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UDRI Developing Drinking Water Protection System

UDRI Developing System to Safeguard America's Drinking Water Against Bioterrorist Attack

The University of Dayton Research Institute has been awarded a contract from the U.S. Army’s Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center to safeguard Americans’ drinking water from a bioterrorist attack – at home and overseas.

The one-year, $915,000 contract will be fulfilled via a collaborative effort among UDRI, YSI Inc. of Yellow Springs, Ohio, the University of Cincinnati and New Mexico State University. “The ultimate objective is to develop a system to safeguard drinking water facilities here in the U.S. and in portable facilities for troop protection abroad,” said Jay Johnson, leader of the Research Institute’s newly formed “chemicals and biological sensors” group and principal investigator for the ECBC project.

The system needs to be portable because U.S. troops stationed overseas get their drinking water from local suppliers or mobile reservoirs, which puts them at risk for biocontamination, Johnson said. Domestically, the systems will be placed at drinking-water distribution sites. “In this country, the problem is that it’s not hard to figure out how to backflow water from a residence – you can actually force things back into the distribution system.”

The system will involve a process of “preconcentration:” water is pumped through a membrane cartridge with pores so small, bioagents cannot pass through them and are collected – or concentrated – behind the membrane.

“The process actually involves a fairly traditional ultra- or microfiltration technology, but it will be advanced and used in a non-traditional application,” Johnson said. “In the past, microfiltration has been used to concentrate parasites, such as giardia and cryptosporidia, and the Environmental Protection Agency has been working for years with micro and ultrafiltration to detect contaminants in surface water. But this technology has never been used across the board to concentrate bioagents, such as spores, viruses, bacteria and biotoxins, specifically from a terrorist threat. And the real challenge will be to find a generic solution that allows you to detect anything.”

“It’s always difficult to answer the question, “Are these bioagents?” Johnson said. “When you know what you are looking for, it’s much easier to detect. But when you aren’t sure exactly what you’re looking for – and it could be any of a broad range of agents – the job becomes much more difficult.”

With some viruses, even one microorganism per gallon of water could make a person sick, Johnson said. “That’s exactly why two levels of preconcentration are so critical.”

In June, Johnson completed a two-year consulting project financed by Ohio’s Technology Action Fund that involved the development of a prototype system for botulin detection. A team of researchers from YSI, Micro Molar Systems of Cedarville, Ohio, and the University of Cincinnati demonstrated many of the sub-systems necessary to make the new system work.

For media interviews, contact Jay Johnson at 937-229-2569 and Gayle Rominger, Senior Vice President, YSI Inc., at 937-767-7241 x349.

November 16, 2005


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