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New Evoqua research hub in Lawrenceville helps remove harmful chemicals from water

evoqua water pfas chemical.jpg
Susan Scott Peterson
90.5 WESA
Evoqua scientist Kyle Trewitz.

Evoqua Water Technologies, a water and wastewater treatment company, opened its new Sustainability and Innovation Hub at Lawrenceville Tech Ridge Wednesday.

Headquartered in Pittsburgh since 2015, Evoqua plans to use the new 18,000-square-foot facility to research and develop water treatment technologies, including those that target a group of chemicals known as PFAS.

PFAS, an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of synthetic chemicals known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down naturally and can linger indefinitely in the environment. Increasingly, they have been linked to negative health effects such as increased cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and kidney and testicular cancers.

Evoqua chief executive officer Ron Keating says he expects more industrial and municipal customers to be interested in addressing PFAS, following the Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement Monday of a three-year plan to address PFAS contamination.

“I expect it will take 18 to 24 months before that fully plays out because it's going to take some time for the EPA to actually define what the standard is,” said Ron Keating, chief executive officer of Evoqua. “We're already getting calls from customers right now when they identify that they have a heightened load of PFAS in their water system.”

Because PFAS are so widely used to make products stain resistant, heat resistant and water resistant, they are found nearly everywhere in the environment, including in water supplies. PFAS are very common in nonstick cookware—and they are also found in firefighting foam. In July, residents of McKeesport’s 10th Ward were advised not to drink municipal water for a month after firefighters used a Class B foam containing PFAS to put out a fire.

“We're happy to see federal standing and guidance,” said Caitlin Berretta, Evoqua’s director of sustainability and government affairs. “Because of the [EPA] roadmap, you now have timelines in place where a lot of folks understand now, ‘Okay, this is coming. And so we need to understand what our options are and what would be a good fit for our water.’”

One of the ways Evoqua will be able to help customers address PFAS is by testing what kind of filtration is needed. A customer can send a water sample of 5 to 55 gallons to Evoqua’s new hub, where scientists run the sample through a miniature water treatment system outfitted with different filtering media, like granulated activated charcoal and ion-exchange resins.

In a full-scale system, the granules used to filter the water are the size of gravel or sand. But in Evoqua’s small-scale column test, scientists grind the filtration media to a powder and run the water through it at very low flow rates. This allows them to test different scenarios on a customer’s specific cocktail of water contaminants.

“Every site's different, and so there's really no silver bullet approach to PFAS,” Berretta said. “The idea is to help reduce the total cost over the lifespan of the system.”

Scott Peterson is a writer and audio producer with a decade of experience working in the energy and environment field. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she directed sustainability for an affordable housing nonprofit in Austin, Texas, where she led the installation of a megawatt of rooftop solar power. She’s published with New Hampshire Public Radio, The Texas Observer, and The Rumpus.
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