|Previous portrait||Dr. Lisa Colosi Peterson
Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering
School of Engineering & Applied Science
How we can motivate voluntary removal of potentially dangerous unregulated emerging contaminants from treated wastewaters before they are discharged back into the natural environment and the drinking water supply? This is the focus of my work.
In this context, “emerging contaminants” refers to organic pollutants that are present in municipal wastewaters at very small concentrations (parts per trillion) with known biological activity, e.g., steroid hormones and other estrogens, prescription antibiotics and other pharmaceutical drugs, and even sunscreens, fragrances, and other “personal care products.”
All of these flow into—and are poorly removed by—our wastewater treatment plants. As a result, they flow out into the environment, potentially causing adverse impacts on human health and aquatic ecosystems.
These chemicals are not currently regulated by federal or state governments, which means there is no “stick” to make wastewater treatment plants remove them. My lab focuses on identifying treatment approaches that offer some “carrots” to motivate removal of these chemicals; that motivation generally involves creating alternative energy, which has value in the marketplace.
My work was originally more abstract and academic, but over time, it’s become clear that we need multiple, practical solutions to big problems. So I try to focus more on treatment technologies that might actually work in the “real world”—even if they are not glamorous or technologically sophisticated.
I am excited to work in a field that lets me help my family and community. Access to clean water and renewable energy are absolutely critical to sustaining our high quality of life. It makes me feel good that I can use my talents to help find solutions for important problems that touch so many people’s lives. I also love that so many girls and young women care about helping the environment and protecting human health, since that puts me in a position to mentor our future engineers.
DRUGS IN YOUR DRINKING WATER?
Drugs in your drinking water? Ever wonder what’s in your water? Dr. Colosi Peterson and her graduate students created a Web site that allows any Virginia resident to find out. VPharma-Calc http://faculty.virginia.edu/vpharmacalc/ calculates the approximate concentrations of over 200 pharmaceuticals flowing into the wastewater treatment plant that services your home.
What does algae have to do with estrogens? Dr. Colosi Pederson and her students work on removing potentially harmful estrogens from wastewater, an important but previously undocumented water quality benefit for municipal and livestock waste treatment facilities, because these entities discharge significant amounts of estrogens and nutrients. Not content with simple removal, they are investigating the potential sustainability benefit of integrated algae and wastewater systems, that is, the possibility of simultaneous bioenergy generation by the same algae that remove the hormones.
It makes me feel good that I can use my talents to help find solutions for important problems that touch so many people’s lives. I also love that so many young women care about helping the environment and protecting human health, since that puts me in a position to mentor our future engineers.
Learn more about Dr. Colosi-Pederson‘s research and teaching. http://people.virginia.edu/~lmc6b/LisaColosi/Home.html
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