Prof. Desiree L. Plata, Co-Leader
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Prof. Ariel L. Furst, Co-Leader
Department of Chemical Engineering

Project 4: Measurement and Engineering Solutions to Detect and Prevent N-nitrosamine Exposure


Understanding the fate of N-nitrosamines, probable human carcinogens, will be aided by the development of improved technologies to detect this important class of compounds in both the environment and in potable water. Quantifiable detection and measurement of specific contaminants is the first step towards protecting public health. The next critical step is to eradicate exposure to N-nitrosamines, specifically in residential drinking water. Creating new and different in-home filtration technologies by deploying materials to electrochemically destroy N-nitrosamines or using enzymatic destruction will meet this need.


Because N-nitrosamines can form from a variety of sources, the development of detection and quantitative measurement technologies of these constituents is beneficial. This work will be shared with stakeholders at the local, state, and national levels. From there, developing nanotechnologies and biotechnology approaches to destroy N-nitrosamines in drinking water is important to protect public health.

The Project

Certain families of chemicals have numerous structures. This is particularly true for a suite of N-nitrosamines. Current analytical methods for these compounds may not have detection limits low enough to measure levels known to cause health concern. Such limitations mean the public can be exposed to toxic chemicals.

Project 4 tackles the challenges associated with measurements, thereby recognizing where potential exposures to a suite of N-nitrosamines exist. Knowing the route and exposure levels is vital to devising prevention solutions.

There are three specific aims in meeting the objectives of detecting and measuring complex mixtures of contaminants and creating practical solutions to prevent N-nitrosamine exposure.

  • Aim 1:  to employ robust analytical methods to detect a suite of established and novel N-nitrosamines.
  • Aim 2: to develop novel in-home water filtration technologies based on electrochemical processes and molecular recognition with enzymatic destruction.
  • Aim 3:  to test the degradation products to ensure that they are not genotoxic.

Taking advantage of chromatography with mass spectrometry to detect multiple N-nitrosamines enables estimation of key physicochemical properties to predict the environmental fate of these constituents. This information will guide in the development of an original in-home treatment system using electrochemical processes and molecular platforms based on biologically scaffolded enzymes to destroy N-nitrosamines. Lastly, the project evaluates the treatment performance and examines the destruction products of the filtration system, verifying the safety of the water.

By collaborating with other Projects and supporting the Cores, the research discoveries and tangible outcomes can lead to broader public health gains. Additionally, including and engaging all key stakeholders in this effort can have a multiplying effect in reducing human health risks. In particular, this project provides viable solutions to drinking water issues for the Wilmington, MA community near the Olin Chemical Superfund Site as well as for the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Maine