July 10, 2020

A project aimed at improving North Carolina residents’ ability to test private well water has received the $75,000 C. Felix Harvey Award to Advance Institutional Priorities at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The project will feature a mobile application that private well owners in North Carolina can use to quickly assess and interpret results derived from existing low-cost tests for lead and E. coli contamination. Users also can allow the app to share results with county and state health officials to help them implement measures to promote well-water quality, storm resilience and public health.

More than 3 million North Carolinians rely on private wells, which are more vulnerable to contamination than public water systems. Two contaminants of particular health concern are lead and microbial contamination. Lead contributes to irreversible cognitive and developmental impairment in children, while diseases caused by microbial pathogens can stunt growth or even be life-threatening in infants and people with compromised immune systems.

Dr. Aaron Salzberg

Dr. Aaron Salzberg

Dr. Michael Fisher

“Rapid, low-cost testing methods that are easy to use can complement robust, ongoing testing by state and local health departments to help empower individual users who have wells to protect the safety of their drinking water,” said Michael Fisher, PhD, an assistant professor of environmental sciences and engineering and senior researcher at the Water Institute in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. The project team also includes researchers Emanuele Sozzi and Megan Stallard from the Gillings School’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering and Aaron Salzberg, PhD, Don and Jennifer Holzworth Distinguished Professor and director of the Water Institute.

Team members will develop, pilot and test the app with dozens of private well users in two North Carolina counties and then — after making any needed improvements — release it statewide at no cost. The researchers aim to have a functional early version of the app available by summer 2021.

The late C. Felix Harvey was chairman of Harvey Enterprises & Affiliates and founder of the Little Bank Inc., both in Kinston, North Carolina. A 1943 Carolina graduate, he joined his family in 2007 to endow the C. Felix Harvey Award to Advance Institutional Priorities with a $2 million commitment. Five generations of Harveys have earned UNC-Chapel Hill degrees. Read more about the other 2020 project awardee.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@unc.edu.

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