CU Boulder Selected to Participate in EPA’s Student Design Program for the First Time in Two Decades

The University of Colorado at Boulder has been selected for the first time in two decades to participate in a program funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency where it will spend a year developing a preliminary tool designed to help people in around the world to know if their drinking water is at risk of containing chemical toxins.

“The goal here is to have an impact certainly in the United States, but also more broadly, thinking of low- and middle-income countries, where water testing is quite expensive,” said Matthew Bentley, affiliate of environmental engineering research at CU Boulder. “Even for people in the United States, let alone people living in poverty, something like this would provide a free way for people to identify risk and deal with it.”

In June, the EPA announced grant recipients for its People, Prosperity, and the Planet program. CU Boulder was one of 16 student teams to receive funding for research aimed at addressing environmental and public health challenges. The Boulder campus received $25,000 to complete the one-year project.

Bentley said the EPA’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet program is a student design project. At CU Boulder, the team carrying out the project will consist of one graduate student and approximately three undergraduate students. Bentley and Karl Linden, professor of environmental engineering at CU Boulder, will oversee the project.

During the next year, the team will create the alpha version of the tool or the preliminary version. It will be designed to be either a free phone app or a website. The software will provide people with a survey and, based on their answers, it will tell them what chemical toxins may be present in their drinking water, Bentley said.

“(The tool is) designed to raise a red flag (and say) “Because of these risk factors in your area, such as a nearby agricultural development or a chemical manufacturing plant or power plant, you may have these chemicals in your drinking water and you should either do some water quality testing or do something to reduce the risk,” he said.

Bentley said the tool will then guide users through the types of at-home treatments they can perform that are easy to find and inexpensive.

The first phase of the project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2023. Bentley said he hopes the EPA will give the team an additional grant for a second year of work. If selected, the CU Boulder team may receive up to $100,000 from the EPA to continue implementing the tool.

“This (second year) would allow us to have an app or a website rather than just a spreadsheet or a really basic version of the tool,” Bentley said.

In the first year of the project, CU Boulder will use water quality data from India and the United States to create a tool specific to residents of those regions of the world. If CU Boulder is selected for an additional year of research, Bentley hopes to expand the tool so it can be used globally, he said.

“Ultimately, I think we’d like it to be funded not just by the EPA, but by partners who see the benefits of identifying chemical hazards in drinking water,” Bentley said. “That would allow us to manage and update it. It will take active work to keep this database up to date to ensure that our risk profiles are accurate.

Linden said he was delighted to have been selected to participate in the project and represent CU Boulder’s environmental engineering program.

“These funds will support the involvement of a number of undergraduate students in this research experience over the next academic year, and we look forward to traveling to Washington DC and presenting our findings to scientists and engineers. of the EPA,” he said.

Ryan H. Bowman