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Riverbank filtration pulls pollutants from drinking water

Harmful contaminants often taint drinking water drawn directly from a river, but a low-cost natural filter may lie just beyond the banks. Johns Hopkins researchers have found that the soil alongside a river can remove dangerous microbes and organic material as water flows through it. The cleaner water is then pumped to the surface through wells drilled a short distance from the river.

This technique, called riverbank filtration, has been used in Europe for more than 50 years to improve the taste and smell of drinking water and to remove some hazardous pollutants such as industrial solvents. But after studying these natural filtration processes for six years at three rivers in the Midwestern United States, Johns Hopkins researchers have determined that passing river water through nearby sediment can produce other health benefits and may cut water treatment costs.

Josh Weiss, a doctoral student in the university's Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, presented the most recent research results on Aug. 25 in Philadelphia at the 228th national meeting of the American Chemical Society. He reported that riverbank filtration appears to significantly decrease the presence of bacteria and viruses. Water analyses also showed encouraging, though not definitive, signs that this technique can curtail Giardia and Cryptosporidium, two waterborne microorganisms that cause serious digestive ailments.

The latest results confirm the value of riverbank filtration, Weiss said. "It sounds counter-intuitive to drill wells nearby when water can be taken directly from a river," he said. "But our research indicates that riverbank filtration can naturally remove pathogens and organic material that can cause health problems, including some microbes that are able to survive conventional disinfection systems. If you think about how much it costs to build a full-scale treatment plant to make river water safe to drink, you can see how this could be very
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Contact: Phil Sneiderman
prs@jhu.edu
443-287-9960
Johns Hopkins University
25-Aug-2004


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