Success Story

Sandia Water Analyzer Improves Public Health and Safety

Curtis Mowry, left, and Mike Siegal show their nanoporous carbon-coated SAW sensors that form the heart of Parker-Hannifin Corp.'s trihalomethane water analyzer, which provides almost instant feedback on the levels of disinfection byproducts in water before it reaches consumers. (Image from Sandia National Laboratories, Randy Montoya)

On the winding road from basic research to commercial product, perseverance and serendipity often play a role along with scientific expertise. Such was the path for two separate lab-directed research and development (LDRD) projects. The research led to the Parker THM analyzer, a tabletop tool that lets water system operators easily measure potentially dangerous disinfection byproducts (DBPs) in less than 30 minutes at their own facilities.

In 2005, Sandia National Laboratories researcher Curt Mowry presented the initial results of research using sensors for water safety at a water quality conference. Someone from the Parker Hannifin Corporation, who heard about the conference presentation from someone else, contacted Mowry. Sandia and Parker began working together in 2006 to develop a water analyzer under a Work for Others (WFO) agreement.

As research progressed on the use of surface-acoustic wave (SAW) technology detectors in the water analyzer, Mowry learned about the LDRD work Mike Siegal, a Sandia researcher in another group, was doing with nanoporous-carbon (NPC), a new structural form of carbon developed by Siegal, as a SAW sensor coating. By using NPC as a sorbent material for SAW sensors instead of the more typical polymers, parts-per-billion detection levels were achieved. This revolutionary breakthrough provided 1000 to 1 million times greater sensitivity for the detection of various chemicals and enabled a product that would be less expensive and more effective.

THM analyzer
(Photo credit: Sandia National Laboratories)

Chemical treatments for water disinfection started being used to reduce epidemics of diseases like cholera and typhoid 100 years ago. THMs are trihalomethanes, potentially dangerous byproducts formed when disinfection agents, typically chlorine and bromine, react in water with trace natural organic matter. Today, microbial contaminants in water are still a health-risk challenge, so as water treatment continues, the formation of DBPs like THMs must be monitored.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Stage 2 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule was implemented in January 2012 to reduce potential cancer risks and address concerns with potential reproductive and developmental risks. Through the partnership with Sandia, Parker’s THM analyzer was ready to meet water system operators’ need to perform water analyses quickly, easily, and affordably.

Results from the Parker tabletop system are very accurate, comparable to those from large and expensive analytical laboratory equipment. Results are also fast, only minutes compared to days or weeks for samples sent to labs for analysis. Water samples are simply collected in a vial that is screwed into the analyzer. The operator hits “start” and receives results.

Three hundred million people in the U.S. rely on public water systems for clean water. By working with Parker, Sandia is using its research to keep public drinking water supplies safe. This technology is easily extendable for the detection of other volatile organic and toxic industrial compounds at parts-per-trillion levels, so it can be used in additional ways for the public good.

This article originally appeared in Sandia’s Partnerships Annual Report FY2012. To view, click here.