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May 4, 2015

Testing the waters: 1,4-Dioxane in North Carolina's Cape Fear River Basin

Environmental engineers play vital role in determining next steps to safeguard drinking water

It was an email from a colleague that tipped off environmental engineer Detlef Knappe of possible 1,4-dioxane contamination in the Cape Fear River Basin, North Carolina's largest watershed and a source of drinking water for communities across the state.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified 1,4-dioxane as a probable human carcinogen. It is an industrial solvent used in the textile and paper industries and a by-product of manufacturing processes involving ethylene oxide, such as the production of certain plastics and surfactants used in laundry detergents and shampoos.

With support from a National Science Foundation (NSF) RAPID grant, Knappe and his team at North Carolina State University (NCSU) have begun to identify 1,4-dioxane sources and how 1,4-dioxane impacts drinking water quality. (RAPID is short for Grants for Rapid Response Research.) Another research goal is to determine whether home filtration devices effectively remove 1, 4-dioxane from tap water and how long those filters will last.

Knappe is also working with managers at water treatment plants and state policymakers in North Carolina to improve testing and treatment standards for 1,4-dioxane. Knappe says so far, the research team has identified three North Carolina communities as key sources of 1,4-dioxane and those communities are now working with the state and NCSU to identify which facilities are the source of the contamination.

He says the team is also evaluating point-of-use devices, such as pitcher and refrigerator filters, and has identified a new adsorbent that is quite effective for 1,4-dioxane removal.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1449768, RAPID; GOALI: Sources of 1,4-Dioxane in the Cape Fear River Watershed of North Carolina and Treatment Options for 1,4-Dioxane Control. GOALI is NSF's Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry program.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Ann Kellan, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.