Understanding Organic Pollutants in Waterways

Teng Zeng, Ph.D., Assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, College of Engineering and Computer Science, Syracuse University.

“It’s important to be able to test ideas before applying to a federal agency for a full-blown project. My research projects are all outcomes of early SyracuseCoE support.”


Project: Zeng studies organic pollutants in water systems, both natural—such as lakes and streams—and engineered—such as waste and drinking water facilities. His goal is to understand how organic pollutants enter aquatic systems and the implications for their presence.

Nuts and Bolts: In a project with Sharon Moran, associate professor of environmental studies at SUNY-ESF, Zeng is collaborating with the Upstate Freshwater Institute and New York State Federation of Lake Associations, making use of a citizen science approach to look at patterns of organic pollutants in more than 100 New York lakes. Zeng analyzes water samples collected by volunteers—typically lakefront residents—and communicates findings back to them. Zeng says pollutants enter the water via septic systems or agricultural activities, as well as atmospheric deposition. “The pollutants aren’t necessarily bad for the health of the lake, but information is helpful as a tool to understand watershed management, particularly for lake residents,” he says. “Some lakes are relatively clean while others are heavily impacted by urban or residential activities.” The project was initially funded by SyracuseCoE and later by the National Science Foundation.

That’s Not All: In a project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Zeng is collaborating with SyracuseCoE Faculty Fellow Christa Kelleher, assistant professor of Earth science, and environmental sociologist Rebecca Schewe, associate professor at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, to study the impact of manure and bio-solids on New York waterways. The goal is to understand the impact of bio-solids—treated human waste— used by farmers as fertilizer, which may transmit organic pollutants, including pharmaceutical residue, into waterways. “We want to find out what contaminants are present and, using hydrological modeling, how these contaminants are transported to streams,” Zeng explains.

SyracuseCoE Impact: Zeng says Faculty Fellow grants from SyracuseCoE have been essential to launching his Syracuse University research. “They are the only source of seed grants in my area of research,” he says. “It’s important to be able to test ideas before applying to a federal agency for a full-blown project. My research projects are all outcomes of early SyracuseCoE support.”


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