Environmental Engineering Seminar: Rubbish, Stink and Death in the Developing World: Déjà Vu All Over Again

oct20ENVE5991 Environmental Engineering Graduate Seminar: Monday, October 20, 2014
GLRC 202, 3-4 pm
Steven C. Chapra, Professor and Berger Chair, Civil and Environmental Engineering Department
Tufts University

Title: Rubbish, Stink and Death in the Developing World: Déjà Vu All Over Again
A reception will follow the seminar.

This talk traces the origin and evolution of engineering-oriented water-quality control and management. Three attributes of polluted water underlie human concern for water quality: rubbish (aesthetic impairment), stink (ecosystem impairment), and death (public health impairment). The historical roots of both modern environmental engineering and water-quality management are traced to mid-19th century London when British engineers and public health workers worked to control and manage the major water-quality problems derived from urban wastewater. The talk then turns to current and future conditions in the developing world. In particular, striking parallels are observed between the 19th-century Dickensian slums of Europe and North America and the current water-quality crises in the burgeoning mega-cities of the 21st century.

The last part of the talk focuses on how hydroepidemiological models could prove useful in mitigating and managing waterborne diseases in modern urbanized rivers. We have combined two well-established models: a pathogen fate and transport model and an epidemic model to predict the outbreak and progression of diseases caused by waterborne pathogens along an urbanized river channel. The fate and transport model predicts the transport and evolution of the pathogen in the river system, and the epidemic model predicts the outbreak of the disease once populations along the river have ingested that contaminated water. The communities then act as pseudo-incubators for the disease, effectively increasing the amount of pathogen in the river channel. A combined model provides a more holistic view of the waterborne infectious disease paradigm through the inclusion of a river and a human population component. We provide a case study for this model by examining the Cholera outbreak in Haiti in October 2010, and calibrating the model to the Artibonite River that runs through Haiti. This case study has provided confirmation of our model results to a certain extent. The model can serve as a decision support system to determine the best management practice and public health interventions, and also may be used to in response to bioterrorism attacks. If used effectively, these hydroepidemiological models will lead to improved access to safe water and sanitation worldwide by serving as a tool to educate and guide decision making for water resource engineers and public health practitioners alike.