Penn State operates its own wastewater treatment facility that is permitted to treat up to 4 million gallons of wastewater per day. The techniques the facility utilizes include activated sludge, trickling filter, chlorine disinfection and the Penn State living filter system to clean the wastewater. In the living filter system the post treatment effluent is sprayed over 600 acres of agricultural and forest land as a final filtration step before entering the groundwater. Activated sludge and trickling filter are the most common form of treatment and use biological organisms to clean wastewater. Many emerging contaminants from pharmaceuticals, personal care products and industry are of growing concern as they may not be removed during these treatment processes.
The Dorman lab works to identify these contaminants in the Penn State wastewater influent and effluent. The two main goals of the project are method development for effective sample preparation and extraction and targeted discovery of contaminants using comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography coupled to time of flight mass spectrometry. The long term goals are to analyze the ground water after it has passed through the living filter and determine the efficiency of the filtration process.
Shale Fingerprinting Project
The exploitation of shale gas resources has become economically feasible in the last decade through advances in horizontal drilling. High-volume hydraulic fracturing (fracking) uses water and chemical additives to generate pressures capable of fracturing shale rock, thus liberating natural gas entrapped in the geologic formations. Although this process has led to the economical extraction of natural gas resources, there is concern regarding effects of hydraulic fracturing on the environment, and specifically water resources. It is important to develop analytical methods to study areas that may be impacted by unconventional gas development, as conventional USEPA methodologies have fallen short of this need.
The Dorman lab focuses of the characterization of organic constituents associated with unconventional gas development in a variety of matrices. We have experience with the analysis of well water, drilling fluids, and wastewaters by novel methods that utilize comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography. Our lab also has capabilities for the analysis of inorganic species through the use of an inductively coupled plasma coupled optical emission spectrometer. The ultimate goal of this project is the development of point-source identification and apportionment techniques for environmental contamination events related to unconventional gas development.
Persistent Organic Pollutants Project
Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are organic compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation. These compounds are typically halogenated and are highly lipid soluble. These properties lead POPs to accumulate in soils and animals over time, which can cause health concerns. POPs are classified as possible human carcinogens and can lead to immune and enzyme disorders. These compounds were used for a variety of purposes from flame retardants to pesticides. Many of these are now banned and are being replaced by more environmentally friendly compounds. However, some POPs are still released into the environment from the burning of wastes and through industrial processes.
Research in the Dorman lab focuses on poly-chlorinated and -brominated dioxins and furans. These POPs are generally formed during combustion of brominated flame retardants and plastics during fires. There are over 4,600 different congeners of dioxin and furan compounds that have varying levels of toxicity. Current projects in the lab revolve around developing methods to identify specific congeners using chromatographic techniques such as GC-MS/MS and GCxGC-TOFMS.
Pennsylvania Water Quality Assessment Project
Recent reports of water quality problems in Flint, Michigan have demonstrated the need for further water quality assessments across the United States. Locally, Pennsylvania water quality assessments are in dire need due to the state’s long history of industrial operations. Many factors can contribute to water quality problems across the state such as conventional oil and gas development, acid mine drainage, and recently fracking. As a part of a comprehensive water quality assessment of organic and inorganic water parameters, we plan on taking over 100 drinking and surface water samples across the state of Pennsylvania, and analyze for VOCs (GC-MS), SVOCs (GCxGC-ToF MS), metals (ICP-AES), anions (IC), and glyphosate (LC-MS/MS). This comprehensive study can allow for a more complete picture of water problems across the state of Pennsylvania and give diagnostic insight into a multitude of water quality problems, public health hazards, and emerging contaminants.