by Elise Thomsen
Much scientific research and real world know-how goes into keeping Saskatchewan’s water safe to drink and use in agriculture. University of Regina students and one professor in particular are working towards ensuring safe water for all of us.
Kerry Seckinger pours over pages of text on water safety. A fourth year student of environmental health and sciences at First Nations University, she has almost completed her degree tobecome a health inspector, ensuring our food and water is safe to consume.
“(Water is) not a huge issue, but it’s something that needs to be monitored” in Saskatchewan, she said.
The contamination of the North Battleford water system that made almost 6,000 people ill in 2001 is a reminder, however, that developed countries like Canada still aren’t completely free from water pollution problems.
Chris Yost, pictured above, is a U of R biology professor and Canada Research Chair for water quality and food safety, who has been working with a global research team for the past five years. Their research has identified new molecular markers for testing fecal contamination in the water. The old tools used E.coli as a marker.
“With these (new) molecular tools, one of the new things we can do is identify the sources of fecal contamination,” said Yost. The new markers can identify human, cow, horse, pig and many other fecal types. Most recently they identified a marker for geese.
Fecal matter can get into water systems through agricultural practices, an infrastructure breakdown, or wildlife contamination, explained Yost. The polluted water can then make people sick when ingested.
“In the past, with E.coli (markers), you could say, ‘Yes, this watershed has a high load of fecal matter contamination’ but you couldn’t easily determine, ‘Well, what’s the source?’” said Yost.
Knowing the source of the pollution will allow clean-up proposals to be implemented that specifically target the cause of the pollution such as a failing sewage system or insufficient water protection systems in agricultural areas. This will maximize clean up efforts for polluted water in the future.
Yost said the new markers being developed also have positive implications for environmental sustainability because of their ability to protect watersheds. Clean water is good for all environments, he noted.
“There is an abundance of work that’s left to be done,” said Yost, adding that the markers still require more validation and are years away from practical application.
In the future the markers could solve problems like a 2008 tomato recall that was caused by contaminated irrigation water.
Yost will present a seminar on his findings on Friday, Jan. 14 at the University of Regina in the Classroom Building.
Photo by Elise Thomsen