Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
ATLANTA — Most people in the developed world don’t think about the water that comes from their tap, expecting it to be relatively safe when they turn the faucet. But for the rest of the world, clean water is a precious commodity that can mean the difference between life and death.
A group of public health students are getting a wider view of the importance of clean water to health this fall semester, and are not only learning about water on a global scale, but also how Georgia deals with its own clean water issues.
“The class gives a good perspective to people without any international travel, and at least they can know how good they have it here,” said Kate Kroell, a student in the class of Christine Stauber, assistant professor of public health.
Bad water can lead to diarrhea — something that might cause suffering for people living in the developed world, but it can lead to dehydration and death, and exacerbate existing diseases like tuberculosis.
According to the World Health Organization, diarrheal disease kills 1.5 million children per year, and is a leading cause of child malnutrition.
“Water-borne illnesses like diarrhea are one of the leading causes of death globally,” said Stauber, whose research takes a look at clean water and the use of filtration systems in the developing world. “In the United States, we really have moved forward tremendously, since the 1900s.”
Kroell spent time in rural India and saw the effects of raw sewage first hand. Sewage often goes straight into water ditches in rural villages.
“I’m aware of what raw sewage can do,” she said. “There’s a stigma against waste in the household. On the trains, the toilet is just a hole. That was eye opening. There’s such a different standard here.”
In GSU’s own backyard this September, the students toured the R.L. Sutton Water Reclamation Facility in Cobb County, just over the Chattahoochee River from the city of Atlanta, where nearly 40 million gallons of wastewater pass through the facility daily on its way to be returned to the river.
Waste water passes through a high-tech system that removes solid waste, uses microorganisms to clean the water of pollution, disinfects the water, puts oxygen back into the water and returns it to the river in a better state than the water that’s already in the Chattahoochee.
Georgia’s local governments did not always make painstaking efforts to treat wastewater.
When David Word, formerly of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, came to Georgia in 1974, pollution levels were high in the rivers and streams of the state. Word lives on the other side of the Chattahoochee from the treatment plant, and smelled the effects first hand.
“In the 70s, I couldn’t sleep with my windows open because of the stench. Waste water would be put back into the streams either untreated or only partially treated,” said Word, who briefed students on water quality and helped them tour the facility. “In the summer, the streams were dead, because there was no oxygen for fish to breathe. But the fish are back now.”
The problem for Georgia’s rivers and streams now is really not sewage, but storm water runoff, Word said. When it rains, all sorts of pollutants are washed straight into bodies of water. Solving this problem, he said, will take efforts to change our behavior to prevent this pollution to negate other efforts in protecting Georgia’s bodies of water.
“We’re amazed that the water quality is now so much better than before, and we’ve come a long way,” But there’s still a lot to be done, and it’s up to the students to take the lead.”
Oct. 10, 2011