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EPA awards $1.24 million grant to Tulane microbiologist improving wastewater testing

Tulane microbiologist Tiong Aw was awarded a $1.24 million grant from the federal Environmental...
Tulane microbiologist Tiong Aw was awarded a $1.24 million grant from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to continue developing methods to eradicate dangerous viruses from wastewater.(Tulane University photo)
Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 1:32 PM EDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a $1.24 million grant to support a Tulane University microbiologist’s work developing better methods to test wastewater.

Approximately 2.2 billion gallons of wastewater are recovered and reused each day by more than 500 water reclamation facilities across the United States. But so far, none of that water is safe to drink. It is repurposed instead for irrigation, industrial use or to replenish groundwater aquifers.

Dr. Tiong Aw, the Tulane assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences who received the grant, hopes his work can help change that as water shortages become more common or prevalent. He is developing more efficient ways to test and measure viruses in wastewater so that engineers can evaluate how best to eradicate them.

“A significant hurdle into making wastewater even close to drinkable is purging it of any pathogens, especially viruses,” Aw said. “This project is a key step in making it feasible to reuse treated wastewater to address water scarcity.”

Aw’s lab uses advanced genetic sequencing technology to find and analyze more than 100 types of viruses in wastewater samples. Most of those that pose public health risks are viruses carried in human or animal waste from sewerage systems.

“New Orleans has significant de facto potable water reuse,” Aw said. “This city draws drinking water from the Mississippi River, which has numerous upstream wastewater discharges. So this is a very important issue for the city of New Orleans.”

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