Green solutions for cleaner water

Montclair State Earth and Environmental Studies department researchers know how critical clean water is. They have received funding totaling approximately $315,000 for projects designed to prevent polluted stormwater from reaching New Jersey coastal waters and improve the efficiency of wastewater treatment plants.

Professor Dibyendu Sarkar, director of the Environmental Management doctoral program, is principal investigator on a two-year, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-funded Healthy Coastal Ecosystems Sea Grant subaward from the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium on a project using green technology to reduce nutrients and metals in New Jersey’s coastal waters.

In November 2014, Sarkar and co-investigators, colleague Yang Deng; Rupali Datta, the chief R&D officer of Montclair State incubator company SIROM Scientific Solutions; and Manhattan College Professor Kirk Barrett, began to develop best management practices for reducing such pollution.

“Road runoffs typically contain a variety of metals such as copper from brake pads and zinc from tires, as well as nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilized agricultural fields, golf courses and lawns that ultimately enter coastal waters without any protection mechanisms,” explains Sarkar. The team plans to use waste material or drinking water treatment residuals in parking lot catch-basins and non-invasive grasses such as vetiver to remove pollutants from stormwater runoff before it enters Barnegat Bay.

“We propose a green solution that will make our coast more resilient to environmental damage, particularly damage instigated by big storms like Superstorm Sandy,” says Sarkar.

Deng’s two-year grant from the Environmental Research Education Foundation will also let him mitigate UV-absorbing landfill leachate.

According to Deng, more than half of the country’s solid municipal waste or garbage ends up in landfills. When too much rainwater enters these landfills, landfill leachate – a high-strength wastewater that can contaminate soil, ground and surface waters – is invariably produced. Twenty-five percent of New Jersey’s toxic Superfund sites are contaminated by landfill leachate.

“There are strong dissolved organic compounds in leachate that can absorb UV and reduce its disinfection efficiency. The ultimate goal is to find a technically viable and cost-effective solution for solid waste industries,” he says.