ASCE has honored Evan P. O’Brien and Irene Xagoraraki, Ph.D., with the ASCE State-of-the-Art of Civil Engineering Award for their paper “Removal of Viruses in Membrane Bioreactors,” Journal of Environmental Engineering, July 2020. 

The paper is recognized for its exceptional importance in that it informs the emerging field of wastewater-based epidemiology. Indeed, the knowledge of virus fate and removal in treatment systems is key for the efforts directed at the environmental surveillance, identification, and prediction of viral outbreaks. Xagoraraki’s recent research is at the forefront of this broad initiative. Needless to say, the work is exceptionally timely and important now when we face the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Xagoraraki’s recognition by the research community as one of the pioneers in this area (with first impactful publications dating back to “prepandemic” times) lends additional value to the paper and its message. The benefits of the review extend beyond informing our response to catastrophic events such as COVID-19 and related public health crises. In a broader sense, the review brings to the fore the need for paradigm-shifting approaches to the design of wastewater treatment plants – a venerable field of research and practice that is ripe for a “rethink.” One can argue convincingly that virus removal should be one of design criteria for wastewater treatment plants. This can only be possible based on a robust understanding of virus removal mechanisms under a range of source water qualities and treatment conditions.  

O’Brien is a postdoctoral researcher and Xagoraraki is associate professor at Michigan State University. 

The ASCE State-of-the-Art of Civil Engineering Award is presented to the individual, individuals, or committee that has prepared, for the benefit of the profession, the most outstanding paper that reviews and interprets state-of-the-art scientific and technical information.