productivity. A comparison of semi-continuous cultivation of algae in raceways and panels in side-by-side experiments showed that panels provided better temperature control and higher levels of mixing, which resulted in higher biomass productivity. In addition, sub-optimal morning temperatures in raceways compared to panels were a significant factor in reducing algae biomass productivity. The results from this research indicate that increasing lipid productivity and biomass productivity cannot be completed simultaneously. Therefore, the desired product will determine if lipid or biomass productivity is more crucial, which also dictates whether the system should be operated in batch mode to either allow lipid accumulation or in semi-continuous mode to allow high biomass productivity. This work is a critical step in improving algal cultivation by understanding key variables that limit biomass and lipid productivity.

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2015

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Developing anticipatory life cycle assessment tools to support responsible innovation

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Several prominent research strategy organizations recommend applying life cycle assessment (LCA) early in the development of emerging technologies. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Research Council, the Department of Energy, and the National Nanotechnology Initiative identify

Several prominent research strategy organizations recommend applying life cycle assessment (LCA) early in the development of emerging technologies. For example, the US Environmental Protection Agency, the National Research Council, the Department of Energy, and the National Nanotechnology Initiative identify the potential for LCA to inform research and development (R&D) of photovoltaics and products containing engineered nanomaterials (ENMs). In this capacity, application of LCA to emerging technologies may contribute to the growing movement for responsible research and innovation (RRI). However, existing LCA practices are largely retrospective and ill-suited to support the objectives of RRI. For example, barriers related to data availability, rapid technology change, and isolation of environmental from technical research inhibit application of LCA to developing technologies. This dissertation focuses on development of anticipatory LCA tools that incorporate elements of technology forecasting, provide robust explorations of uncertainty, and engage diverse innovation actors in overcoming retrospective approaches to environmental assessment and improvement of emerging technologies. Chapter one contextualizes current LCA practices within the growing literature articulating RRI and identifies the optimal place in the stage gate innovation model to apply LCA. Chapter one concludes with a call to develop anticipatory LCA – building on the theory of anticipatory governance – as a series of methodological improvements that seek to align LCA practices with the objectives of RRI.

Chapter two provides a framework for anticipatory LCA, identifies where research from multiple disciplines informs LCA practice, and builds off the recommendations presented in the preceding chapter. Chapter two focuses on crystalline and thin film photovoltaics (PV) to illustrate the novel framework, in part because PV is an environmentally motivated technology undergoing extensive R&D efforts and rapid increases in scale of deployment. The chapter concludes with a series of research recommendations that seek to direct PV research agenda towards pathways with the greatest potential for environmental improvement.

Similar to PV, engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) are an emerging technology with numerous potential applications, are the subject of active R&D efforts, and are characterized by high uncertainty regarding potential environmental implications. Chapter three introduces a Monte Carlo impact assessment tool based on the toxicity impact assessment model USEtox and demonstrates stochastic characterization factor (CF) development to prioritize risk research with the greatest potential to improve certainty in CFs. The case study explores a hypothetical decision in which personal care product developers are interested in replacing the conventional antioxidant niacinamide with the novel ENM C60, but face high data uncertainty, are unsure regarding potential ecotoxicity impacts associated with this substitution, and do not know what future risk-relevant experiments to invest in that most efficiently improve certainty in the comparison. Results suggest experiments that elucidate C60 partitioning to suspended solids should be prioritized over parameters with little influence on results. This dissertation demonstrates a novel anticipatory approach to exploration of uncertainty in environmental models that can create new, actionable knowledge with potential to guide future research and development decisions.

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2016

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Organic matter occurrence in Arizona and innovative treatment by granular activated carbon

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Population growth and fresh water depletion challenge drinking water utilities. Surface water quality is impacted significantly by climate variability, human activities, and extreme events like natural disasters. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is an important water quality index and the precursor

