CGPH Professor of Environmental Health Sciences and Professor of Environmental Engineering at the Tandon School of Engineering
A potter in her spare time, Dr. Andrea Silverman is mindful that the clay on her pottery wheel is a resource that came from the earth. Likewise, she hopes to teach engineering and public health students that water and sanitation systems today must be built with an eye towards their environmental and public health impacts.
Andrea's particular area of interest is the detection and control of waterborne pathogens, which cause GI-related deaths and waterborne illnesses. She studies disinfection processes in natural wastewater treatment systems, such as constructed treatment ponds and wetlands, in an effort to design better sustainable sanitation systems that meet health-based disinfection goals. The main way that waterborne bacteria and viruses are removed in these systems is through sunlight disinfection. She has studied how sunlight kills microorganisms, and uses that information to create numerical models that can predict disinfection rates. The numerical models can be used as design tools by wastewater treatment system planners. In previous studies, she's examined the treatment of E. coli and enterococci and a variety of waterborne viruses. Her newest area of research study is examining bacterial pathogens in sewage.
"Wastewater organisms present in sewage are more resistant to sunlight and some other disinfectants than the organisms we've been studying in the laboratory, even if they are the same species," she said. Her goal in future research is to study "why some waterborne pathogens are more resistant to disinfection than others, how this impacts the design of disinfection systems, and whether we can use this information to design new treatment processes."
Another research area of interest is human waste reuse, which has environmental benefits and can generate income to offset the cost of wastewater treatment. However, the productive use of human waste can pose public health risks if it isn't adequately disinfected before use. While completing her PhD, she conducted research in Accra, Ghana on the use of untreated wastewater for vegetable irrigation. Andrea also spent six months working for the company Sanergy in Nairobi, Kenya, which composts human waste for reuse in agriculture. Andrea helped establish a laboratory at Sanergy to ensure that there is effective quality control and that the end product is safe for reuse from human health perspective. Next week, she will travel to Kenya to visit Sanergy as well as two other companies in the region that are utilizing different methods of human waste reuse.
Andrea hopes to work with the University of Ghana, with whom CGPH has a partnership, for the new Cross Continental MPH program. "Natural wastewater treatment systems are really applicable to places like Ghana that have a lot of sun and limited wastewater treatment infrastructure. Studying these treatment systems often requires long-term projects, and I hope to include students from Ghana in research activities."
"I think that there are many improvements that could be made to sanitation systems both domestically and abroad. Being in NYC is very exciting; it is a huge city that is able to provide high quality water and sanitation services to millions of people. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from New York's successes, as well as opportunities for improving wastewater treatment and stormwater management."
As a professor in the Environmental Health Sciences Department of CGPH, Andrea will teach students research and applied public health skills applicable to the analysis of the health impacts of natural and man-made environments on people. In the fall, she will teach Introduction to Environmental Engineering at Tandon. Andrea plans to establish an environmental engineering laboratory at Tandon and hopes both engineering and public health students will participate in her lab. A course in the detection and control of waterborne pathogens, which would bring into the discussion both the engineering and the public health aspects, is on her wish list of courses that she'd like to teach.
"I think it is incredibly important for public health practitioners who are interested in the control of water-related illnesses to understand the benefits and limitations of different treatment technologies, and what our capabilities and limitations are in terms of detecting waterborne pathogens in the laboratory," said Andrea.
Andrea has a Bachelor's in Environmental Engineering from MIT, and a Master and PhD in Environmental Engineering from University of California, Berkeley.