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Ripple effect

September 30, 2015

Assistant Professor Randi Brazeau
Assistant Professor Randi Brazeau's study on water decontamination was coincidentally released at the time of the Gold King Mine waste water spill into Colorado’s Animas River. PHOTO: Courtesy of CNN

Clean water is a vital part of our lives and yet our water filtration systems aren’t always up to par, according to Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Randi Brazeau.

Working with Purdue University faculty member Andrew Whelton and graduate student Karen Casteloes, Brazeau completed a study titled, “Decontaminating Chemically Contaminated Residential Premise Plumbing Systems by Flushing.” Building upon a previous study by Whelton, Brazeau and her team found that better water flushing practices and design can significantly reduce the presence of organic contaminants and increase the safety of occupants near plumbing systems.

“When spills and leaks from mining activities, energy generation, waste disposal, etc. happen, it threatens our water supply and human health,” said Brazeau. “Municipalities and utilities are lacking evidence-based recommendations to give end-users on how to decontaminate their water supplies.”

Brazeau and her team created a water heater model to test for organic contaminants before and after flushing. The results revealed that 39 incidents of contamination in the main water supply remained in the system even after flushing.

“This research is aimed at providing science-based protocols for decontamination of plumbing systems,” said Brazeau. “It has the potential to influence rapid response to spill events and potentially reduce exposure to these harmful pollutants.”

The study – which, ironically, was released in August at the time of the Gold King Mine waste water spill into Colorado’s Animas River – has led Brazeau to pursue future work with students.

“I plan on using this research in my water courses this fall to give context to issues such as water quality, regulation and human health,” said Brazeau. “With the data from the decontamination study as well as water quality metrics from the Gold King mine disaster, my students and I will explore the impacts of a relevant, real-time case study.”

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