Population growth and fresh water depletion challenge drinking water utilities. Surface water quality is impacted significantly by climate variability, human activities, and extreme events like natural disasters. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is an important water quality index and the precursor of disinfection by-products (DBPs) that varies with both hydrologic and anthropogenic factors. Granular activated carbon (GAC) is a best available technology for utilities to meet Stage 2 D/DBP rule compliance and to remove contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) (e.g., pharmaceutical, personal care products (PCPs), etc.). Utilities can operate GAC with more efficient and flexible strategies with the understanding of organic occurrence in source water and a model capable predicting DOC occurrence. In this dissertation, it was found that DOC loading significantly correlated with spring runoff and was intensified by dry-duration antecedent to first flush. Dynamic modeling based on reservoir management (e.g., pump-back operation) was established to simulate the DOC transport in the reservoir system. Additionally, summer water recreational activities were found to raise the level of PCPs, especially skin-applied products, in raw waters. GAC was examined in this dissertation for both carbonaceous and emerging nitrogenous DBP (N-DBP) precursors (i.e., dissolved organic nitrogen (DON)) removal. Based on the experimental findings, GAC preferentially removes UV254-absorbing material, and DOC is preferentially removed over DON which may be composed primarily of hydrophilic organic and results in the low affinity for adsorption by GAC. The presence of organic nitrogen can elevate the toxicity of DBPs by forming N-DBPs, and this could be a major drawback for facilities considering installation of a GAC adsorber owing to the poor removal efficiency of DON by GAC. A modeling approach was established for predicting DOC and DON breakthrough during GAC operation. However, installation of GAC adsorber is a burden for utilities with respect to operational and maintenance cost. It is common for utilities to regenerate saturated GAC in order to save the cost of purchasing fresh GAC. The traditional thermal regeneration technology for saturated GAC is an energy intensive process requiring high temperature of incineration. Additionally, small water treatment sites usually ship saturated GAC to specialized facilities for regeneration increasing the already significant carbon footprint of thermal regeneration. An innovative GAC regeneration technique was investigated in this dissertation for the feasibility as on-site water treatment process. Virgin GAC was first saturated by organic contaminant then regenerated in-situ by iron oxide nanocatalysts mixed with hydrogen peroxide. At least 70 % of adsorption capacity of GAC can be regenerated repeatedly for experiments using modeling compound (phenol) or natural organic matter (Suwannee River humic acid). The regeneration efficiency increases with increasing adsorbate concentration. Used-iron nanocatalysts can be recovered repeatedly without significant loss of catalytic ability. This in-situ regeneration technique provides cost and energy efficient solution for water utilities considering GAC installation. Overall, patterns were found for DOC and CEC variations in drinking water sources. Increasing concentrations of bulk (DOC and DON) and/or trace organics challenge GAC operation in utilities that have limited numbers of bed-volume treated before regeneration is required. In-situ regeneration using iron nanocatalysts and hydrogen peroxide provides utilities an alternative energy-efficient operation mode when considering installation of GAC adsorber.

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2012

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Fate and biological effects of engineered nanomaterials during simulated wastewater treatment processes

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As engineered nanomaterials (NMs) become used in industry and commerce their loading to sewage will increase. However, the fate of widely used NMs in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) remains poorly understood. In this research, sequencing batch reactors (SBRs) were operated

As engineered nanomaterials (NMs) become used in industry and commerce their loading to sewage will increase. However, the fate of widely used NMs in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) remains poorly understood. In this research, sequencing batch reactors (SBRs) were operated with hydraulic (HRT) and sludge (SRT) retention times representative of full-scale biological WWTPs for several weeks. NM loadings at the higher range of expected environmental concentrations were selected. To achieve the pseudo-equilibrium state concentration of NMs in biomass, SBR experiments needed to operate for more than three times the SRT value, approximately 18 days. Under the conditions tested, NMs had negligible effects on ability of the wastewater bacteria to biodegrade organic material, as measured by chemical oxygen demand (COD). NM mass balance closure was achieved by measuring NMs in liquid effluent and waste biosolids. All NMs were well removed at the typical biomass concentration (1~2 gSS/L). However, carboxy-terminated polymer coated silver nanoparticles (fn-Ag) were removed less effectively (88% removal) than hydroxylated fullerenes (fullerols; >90% removal), nano TiO2 (>95% removal) or aqueous fullerenes (nC60; >95% removal). Although most NMs did not settle out of the feed solution without bacteria present, approximately 65% of the titanium dioxide was removed even in the absence of biomass simply due to self-aggregation and settling. Experiments conducted over 4 months with daily loadings of nC60 showed that nC60 removal from solution depends on the biomass concentration. Under conditions representative of most suspended growth biological WWTPs (e.g., activated sludge), most of the NMs will accumulate in biosolids rather than in liquid effluent discharged to surface waters. Significant fractions of fn-Ag were associated with colloidal material which suggests that efficient particle separation processes (sedimentation or filtration) could further improve removal of NM from effluent. As most NMs appear to accumulate in biosolids, future research should examine the fate of NMs during disposal of WWTP biosolids, which may occur through composting or anaerobic digestion and/or land application, incineration, or landfill disposal.

