LOS ALAMOS, N. M., June 18, 1996 -- Pesky bacteria in machining fluids, wastewater and many other liquids could be zapped out of existence through a new process jointly developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory and Triton Thalassic Technologies Inc.
The fluid treatment process, which uses ultraviolet light, holds promise to reduce health risks for millions of U.S. workers exposed to contaminated fluids in the auto, aerospace and other metalworking industries. This technology also may be applied in decontamination of drinking water, wastewater, cooling towers, aquaculture systems and ballast water from commercial ships, said Barry Ressler. Ressler is chairman and chief executive officer of Triton Thalassic Technologies of Ridgefield, Conn., also known as T3I.
"T3I has invented a breakthrough process that uses ultraviolet light to treat opaque industrial fluids, and is intended to eliminate the need for chemical biocides to control bacteria in these fluids," Ressler said. "In addition, T3I's process also may extend the life of these metalworking fluids while reducing waste volumes requiring treatment and disposal."
Machinists and metalworkers use a wide variety of industrial fluids for lubricating and cooling parts and tools and removing chips in grinding, milling and other operations.
Machining operations turn the fluids into aerosols to which workers are exposed. These aerosols are a complex mix of the fluids, bacteria, endotoxins that are byproducts of the bacteria, and the chemical biocides used to treat the fluids, Ressler explained. Studies have shown that workers exposed to these aerosols may face significant health risks.
Researcher John Coogan of Los Alamos' Chemical Science and Technology Division added that biocides used to control the bacteria increase health hazards for exposed workers.
Coogan and Los Alamos researchers Zoran Falkenstein and Waine Archer are working with T3I on development of the ultraviolet process through a small business cooperative research and development agreement.
Patent protection for T3I's original invention is pending. Los Alamos has led development of a new type of ultraviolet source at the heart of the system that produces a previously unattainable ultraviolet power density at reasonable electrical efficiency. Other ultraviolet treatment systems aren't nearly as effective as the device developed by Los Alamos and T3I, Coogan said.
Coogan's team is working closely with research scientist Gary Morgan of T3I's research and product development facility in Lusby, Md. Also supporting the project are James Stangroom of Sheffield, England, and David Wright of the University of Maryland's Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, both members of the T3I Technical Advisory Committee.
Metalworkers and machinists face elevated risks of gastrointestinal cancer, industrial asthma, other acute lung diseases and dermatitis, according to health studies.
Many experts attribute such health risks to the mix of aerosolized fluids, bacteria, endotoxins and biocides The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration this year is considering stringent new regulations governing exposure limits for metalworking and machining fluids.
Peter Lips, T3I president and chief operating officer, said the company's treatment system has the potential to eliminate three major contributors to the health threats.
"Our system seeks to eliminate the need for chemical biocides and potentially could reduce and maintain the bacteria level to one-millionth of the highest levels typically seen with biocide treatment," Lips said. "By reducing bacteria counts, our system will reduce dramatically the threat from endotoxins, which can cause fever and shock when ingested."
T3I also is testing the ultraviolet fluid treatment system on ballast water from commercial cargo ships and tankers, hoping to stop the introduction of zebra mussels, toxic algae and pathogenic microorganisms such as cholera into U.S. ports.
Contaminated ballast water is blamed for introducing the non-indigenous zebra mussel into the Great Lakes where it has flourished, clogging industrial and electric utility water systems and forcing industry and cities to spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on maintenance and prevention. Recent research has shown that one new non-indigenous species is introduced into San Francisco Bay every 12 weeks.
Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, in March introduced a bill to address the ballast problem, saying that vessels from foreign ports discharge into U.S. waters 21 billion gallons of ballast water a year, or 2.4 million gallons an hour.
The value of the nine-month, cost-shared agreement between Los Alamos and T3I is $103,000. To work with Los Alamos scientists, small businesses such as T3I must demonstrate technical soundness, a dual-use benefit to the company and to Los Alamos' defense work and an impact on commercial products or services within a few years. Coogan said Los Alamos' extensive capabilities in manufacturing and the Laboratory's ongoing development of new technologies for flexible machining for defense equipment make the project an ideal match.
Triton Thalassic Technologies Inc. is dedicated to the development of environmentally friendly advanced technology solutions for fluid, water and airborne contamination problems.