David L. Sedlak

2009 Presenters

David L. Sedlak

David L. Sedlak

David L. Sedlak, Ph.D., professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Berkeley

“Our wastewater treatment systems were developed as a means of disposal. We built sewers to get sewage out of our cities. It was only later that we retrofitted them into sewage treatment plants and the main purpose of the treatment plants was to get rid of nutrients and organics that depleted the oxygen in the water. We never designed them to remove trace contaminants, like pharmaceuticals or steroids. Now that we are facing this issue of re-using our water, we may need to go back and re-think our whole approach for dealing with waste.”

A global expert on the chemical contamination of water supplies, David Sedlak developed some of the first reliable methods for measuring steroid hormones in wastewater. His findings became known around the world more than a decade later when other scientists began linking steroids in the water to the feminization of wildlife. Since then he has found and tracked other human-eliminated pharmaceuticals making it through the treatment process and into urban drinking supplies.

After taking his undergraduate degree in environmental science from Cornell University (B.S., 1986), Sedlak went on to earn a Ph.D. in water chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1992 and served as a postdoctoral researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology (EAWAG) from 1992 to 1994. During the past decade, Sedlak and his students at Cal-Berkeley have studied the fate of hormones, pharmaceuticals, and pollutant metals in conventional and advanced treatment systems and in engineered treatment wetlands.

Read a more detailed Nobel Conference profile of Dr. Sedlak written by freelance science writer A.J.S. Rayl.

TOPIC: Dr. Sedlak will talk about the waste stream, how wastewater-derived contaminants—including pharmaceuticals and hormones—end up in our drinking water, how these contaminants impact aquatic environments, the coming issue of upstream communities discharging into the water supply of downstream communities as population density increases and water availability decreases through climate change, and what we need to do to insure water quality.