The US EPA announced Melanie Quan, a freshman at Las Lomas High School, Walnut Creek, as the winner of its "Patrick H. Hurd Sustainability Award. She was selected out of 1,793 student scientists and engineers competing in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Pittsburgh, PA in May.
Melanie’s project is titled “Microplastics, Macro Problem: A Novel Technique to Remove Microplastics from Water Using a Modified Electrostatic Filter.” She developed a novel microplastics filtration system with a variety of applications to minimize microfiber from laundry loads to commercial or industrial uses.
Microplastic pollution is infiltrating our waterways and ecosystems. One of the main sources is our clothing. Tiny fibers of acrylic, nylon, spandex, and polyester are shed each time we wash our clothes and are carried off to wastewater treatment plants. There, some of the fibers are removed in the filtration process, but not all.
A study commissioned by clothing company Patagonia and conducted by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that washing a single synthetic jacket released an average of 1.7 grams of microfibers.
A small but significant amount of these fibers get released from wastewater treatment plants. Mason and colleagues studied effluent from 17 wastewater treatment plants around the country; while they release less than a piece of plastic per gallon of wastewater, she says, “on average, each of these facilities is releasing four million pieces of plastic per day,” and nearly 60% of those are microfibers.
By applying technology used to remove particulate matter (the electrostatic smoke precipitator), Melanie's filter, a proof-of-concept research project, uses the concepts of ionization and attraction to efficiently remove microplastics from water sources.
Way to go Melanie!
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