One week after classes ended at Stevens Institute of Technology, the Passaic River ran red through Paterson, NJ. The peculiar sight was part of a dye study by Environmental Engineering students and faculty. Commissioned by New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to determine the total maximum daily load of pollution entering the river, the team dropped 14 pounds of nonreactive Rhodamine dye in the river, and then took samples downstream to analyze the Passaic's flow.
Tina Singh and Brad Iulculano, both Environmental Engineering undergraduates, are working with Dr. Sarath Chandra Jagupilla, a Research Engineer in the Center for Environmental Systems; Professor Emeritus Richard Hires; and Assistant Research Professor from Rutgers University Dr. Robert Miskewitz (Stevens Ph.D. '05) to study pollution in the Passaic River. Dr. David Vaccari, director of the Department of Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering, leads the project, "Pathogen TMDL Monitoring and FC-EC Relations in the Lower Passaic River." The results of the study will help the NJDEP clean up and mitigate pollution along stretches of the Passaic River.
Passaic River pollution takes a variety of forms, but the team is focused on one in particular: fecal coliform bacteria. In Paterson and other cities with old sewer systems, this type of pollution enters the river through a process known as combined sewer overflow (CSO). Modern sewer systems are comprised of two separate sewers: a sanitary sewer that empties in a sewage treatment plant, and a storm sewer that collects from street drains and enters water sources untreated. Sewer systems of the past – the kind found in older communities like Paterson, Hoboken, and New York City, have a single sewer that feeds a sewage treatment plant. Normally this system works fine, but when it rains, the flow is too much for the sewage treatment plant to handle, and CSO occurs, and undesirable pathogens are discharged into the river.
The Stevens team is studying 14 different locations along the Passaic River in order to determine the effect of CSOs on water quality. In addition to dye studies, sampling for bacteria is conducted both in dry weather and wet weather events, when the river is most polluted and storm clouds loom.
It's a dirty job, but Tina is glad to do it. A desire to help others led her to environmental engineering, and she hopes to apply what she has learned to help those less fortunate: "If the Passaic River has such a high level of pollution, we can only imagine how bad it is in developing nations," she says. "I would really like to help them with the environmental studies I learned at Stevens."