Our research focuses on the inextricable link between human social mobility and technological development and the quality of freshwater resources. We are particularly interested in the occurrence and fate of organic chemicals in natural and engineered water systems. The emerging paradigm of sustainable human development recognizes that the distribution of novel chemical entities in the environment is a significant threat to global health and productivity. For example, exposure to anthropogenic organic chemicals in water can result in the spread of antibiotic resistance, the collapse of aquatic ecosystems, and acute or chronic human health afflictions.
The three major goals of our research are to: (i) improve our understanding of the breadth of organic chemicals that may occur in aquatic environments; (ii) evaluate the determinants of environmental persistence of organic chemicals; and (iii) develop new remediation technologies for the removal of organic chemicals from water. We hope to contribute not only technical solutions to water quality problems, but also to participate in the dialogue among regulators and chemical industries to help establish water quality guidelines and urge the development of less persistent alternatives to particularly hazardous chemicals. To do this, we design laboratory-scale experiments and field studies in collaboration with environmental toxicologists, synthetic organic chemists, water and wastewater utilities, and industry partners.
Here is a YouTube video we created in Spring 2019 that describes some of what we do:
Here is a webinar Prof. Helbling delivered on October 8, 2020 highlighting some key discoveries related to cyclodextrin-based polymer adsorbents and their efficacy for removing PFAS from water. The webinar was based on findings from our ongoing SERDP project.