Ulster scientists claim oestrogen breakthrough

UV plus titanium dioxide (TiO2) may be a very efficient way of removing oestrogen compounds in the final stages of water treatment, according to Dr Brian Eggins, leader of Ulster University's Photocatalysis Research Team.

TiO2 is a well-known photocatalyst, reducing the energy required for UV light to kill bacteria and breakdown organic molecules. However, this is the first time the efficiency of the technique has been specifically tested on human oestrogens, which are not removed by secondary sewage treatment and have been repeatedly blamed for endocrine disruption in fish.

Dr Eggins said: “The wavelength which appears to be most effective is 365nm, at the longer, almost invisible end of the UV spectrum. The pilot unit had fluorescent tubes, but we are now also looking at what degree sunlight could be used to contribute to this effect.”

The results of the study, to be published in the journal Applied Catalyst, show the technique to be 100 per cent effective at turning oestrogen into carbon dioxide and water. Dr Eggins is now hoping to produce a compact design in conjunction with local engineering firm Texam, which he says will “probably prove most useful as part of a chain of water polishers”. The unit is also likely to remove a range of unwanted pesticides and other industrial pollutants.

Dr Eggins conceded that there would be no way in which to patent the actual principle, but added: “The challenge is really to produce a cost-effective and efficient unit. The system will probably be around 1m3, and has a number of advantages over existing techniques such as ozonation.”

Unlike ozonation, the technique does not involve the addition of potentially hazardous chemicals, and is likely to be smaller and more cost-effective than trickling carbon filters.

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