State Water Resources Research Institute Program


Project ID: 2011AK99B
Title: Pharmaceutical Trace Study to Identify Microbial Pathogens Sources in and around Rural Alaskan Waste Sites
Project Type: Research
Start Date: 3/01/2011
End Date: 2/29/2012
Congressional District: AK-1
Focus Categories: Solute Transport, Toxic Substances, Wastewater
Keywords: Pathogens, Solid Waste, Pharmaceuticals, Total Coliform, E. coli, Enterococcus
Principal Investigator: Barnes, David L.
Federal Funds: $ 20,705
Non-Federal Matching Funds: $ 10,249
Abstract: In rural Alaska, communities are highly sensitive to changes in the surrounding ecosystem and its effects upon subsistence activities. In turn, ecosystems themselves are highly sensitive to perturbations brought about by ineffective solid and sewage waste management practices. Due to the absence of regular monitoring, very little is known about chemical and microbial pollutants leaching from these solid waste dumps and sewage lagoons into nearby water resources and the environment that supports subsistence life in arctic or subarctic regions. In most instances, untreated waste material, including antifreeze, lead-acid batteries, detergents, medical, animal carcasses, and human waste is deposited into natural tundra ponds, unlined sewage lagoons or dump sites. In rural Alaska, waste leachates and runoff can be caused by seasonal flooding and rain events, or through thawing of active layer primarily during the warm season. In addition, as a result of a warming climate, the depth and seasonal duration of the unfrozen soils will increase, thus increasing the mobility of the associated contaminants. Consequently, a better understanding of the relationship between rural Alaskan waste disposal sites and local water bodies is a critical health issue.

The proposed study intends to assess dump and sewage leachate to discriminate among different sources, human or nonhuman, to measure fecal pollution levels. The objectives of this project are to 1) use specific pharmaceuticals, as a tracer to identify human pathogen organisms sources from collected leachate/runoff in and around waste disposal sites; 2) evaluate the existing pharmaceutical and microbial transport pathways between anthropogenic point sources and the surrounding surface resources. This project will build on existing data of pathogens indicator organisms and metal analysis in and around five rural Alaskan solid and wastewater sites. The preliminary results indicated high levels of indicator organisms, in the range of 0.7-3.6 Log MPN/100 mL and elevated metal concentrations such as aluminum, sodium, chromium, and lead (Figure: 4). Consequently, the results demonstrate that open dumpsites and sewage lagoons leachate can pose a direct impact to drinking water sources in rural Alaskan communities. Therefore, generating the knowledge of a rapid method for fecal pollutant source tracking by using pharmaceutical tracers is pertinent due to the close proximity of many artic dumps and sewage lagoons to communities, imposing threats to subsistence life and public health in rural Alaska.

These objectives will be accomplished through surface and groundwater sample collection and analysis of pharmaceutical tracers and indicator bacteria in close perimeter of rural Alaskan solid waste and wastewater facilities. All analyses will be conducted at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Water Environmental Research Center (WERC), and the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) Applied Science Engineering and Technology (ASET) laboratory facilities. Field activities conducted for this project will be coordinated with a team of researchers at the University of Alaska (UAF and UAA) in collaboration with the RARE program, and the Rural Alaskan Community Action Program (Rural CAP). The study will result in at least one peer-reviewed publication describing the application of pharmaceutical tracer to identify human fecal pollution sources upon local water resources of waste disposal sites. Moreover, project results will be communicated directly to the communities.

Progress/Completion Report, 2011, PDF

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