National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences highlight Professor Upal Ghosh’s work cleaning contaminated waterways

Published: Feb 23, 2024

Two men wearing blazers, in front of lab bench with beakers and tubes, look at camera.
Kevin Sowers (left) and Upal Ghosh in the lab. (Marlayna Demond '11/UMBC)

The positive environmental and health impacts of work led by Upal Ghosh, professor of chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering at UMBC, was recently highlighted by the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). The agency showcased a low-cost technology that Ghosh and his colleagues developed to clean waterways contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a group of likely carcinogenic chemicals that were used in insulation, coolants, and electrical equipment for decades before being banned in the U.S. in 1979. 

The chemicals are stable and persist in the environment, often accumulating in fish that live in contaminated waterways and posing a risk to humans who consume those fish. NIEHS funded Ghosh’s research into using activated carbon pellets to bind the chemicals in place at the bottom of the waterways. This prevents the PCBs from circulating through the aquatic food chain. In projects carried out in contaminated lakes, rivers, and harbors in Delaware, Maryland, and elsewhere, Ghosh’s team demonstrated that the technique could significantly reduce the concentration of PCBs in the water and in aquatic lifeforms. Importantly, the technique is also significantly cheaper than standard clean-up approaches, such as dredging and disposing of contaminated sediment. 

In related work performed with Kevin Sowers, from the Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, Ghosh’s team also developed a way to combine the activated carbon with microbes that break down PCBs, reducing their toxicity.

With NIEHS support, Ghosh has co-founded two companies—Sediment Solutions and RemBac—to commercialize the technology and deploy it at full-scale to clean up contaminated sites across the country, such as at Mirror Lake in Delaware.

“The technology brings together innovations in material science and biology,” says Ghosh. It’s an honor, he says, that the NIEHS, the leading agency in the country that funds research on public health and the environment, recognized “the real impact our research is having on improving public health.”

Tags: , , , , ,

Scroll to Top