Published: June 28, 2022

Pouring water into a glass.

The CHRIS project was conceived by CU Boulder alumnus Matthew Bentley (EnvEngr MS'17, PhD'20), who recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship with Professor Karl Linden and is now serving as an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow at the United States Agency for International Development.

Bentley will serve as an advisor on the project.

Environmental engineering master's student Caleb Larison will be part of the student team, as well as numerous undergraduates who will be hired during the fall 2022 semester.

CU Boulder one of 16 student teams nationwide to be awarded funding to develop innovative solutions to environmental challenges

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is awarding $25,000 to a University of Colorado Boulder student team to develop a drinking water risk assessment tool as part of the Agency’s People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) Program.

CU Boulder is one of 16 student teams receiving funding for research and innovative solutions to address environmental and public health challenges.

Other projects include a smartphone app to monitor household lead concentrations, a mesh material to prevent shoreline erosion, and a household heating system for Tribal communities that’s cleaner and more efficient.

“The students honored today are leading the way when it comes to developing cutting-edge research to address some of our most challenging environmental concerns,” said Chris Frey, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “I’m excited to support the next generation of scientists and engineers though EPA’s P3 program.”

With the funding, the CU Boulder team will develop an alpha version of the Chemical Health Risk Identification System (CHRIS) tool to assist in rapid chemical risk assessment and treatment selection for global drinking water sources.

“Chemical pollution is a contributor to global disease burden, and the CHRIS tool will fill an important knowledge gap by providing a wide range of stakeholders with knowledge about possible chemical toxin exposures in drinking water, along with appropriate treatment techniques for mitigation,” said Karl Linden, Mortenson Professor in Sustainable Development in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at CU Boulder. “Risk assessment tools such as this represent an important first step toward addressing the impacts of chemical pollutants on global health."

The team, using risk factors such as known chemical occurrence, common chemical sources, and other environmental risk factors, will develop unique risk profiles for drinking water sources under a systematic review process.

The tool will then suggest appropriate technologies and interventions to prevent community exposure to chemical contaminants. This alpha version will be validated against existing occurrence data for specific case studies where risk factors can be identified.

“This funding will help CU Boulder develop an initial version of a critical tool to empower people and communities to know more about the water they drink,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker. “Using the tool, people will be able to make better and more informed choices to protect themselves from chemical pollution.”

EPA’s P3 program is a two-phase research grant program open to teams of college and university students working to design solutions for a sustainable future.

The 16 Phase I recipients announced today will receive grants of up to $25,000 each, which serve as their proof of concept. They will be eligible to compete for a Phase II grant of up to $100,000 to further implement their design in a real-world setting.