Consider that it may take less than a decade for pharmaceutical compounds now passing undetected through wastewater treatment plants to morph from a minor to a major public health issue, said NJIT researcher Taha F. Marhaba. Marhaba, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, has been director of the New Jersey Applied Water Research Center at NJIT since 2002.
Researchers have long known that pharmaceutical compounds pass undetected through wastewater treatment plants to be discharged into bodies of water. Both conventional drinking water and wastewater treatments do not remove such compounds well, said Marhaba. Hence, they may accumulate in the environment. Although today the concentrations of these compounds in drinking water are low, their eventual impact on public health should not be ignored. “It will be only less than a decade before the problem becomes major,” he said. Marhaba said researchers are now creating fast and inexpensive options for testing water.
Marhaba, an expert in water quality, has researched for the past decade a technique called the spectral fluorescent signature. The technique rapidly identifies problematic organics in water—such as pharmaceuticals. “Fluorescent signatures serve as a fingerprint in water, characterizing the organic content of the sample, allowing researchers to ascertain natural or unnatural sources. The technique provides instantaneous data if sensors are placed in strategic locations throughout a watershed.”
Water Research, Journal of Environmental Engineering and Journal of Hazardous Materials have published Marhaba’s research about this technique. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection has provided support.
Prior to joining NJIT in 1995, he was an environmental consultant with Stone & Webster Engineering Corp. Marhaba holds a doctorate and a master’s degree in environmental engineering and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Rutgers University—New Brunswick, and is a licensed Professional Engineer.
NJIT, New Jersey's science and technology university, enrolls approximately 10,000 students pursuing bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in 120 programs. The university consists of six colleges: Newark College of Engineering, College of Architecture and Design, College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of Management, College of Computing Sciences and Albert Dorman Honors College. U.S. News & World Report's 2012 Annual Guide to America's Best Colleges ranked NJIT in the top tier of national research universities. NJIT is internationally recognized for being at the edge in knowledge in architecture, applied mathematics, wireless communications and networking, solar physics, advanced engineered particulate materials, nanotechnology, neural engineering and e-learning. Many courses and certificate programs, as well as graduate degrees, are available online through the Division of Continuing Professional Education.