Despite being essential, our water sources are filled to the brim with contaminants. From cancer-causing chemicals to endocrine disruptors, our drinking water is becoming more and more unsafe as myriad chemicals find their way into our infrastructure and treatment centers. Solving this problem has been Carsten Prasse’s life work.
Prasse, an assistant professor of environmental health and engineering in the School of Engineering, has spent the last decade investigating water systems and their contaminants and engineering solutions to the ever-growing problem of pollution. He discussed this research in an interview with The News-Letter.
“We’re focusing on a very small number of compounds that have been regulated for a long time. We know, based on research of the last one to two decades, that there are many more chemicals in drinking water because we are emitting them into the environment,” Prasse said. “When we think about drinking water, the protection of the consumer should obviously be of the highest priority, and it’s clearly not right now.”
Most recently, Prasse and Paul Feraro, Bloomberg distinguished professor of human behavior and public policy, have proposed a new way to ensure safe drinking water systems: the Mixture, Assay, Measure, Innovate (MiAMI) approach.
Presented via an August 30 Perspective piece in Nature Sustainability, MiAMI promises to keep drinking water safe. Ferraro explained MiAMI in an interview with The News-Letter.
“MiAMI seeks to completely change the way we keep our drinking water safe by leveraging advances in bioassays, the measurement of complex chemical mixtures and artificial intelligence to enable the creation of engineering and policy solutions,” Ferraro said. “MiAMI uses what we have — complex mixtures of water and thousands of other compounds — rather than what we don’t have — a catalogue of every compound and its potential risks that could be found in every drinking water system. It allows us to tailor solutions to each drinking water system rather than try to establish solutions that work for every case.”
The most crucial technological component of MiAMI is bioassays. Bioassays are a measurement method that determine the toxicity of a system by measuring its effects on living cells. While they are unable to detect individual chemicals, they are able to capture the broad impacts of the chemicals present in the mixture.
“[From here], we can use advanced analytical techniques to actually identify chemicals that you might not have known that they are present in the water, and we can detect thousands of these compounds in a single sample,” Prasse said. “We have targeted analysis and non-targeted analysis. Targeted analysis is what we’ve been doing so far: You have a standard of a compound that you expect to be in the…