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News from Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center

Barnstable County is committed to protecting our region’s water resources for its residents.  Wastewater management is vital to our region’s health, and one of the ways Barnstable County is taking action to protect our region’s water is through the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC), a division of Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment. MASSTC focuses on researching products that remove the many contaminants found in domestic wastewater.

Innovation at Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center

In collaboration with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center (MASSTC) recently hosted competitors from various communities and organizations in an international competition, the Advanced Septic System Nitrogen Sensor Challenge. The competition’s objectives were to advance the development of low-cost sensors measuring nitrogen levels discharged from advanced home septic systems. These nitrogen sensors are intended to give real-time nitrogen data to homeowners, system operators, and regulators to determine how well the system is performing at removing nitrogen in homes. Entrants brought equipment and set up at the MASSTC where they perform their testing.

Winner of the Advanced Septic System Nitrogen Sensor Challenge

Last week the EPA announced that a scientist from Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, NY, won the Advanced Septic System Nitrogen Sensor Challenge. Dr. Qingzhi Zhu, with Stony Brook University and the New York State Center for Clean Water Technology, earned the Challenge’s prize of $50,000, the opportunity for commercialization support, eligibility for further testing and verification of the sensor technology’s performance by the globally-recognized International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) 14034 standard.

[su_quote]“This competition shows that great innovations start small and can have potentially huge benefits,” said EPA Regional Administrator Pete Lopez. “EPA encourages the development of innovative water sensor technologies to help reduce nitrogen load and protect human health.”[/su_quote]

Dr. Zhu’s sensor package met rigorous testing goals at MASSTC. It shows great promise to help address the significant ecological and water quality issues caused by excess nitrogen. The ability to measure nitrogen concentration exiting advanced septic systems will provide real-time data on the performance of these systems and help safeguard water quality in coastal communities.

[su_quote]“Our low-cost nitrogen sensor package is reliable and rugged, and it has great potential to be commercialized and applied in advanced septic systems for long-term deployment,” said Stony Brook University Associate Professor Dr. Qingzhi Zhu. “I am very excited that our nitrogen sensor package met the Challenge criteria and won the award for the Phase II, 7-day field performance test at MASSTC. I feel extremely privileged to have taken part in this wonderful Challenge, which was sponsored by the U.S. EPA.”[/su_quote]

Because conventional septic systems are not always designed to remove nitrogen to levels protective of local water quality, they can contribute to excess nitrogen in groundwater that often serves as drinking water and eventually finds its way to nearby waterways. In waterways, this excess nitrogen can cause eutrophication (murky water due to an increase in organic matter and plant biomass), hypoxia (low levels of oxygen in the water making it hard for fish to breathe), harmful algal blooms and fish kills, which can have potentially serious economic impacts on communities. There are millions of existing septic systems nationwide that could be good candidates to be replaced with advanced septic systems, which are designed to reduce nitrogen by at least half. Adding nitrogen sensors to advanced septic systems will help manufacturers, homeowners, local and state governments know that these systems are performing as intended to protect our valuable ground and surface water resources.

Learn more about Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center

MASSTC, a division of the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment, began about 20 years ago supporting Health Departments across the Cape in meeting standards for wastewater treatment, but quickly developed into much more than that. Located on Joint Base Cape Cod, their team of specialists is passionately working to protect our water resources by testing and researching products that remove the myriad of contaminants found in domestic wastewater. For more information, visit MASSTC.