Scientists Seek Early Warning Of Drinking Water Threats

MADISON - A University of Wisconsin-Madison research team will be mixing up a batch of "pathogen cocktails" in the laboratory, with the goal of countering disease-causing threats to drinking water.

Civil Engineering Professor Greg Harrington is leading a two-year project to determine how well water-treatment technologies remove Cryptosporidium and other microorganisms before they reach the kitchen tap.

The $250,000 project is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, an international nonprofit group devoted to drinking-water quality. Joining Harrington in the project will be Jon Standridge and David Battigelli, scientists at the Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene.

"If we review waterborne outbreaks of infectious disease in the United States, we find that the culprit was identified in only about half the cases," says Harrington. "There are numerous microorganisms, but detection methods are available for only a small fraction."

This project will focus on a half-dozen pathogens of future concern as a health threat in drinking water, he said. After growing pathogens in the lab, the researchers will add the pathogen-spiked "cocktails" to pilot-scale drinking water treatment systems. The approach will help them evaluate the ability of different treatment techniques to remove the bugs.

The two pathogens of greatest concern since 1980 have been Giardia and Cryptosporidium, and both have caused major health threats in the United States. The most serious was the 1993 Cryptosporidium outbreak in Milwaukee, in which 69 people died of complications arising from the outbreak.

Harrington's team will take a forward-looking view: Is there another emerging pathogen on the horizon that could unexpectedly threaten public health, in the same way crypto has in the past decade?

"Cryptosporidium is not the only microorga

Contact: Greg Harrington
University of Wisconsin-Madison

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