Identifying sources of water pollutants in North Carolina

Identifying sources of water pollutants in North Carolina
The Challenge
The need to distinguish among origins of water pollution is especially pronounced in areas subject to land application of human or animal waste products, as this method of waste disposal may be associated with health risks in neighboring communities. In North Carolina, land application sites of human and animal wastes are typically located in rural areas that often have limited access to health and human services.
Effective waste management efforts and accurate human risk analyses rely on knowledge of specific water contamination sources. Traditional measures of water contamination are able to identify pollution but not to distinguish among the different sources of pollution.
The Solution

This Gillings Innovation Lab focuses on the development of a novel microbial source tracking technique to identify sources of water contamination. The new approach allows scientists to look for known pollutant characteristics, without the cost and complications inherent in building the large representative database normally used for comparing contamination sources. Resource managers will instead be able to evaluate water samples for microorganisms known to be associated with a particular source of contamination.

Developing this new approach will require validating swine-specific microbial markers using NC swine lagoon and other waste samples, validating human-specific microbial markers using NC sewage and other waste samples, and field testing swine and human microbial markers.

Jill Stewart, PhD, is the principal investigator and an assistant professor in the environmental sciences and engineering department at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. She leads a research team that is currently collaborating with community organizations in North Carolina. Validating an approach to tracking waste will greatly strengthen environmental resource management services and policies as well as assist in evaluating and improving health impacts for communities near land application sites.

Partners include: The Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH), located in Duplin County, North Carolina, and other community partners