Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Wastewater Based Epidemiology

by Sheryl Hamlin

Chesapeake Water Environmental Association (CWEA) featured two research projects in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Howard University during its June 17, 2021 webinar. The first half of the program was a discussion of urban agriculture and methods of water reuse for urban gardens, a rapidly growing segment of the food chain supply system. The second half of the program featured wastewater based epidemiology where the lab is examining wastewater as indicators of community health issues.

Using Membrane Bio Reactors in Urban Water Reuse

Dr. Kimberly Jones explained the benefits and challenges of urban agriculture summarized in the following slide.


Source: Dr. Kimberly Jones

She then showed hundreds of urban gardens in the Washington, D.C. area which contribute to the food chain supply and which could eventually benefit from reclaimed water.


Source: Dr. Kimberly Jones

Dr. Jones pointed out that water reuse is common in rural areas, but not yet in urban areas. Their research building has purple pipes as well as its own Membrane Bio Reactor (MBR) to test the water. Removing pathogens is not well documented, she said. They are looking to create “fit for use” water and can remove “some pathogens” with ultra-filtration membranes in the MBR. Suez is the industrial partner in providing the membranes. They have a student team generating data on pathogen reduction, specifically the following three: 1) Escherichia E.coli, 2) pseudomonas aeruginosa and 3) bacteriophage MS2. The first causes intestinal disease and urinary tract infections, the second causes antibiotic resistance and the third also causes antibiotic resistance.

This paper explains membrane pore size and its effect on pathogen removal. The issue of membrane fouling also affects pathogen removal, she said.


Source: Dr. Kimberly Jones

Their study will include the following research tasks:


Source: Dr. Kimberly Jones

The students work in this building and have major plans, she said.


Source Dr. Kimberly Jones

The Promise of Poop for Managing Covid

Dr. Jeseth Delgado Vela explained that wastewater monitoring has grown internationally, as the slide below shows.


Source Dr. Delgado Vela

Simply put, the infected human sheds virus in the feces.


Source: Dr. Delgado Vela

Wastewater testing has several key benefits, as shown below, but unfortunately cannot yet determine the exact number of infected people in the sample. And they do not know yet the importance of the virus variants, which the research hopes to uncover.


Source: Dr. Delgado Vela

Seven wastewater treatment plants in the D.C. area were monitored between April and December of 2020. They found that wastewater data and new infections correlated as shown in the slide below.


Source: Dr. Delgado Vela

Four universities (Howard, Stanford, North Dakota and Arizona State University) are driving the new standard for methods and data collection. Here is a recent article about a successful Arizona wastewater epidemiology project. Previous Citizens Journal articles on wastewater epidemiology are here and here.

Look for the video which will be posted next week. Speaker emails: [email protected] and [email protected]

For information about the author, click sherylhamlin dot com


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