July 30, 2015

Treating ships’ ballast water: filtration preferable to disinfection

(July 30, 2015) Untreated ballast water discharge from ships can spread living organisms and even pathogens across the world thereby introducing non-native or invasive species into the local environment. Scientists at Helmholtz Zentrum München therefore recommend using physical treatment processes such as filtration rather than electrochemical disinfection, which creates countless potentially toxic compounds. These are the findings of a recent study published in the journal ‘Environmental Science and Technology’.

In order to prevent the transfer of harmful organisms, ships’ ballast water is often subjected to electrochemical disinfection.* “However, our analyses show that electrochemical disinfection creates numerous so-called disinfection by-products (DBPs),” explains Prof. Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin, who led the study. He and his team at the Analytical BioGeoChemistry (BGC) research unit at the Helmholtz Zentrum München, working in close collaboration with colleagues in the US, compared samples of treated and untreated ballast water. Using high-resolution mass spectrometry, they discovered that treatment led to the formation of 450 new, diverse compounds, some of which had not previously been described as disinfection products or been structurally categorized.

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