Most Americans take safe, clean drinking water for granted, not realizing that what’s flowing from their faucets likely contains myriad potentially harmful chemicals in mixtures that are increasingly complex and whose health effects on humans are largely unknown.
Enter Johns Hopkins engineers Carsten Prasse and Paul Ferraro, who propose a new approach to assessing water quality. Prasse, assistant professor of environmental health and engineering, says the key to the new method’s success is its focus on chemical mixtures circulating in water, rather than on individual contaminants.
1. Describe your new approach.
Our MiAMI (Mixture, Assay, Measure, Innovate) approach leverages advances in bioassays, measurement of complex chemical mixtures, and artificial intelligence to identify previously unknown chemical mixtures in water, enabling the creation of engineering and policy approaches that ensure that water from individual drinking water systems is safe. This will allow for the creation of engineering and policy approaches that are tailored toward individual water systems. Professor Ferraro and I envision this as a sort of “precision health” for water.
2. How are precision/individualized health for humans and MiAMI similar?
In precision health, clinicians use all available information to come up with a customized and holistic treatment plan for a patient, rather than treating the patient as a separate set of diseases. MiAMI would use a similar approach, looking comprehensively at each water system and its individual attributes. MiAMI’s goals are to help identify health risks in water and provide a road map for reducing those risks.
3. What risk mitigation methods could result from MiAMI analysis?
Solutions could include everything from removing contaminants from source waters and finding ways to minimize toxic byproducts that are formed during water treatment to laws that prohibit the production or use of contaminants, and even market mechanisms that could make producing and using certain chemicals more expensive.