Anh Pham is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He obtained a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering from Hanoi University of Technology (Vietnam), and M.S. and PhD degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley (USA). Prior to joining the University of Waterloo, Anh was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Carleton University (Jan 2015- Dec 2018), and a Postdoctoral Associate at Duke University (2012 – 2014). His research group applies aquatic chemistry and geochemistry principles and employs analytical chemistry tools to investigate contaminant fate and transformation. The current research focuses on developing novel technologies for the remediation of contaminated soil and groundwater, treatment of various industrial waste streams including oil sands produced water, and removal of emerging contaminants.
Is there a remediation challenge that comes to mind that you see as key to your future research?
A.P. Like other researchers, I am extremely excited by the research on PFAS, not only because the chemistry of PFAS is really fascinating but also because there is an urgent need for effective PFAS remediation technologies. Our research group has been investigating the adsorption of PFAS by colloidal activated carbon to determine if the injection of activated carbon into the subsurface can be an effective means of immobilizing PFAS in situ. In addition to PFAS remediation, recently we have started looking at the treatment of PFAS in landfill leachates and biosolids, and monitoring of PFAS by passive sampling tools. I think our group will continue to work on PFAS for the foreseeable future.
PFAS continues to be the focus of much research of late by you and others, nevertheless, relatively few PFAS/PFOA remediation projects seem to have been implemented. Are there major technological challenges to overcome before effective in situ remediation of these compounds becomes feasible? Or do you view the inertia as more regulatory, financial, logistical at this point?
A.P. As we all know, it is very difficult to break down PFAS because the C-F bonds in PFAS are extremely strong. After all, C-F is the strongest bond in organic chemistry! While there are treatment technologies that can destroy C-F bonds, such as electrochemical oxidation or reductive defluorination by hydrated electrons, currently these technologies can only be used ex situ. In fact, most R&D efforts on PFAS treatment to date have focused on developing ex-situ treatment approaches. In my opinion, finding a way to make the technologies that are effective ex situ to work in situ will be a major technological challenge that we need to overcome. This is easier said than done, but to me this is perhaps the most logical approach since PFAS are so recalcitrant that I do not see there will be an easy way to destroy them other than using some harsh oxidation or reduction approaches.
Are there implications of your research beyond site remediation?
A.P. In addition to the research on remediation, over the years our group has worked on a variety of topics including treatment of oil sands produced water, development of passive sampling tools, and electrochemical water treatment technologies. These projects are quite different in nature, but the chemical processes that occur in each system are governed by the same sets of fundamental chemistry rules and principles. In our research, we aim to gain an in-depth understanding of the chemical processes in each system so that we can manipulate them to design better treatment technologies/better passive sampling tools.
When you are not working hard at research and teaching at the University of Waterloo, how do you like to relax in your spare time?
A.P. I spend time with my family. Our daughter is 5 years old, and we spend most of our time on weekends driving her to music and ballet classes, ice skating practice sessions, and other activities. Both my wife and I were born and raised in Vietnam where there is no snow, so it has been lots of fun to watch our daughter learn how to skate!