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2012

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Downstream processing of Synechocystis for biofuel production

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Lipids and free fatty acids (FFA) from cyanobacterium Synechocystis can be used for biofuel (e.g. biodiesel or renewable diesel) production. In order to utilize and scale up this technique, downstream processes including culturing and harvest, cell disruption, and extraction were

Lipids and free fatty acids (FFA) from cyanobacterium Synechocystis can be used for biofuel (e.g. biodiesel or renewable diesel) production. In order to utilize and scale up this technique, downstream processes including culturing and harvest, cell disruption, and extraction were studied. Several solvents/solvent systems were screened for lipid extraction from Synechocystis. Chloroform + methanol-based Folch and Bligh & Dyer methods were proved to be "gold standard" for small-scale analysis due to their highest lipid recoveries that were confirmed by their penetration of the cell membranes, higher polarity, and stronger interaction with hydrogen bonds. Less toxic solvents, such as methanol and MTBE, or direct transesterification of biomass (without pre-extraction step) gave only slightly lower lipid-extraction yields and can be considered for large-scale application. Sustained exposure to high and low temperature extremes severely lowered the biomass and lipid productivity. Temperature stress also triggered changes of lipid quality such as the degree of unsaturation; thus, it affected the productivities and quality of Synechocystis-derived biofuel. Pulsed electric field (PEF) was evaluated for cell disruption prior to lipid extraction. A treatment intensity > 35 kWh/m3 caused significant damage to the plasma membrane, cell wall, and thylakoid membrane, and it even led to complete disruption of some cells into fragments. Treatment by PEF enhanced the potential for the low-toxicity solvent isopropanol to access lipid molecules during subsequent solvent extraction, leading to lower usage of isopropanol for the same extraction efficiency. Other cell-disruption methods also were tested. Distinct disruption effects to the cell envelope, plasma membrane, and thylakoid membranes were observed that were related to extraction efficiency. Microwave and ultrasound had significant enhancement of lipid extraction. Autoclaving, ultrasound, and French press caused significant release of lipid into the medium, which may increase solvent usage and make medium recycling difficult. Production of excreted FFA by mutant Synechocystis has the potential of reducing the complexity of downstream processing. Major problems, such as FFA precipitation and biodegradation by scavengers, account for FFA loss in operation. Even a low concentration of FFA scavengers could consume FFA at a high rate that outpaced FFA production rate. Potential strategies to overcome FFA loss include high pH, adsorptive resin, and sterilization techniques.

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2011

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Biofilm reduction of oxidized contaminants

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The overall goal of this dissertation is to advance understanding of biofilm reduction of oxidized contaminants in water and wastewater. Chapter 1 introduces the fundamentals of biological reduction of three oxidized contaminants (nitrate, perchlorate, and trichloriethene (TCE)) using two biofilm

The overall goal of this dissertation is to advance understanding of biofilm reduction of oxidized contaminants in water and wastewater. Chapter 1 introduces the fundamentals of biological reduction of three oxidized contaminants (nitrate, perchlorate, and trichloriethene (TCE)) using two biofilm processes (hydrogen-based membrane biofilm reactors (MBfR) and packed-bed heterotrophic reactors (PBHR)), and it identifies the research objectives. Chapters 2 through 6 focus on nitrate removal using the MBfR and PBHR, while chapters 7 through 10 investigate simultaneous reduction of nitrate and another oxidized compound (perchlorate, sulfate, or TCE) in the MBfR. Chapter 11 summarizes the major findings of this research. Chapters 2 and 3 demonstrate nitrate removal in a groundwater and identify the maximum nitrate loadings using a pilot-scale MBfR and a pilot-scale PBHR, respectively. Chapter 4 compares the MBfR and the PBHR for denitrification of the same nitrate-contaminated groundwater. The comparison includes the maximum nitrate loading, the effluent water quality of the denitrification reactors, and the impact of post-treatment on water quality. Chapter 5 theoretically and experimentally demonstrates that the nitrate biomass-carrier surface loading, rather than the traditionally used empty bed contact time or nitrate volumetric loading, is the primary design parameter for heterotrophic denitrification. Chapter 6 constructs a pH-control model to predict pH, alkalinity, and precipitation potential in heterotrophic or hydrogen-based autotrophic denitrification reactors. Chapter 7 develops and uses steady-state permeation tests and a mathematical model to determine the hydrogen-permeation coefficients of three fibers commonly used in the MBfR. The coefficients are then used as inputs for the three models in Chapters 8-10. Chapter 8 develops a multispecies biofilm model for simultaneous reduction of nitrate and perchlorate in the MBfR. The model quantitatively and systematically explains how operating conditions affect nitrate and perchlorate reduction and biomass distribution via four mechanisms. Chapter 9 modifies the nitrate and perchlorate model into a nitrate and sulfate model and uses it to identify operating conditions corresponding to onset of sulfate reduction. Chapter 10 modifies the nitrate and perchlorate model into a nitrate and TCE model and uses it to investigate how operating conditions affect TCE reduction and accumulation of TCE reduction intermediates.

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2012