Team:Kingsborough NY/Problem

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Dealing with Nitrogen in Wastewater

Wastewater and sewage often contains an excess of nitrogen, usually in the form of urea and ammonia. When the wastewater is discharged into a larger body of water, the nitrogenous waste can be harmful to the local marine life. Wastewater facilities use a combination of chemical or biological treatments to remove the excess nitrogenous compounds. Depending on the method used, energy and infrastructure costs can be significant. The biological processes commonly utilize communities of microbes, some with the capability to convert Ammonia to Nitrate, others with an ability to convert Nitrate to Nitrogen gas. Maintaining these microbial communities is energy intensive, and usual requires supplying both oxygen and methanol.

Our Motivation: Jamaica Bay

The Kingsborough Community College is unique in the City University of New York system for several reasons, including the fact that we are the only campus with our own beach. Located on the shores of the Rockaway Inlet, we are reminded everyday about the importance of marine life and ecosystems. We were motivated to use synthetic biology to help preserve these waterways from the effects of pollution, and investigated the impact sewage and wastewater runoff had on the local environment. Our investigation led us upstream of the inlet to the nearby marshland and estuary, Jamaica Bay.

Jamaica Bay is a regionally important fish, wildlife, and plant habitat complex. In the past, the Bay supported a vigorous fishing and oyster industry, but has experienced changes due to pollution and other changing environmental conditions. Sewage and pollution from the surrounding urban areas flow into the bay, leading to an excess of nitrogen in the water. The eroding marshal, turbid water, diminishing marine life and changing ecosystem partly reflect the impact of sewage and nitrogen discharge into the bay. Our project intends to address this issue at the source, and more efficiently remove nitrogenous compounds during wastewater treatment.


Benotti, M., Abene, M., Terracciano, S. (2007) Nitrogen Loading in Jamaica Bay, Long Island, New York: Predevelopment to 2005: US Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report, 2007-5051, 17p, online only