Septic Sensor Test Successful in Fighting Nitrogen Pollution

Photo by Christian Fischer of an algal bloom.

HYANNIS – A new kind of septic nitrogen sensor tested on Cape Cod has successfully completed environmental performance testing.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said the new technology shows strong potential, especially for coastal communities wrestling with nitrogen pollution in their local surface and groundwater.

The nitrogen sensor was developed by Dr. Qingzhi Zhu at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, New York State Center for Clean Water Technology at Stony Brook University for use in advanced treatment septic systems. 

The project was the recipient of the EPA’s Advanced Septic System Nitrogen Sensor Challenge in 2020.

The sensor underwent testing at the Massachusetts Alternative Septic System Test Center in Sandwich, being exposed to wastewater effluent from standard and advanced nitrogen-reducing septic systems for half a year.

It also underwent testing for simulated septic system failures and power outage.

“The ability to measure nitrogen concentrations in the effluent exiting advanced septic systems will provide real-time data on the performance of these systems and help safeguard water quality in coastal communities,” said EPA New England Acting Regional Administrator Deb Szaro in a statement.

“I applaud the determination and creativity shown by Dr. Zhu and his team, and by EPA scientists in pursuing the goal over many years to develop technology for these measurements. EPA is hopeful that this new technology will increase the viability and use of innovative/alternative septic systems, which are an integral part of our region’s future wastewater treatment infrastructure.”

Nitrogen pollution can create harmful algal blooms, damage water sources, and kill fish and shellfish. 

Stony Brook University has already deployed prototype sensor units in septic systems across Cape Cod and Long Island, with plans to deploy more in the future. 

About Grady Culhane

Grady Culhane is a Cape Cod native from Eastham. He studied media communications at Cape Cod Community College and joined the News Center in 2019.
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