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UD researcher’s work addresses water contamination

University of Delaware
UD researcher Dr. C.P. Huang

The Environmental Protection Agency sought public input last summer on several options for possible regulation of the drinking water contaminant perchlorate.

The substance used in rocket propellants and fireworks has been shown to affect thyroid function. According to the EPA, perchlorate has been found in public drinking water systems to the degree that it presents a “public health concern.”

Delaware Public Media’s Sophia Schmidt talks with an environmental engineer at the University of Delaware about technology he has developed to remove this emerging contaminant from drinking water.

Dr. C.P. Huang is a professor in UD’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. 

He has been studying ways to remove perchlorate from drinking water for years, and recently patented a membrane that selectively filters perchlorate from water. He is also working to patent a second process that breaks perchlorate down into less toxic chloride ions.

Huang says the technology — which uses a low-voltage electrical current— is not expensive. “The technology can be employed at medium to small-scale water treatment plant,” he said. 

Huang says 90 percent of perchlorate contamination comes from the defense industry. “They use the ammonium perchlorate as a rocket fuel. If the fuel expires, then usually, [it was] just all day open dumping,” he said. “We thought it was not very toxic or not very harmful chemicals.”

Huang says perchlorate contamination is not widespread throughout the U.S. “It’s only in local regions — Arizona, California, in the Southwest and in Northeast U.S.A.— [where there is] a relative high concentration of perchlorate in groundwater or in service water. But it’s not at a dangerous [or] alarming level.”

Huang notes perchlorate has not been found in drinking water in Delaware.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.