Professors Earn Grant to Study Anti-Corrosion Treatments

University of Pittsburgh professors Emily Elliott, PhD (left) and Sarah Haig, PhD, (right) have received an NSF grant to study the effects of anti-corrosion treatments on Pittsburgh’s lead pipes. Photo courtesy of University of Pittsburgh/Maggie Pavlick.

A pair of professors at the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA) were awarded a $175,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) (Alexandria, Virginia, USA) to study the effects of an anti-corrosive additive recently introduced to Pittsburgh’s public water pipelines. The two professors, Sarah Haig and Emily Elliot, received an NSF Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant, which is a funding mechanism for proposals that outline a severe urgency for, or access to, data, facilities, or specialized equipment.

Haig, an assistant professor at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, and Elliot, an associate professor at the university’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, will study water samples that include an anti-corrosion additive called orthophosphate that was recently introduced into Pittsburgh’s pipelines by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA). Haig and Elliot will evaluate these samples provided by the PSWA to determine changes in microbial ecology, water chemistry, and nutrient availability.

Earlier this month, the PSWA announced that it would add orthophosphate to Pittsburgh’s drinking water in order to reduce corrosion from the city’s lead pipelines. (Click this MP Recent News item for more information on the PWSA’s orthophosphate release.)

While orthophosphate has been approved for use by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), its environmental effects—specifically the phosphate levels released by the additive—still need to be better understood. “Pittsburgh’s drinking water pipe system loses more than 25 million gallons per day due to leaks and other water discharges, so it’s important to understand what happens if orthophosphate enters the groundwater and surface water” says Haig. “This grant will allow us to set a baseline and evaluate any changes that the added orthophosphate causes to streams connected to the system.”

Expected to last about a year, Haig and Elliot’s research project will have greater implications beyond the city of Pittsburgh and this particular use of an anti-corrosive agent into a city’s water supply. “This project will help answer fundamental ecological questions about how leaking infrastructure can impact nutrient cycling and aquatic ecosystems in urban streams,” says Haig. “Not only will this project reveal the treatment’s immediate effects on Pittsburgh’s ecosystems, but it will also provide insights that will benefit other cities implementing this treatment.”

Source: University of Pittsburgh – Swanson School of Engineering,