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Minimizing Transport of Human Bacterial Pathogens into Watersheds

The introduction of fecal material to the soil, through biosolid application or manure spreading, is a major source of bacterial contaminants in soils, groundwater and wells. Once introduced to a soil, the bacteria can be transported to groundwater, and may contaminate wells that supply water for human consumption. Fecal matter can contain a number of different types of human pathogens that cause potentially fatal illness in humans.

Southern Ontario has a high risk of pathogen migration to groundwater because of intensive agriculture, wet climate, highly permeable and shallow soils, and high water tables.

Our lab is involved in a multi-researcher study to develop and agroecosystem indicator to quantify the risks of water contamination from agricultural sources in an Ontario watershed. The role of our lab in this OMAF-funded study is to assess the contribution of stored manure to pathogen die-off rates, and as possible sources of pathogen to waterways.

In addition, we are interested in how long pathogens survive in the soil and how fast they enter groundwater and tile drains after manure application. We are also examining possible survival and persistence of pathogens within tile drains.