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Researcher trains city water engineers to use noses to diagnose water problems

November 19, 2009

Some of the most common complaints about drinking water can be diagnosed with simple taste-and-smell techniques, says a Colorado State University water researcher who recently trained Fort Collins water engineers in those methods.

Diagnose certain chemicals in water

Pinar Omur-Ozbek, a research assistant professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, uses the Flavor Profile Analysis to diagnose water problems.

Pinar Omur-Ozbek, a research assistant professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department, has trained Fort Collins Water Treatment Utility personnel to diagnose certain chemicals in the water using their sense of taste and smell.

Omur-Ozbek conducts training known as Flavor Profile Analysis (Standard Method 2170), which is designed to help water engineers more quickly diagnose water problems and take faster action to minimize consumer complaints. Her research focuses on the aesthetic issues associated with drinking water.

Manage costs

“The water industry spends millions of dollars each year to tackle the taste and odor of drinking water,” said Omur-Ozbek, who just joined Colorado State from Virginia Tech.

“We can help cities manage these issues just with simple taste-and-smell techniques. Using their noses, they can diagnose earthy or musty smells in their source water that indicate the presence of certain chemicals and hence they will be able to more quickly act to address them.

“We’re calibrating people to rate the intensity of odors in the water. The intensity of the odor correlates to the concentration of the odorant which will help with deciding on the proper treatment method.”

Earthy, musty, fishy odors

As an example, algal metabolites such as geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol (2-MIB) can cause earthy or musty odors in water, she said. A compound known as nonadienal can cause a cucumber or fishy odor.

Conventional treatment methods will not readily remove these compounds, Omur-Ozbek said. And since they require more advanced treatment methods, which can be expensive, city engineers need to be able to recognize the severity of the problem, she said.

Pleasing, healthy drinking water

“Satisfied customers are very important for water utilities,” she said. “To serve the most acceptable drinking water to the public, utilities need to understand how and when the taste and odor of the water reaching customers will be displeasing.”

Contact: Emily Wilmsen
Phone: (970) 491-2336