Improving wastewater quality in rural communities

The Jefferson and the George Washingtonj National Parks stretch from one end of Virginia to the other, as well as extending into West Virginia, along the ruggedly beautiful Appalachians.
Source- Idawriter, CC SA 3.0.

Researchers are seeking to improve wastewater monitoring for diseases in rural Appalachian communities. Previous inquiries into the pathogen load and water quality within the U.S. has tended to be focused on urban areas.

To meet the research objectives, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) was awarded $400,000 to Virginia Tech, with an additional $50,000 to Virginia Tech from the Virginia Department of Health.

This funding and the research brief are for a two-year project to identify and implement improved and new methods to detect pathogens for multiple diseases in the wastewater of rural communities.

The work is led by Alasdair Cohen, assistant professor of environmental epidemiology in the Department of Population Health Sciences at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, who has been developing improved methods for wastewater surveillance.

This research enabled the university and Virginia better track and manage diseases. With ARC funding, he and his community partners will bring this science to benefit rural communities.

Cohen has previously argued for attention to the potential public health benefits of wastewater surveillance for rural communities and with the necessary methodological and ethical challenges.

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) monitors wastewater at sites across the commonwealth for pathogens causing COVID-19, influenza A, influenza B, hepatitis A and respiratory syncytial virus. The department found though that results from some smaller rural communities are challenging to interpret.

The research seeks to complement VDH’s efforts in using wastewater-based surveillance to advance public health in rural towns in Appalachian Virginia.

One of the challenges with the new research is with having fewer people but over a larger space, so there is a need to have more wastewater collection infrastructure per person than you would in an urban setting. This means many rural towns and older rural towns have sewage collection infrastructure with a lot of breaks and cracks in the pipes. That means sewage could get out into the ground and it means water can get into the pipes.

Especially after periods of heavier rain, runoff seeping into sewage systems could dilute the results of wastewater testing in rural areas. It can also mean money down the drain with sewage plants treating rainwater alongside wastewater.

Improving wastewater quality in rural communities

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