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Inspired By Nature, Scientist Creates 'Biofilter' To Tackle Wastewater Problem

Luke Jones

In Suffolk County high levels of nitrogen can be found in household wastewater, and officials call it the greatest source of water pollution on Long Island. Researchers are developing a new filter designed to help reduce nitrogen pollution in Long Island’s groundwater.

Stony Brook Professor Christopher Gobler, with the New York Center for Clean Water Technology, has developed a nitrogen-reducing biofilter that will remove the biggest contributor to nitrogen pollution on Long Island by filtering nitrogen out of household wastewater.

Most Long Island homes are not equipped to filter out nitrogen from wastewater. The ones that are still leach large amounts of nitrogen pollution into Long Island’s waterways.

Instead of trying to filter out the nitrogen directly, Gobler says the biofilter can change nitrogen into a harmless gas over time—just like it occurs in nature with plant life and the nitrogen cycle.

“Well, there’s something called the nitrogen cycle that’s very complex. So we’re harvesting that nitrogen cycle to make it work for us,” Gobler said.

Researcher Harold Walker says the filter will help septic tanks manage nitrogen levels more efficiently with low maintenance, low energy and low cost.

“They’re simple, they use local and natural materials. So we think we can get the price down to systems that we’re already using that don’t reduce the nitrogen.”

Walker says he’s not sure how much the filter will cost, or when it will hit the market, but so far pilot tests have proven the filter can reduce nitrogen in wastewater by up to 90 percent.