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Knappe honored with multiple awards citing engagement and outreach

Screen shot from the virtual awards ceremony. Knappe one of only two faculty to receive this prestigious award for 2020.

Dr. Detlef Knappe was honored with the Outstanding Engagement Award through the Office of Outreach and Engagement. Based on his nomination for this award, he became eligible for induction into the Academy of Outstanding Faculty in Extension and Engagement, and was one of just eight NC State faculty to receive that distinction for 2020. Finally, Knappe was one of only two individuals chosen for 2020 to receive the Alumni Outstanding Extension and Outreach Award, which carries a monetary stipend in addition to prestige.

Knappe is the S. James Ellen Distinguished Professor in the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering. He was recognized at a virtual awards ceremony, during which his teaching, research, outreach, and engagement accomplishments were highlighted.

Knappe has expertise in water treatment processes. He is recognized internationally for his fundamental and applied contributions in the field of adsorption science and its application to the control of organic micropollutants and disinfection byproducts (DBPs) that result from the treatment of water for use as drinking water. More recently, he has focused on source water protection and the development of new analytical approaches to identify unregulated pollutants in drinking water supplies. This has included the development of new analytical methods to detect 1,4-dioxane and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water and in sources of drinking water.

“Detlef’s research has beneficially impacted hundreds of thousands of lives in North Carolina, and by extension, millions of affected consumers around the country.”     Dr. Marc Edwards, University Distinguished Professor, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech

Knappe played an instrumental role in the successful interdisciplinary research proposal that brought together faculty from three NCSU Colleges (Engineering, Science, Vet Med) and two universities (NCSU and ECU) to create the NCSU’s Superfund Research Program Center. The $7.5M, 5-year center commenced in late February 2020. In addition to his role as Deputy Director, he leads one of the center’s four research projects that focuses on PFAS remediation and exposure reduction. Important center activities include community engagement and research translation. Community engagement activities are designed to help address questions of people in impacted communities by working with community groups. Research translation activities are designed to inform policy makers, regulators, drinking water providers, and environmental engineers about research findings and their implications.

“Dr. Knappe’s discoveries on the occurrence of DBPs, 1,4-dioxane, and PFAS are directly influencing state and national policy to help improve water quality for citizens in North Carolina and throughout the U.S.,” said Dr. Morton Barlaz, CCEE department head. “His engagement made drinking water safer for more than 200,000 people in the Wilmington area.”

Knappe’s discoveries on PFAS in the Cape Fear River Basin led to the state’s Department of Human Health and Service’s drinking water health goal for GenX, has forced the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to levy record fines on an industrial polluter, and has led to multimillion dollar upgrades to several water treatment facilities. In August 2019, 1,4-dioxane levels in a 1-week composited sample exceeded 100 ppb in both raw and finished drinking water. Most drinking water providers are concerned about 1,4-dioxane at levels exceeding 0.35 ppb, the level that is associated with a one-in-a-million excess cancer risk. He immediately shared his results with the North Carolina DEQ, which began enforcement actions against an industrial waste handler that was responsible for the release. This is a concrete example of a collaboration between a small utility in an under-resourced community and his lab, and the impact of his research on human health. He continues to work with drinking water providers in the Cape Fear River basin such as Pittsboro, a small system that continues to be heavily impacted by 1,4-dioxane and PFAS.

The department congratulates Dr. Detlef Knappe for a well-deserved award!