A professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences has received a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to research the sources of city river and urban beach pollution using DNA sequencing.
UWM professor Sandra McLellan and her team of researchers will use the money over the next four years to find specific indicators that will help health departments around the country more accurately determine the sources of urban water pollution.
Health departments currently rely on E. coli and coliform levels to determine whether urban waterways are polluted, but are unable to tell whether the contamination is coming from animals or humans. The uncertainty makes it difficult to clearly gauge health risks and solve pollution problems.
McLellan will use DNA sequencing to find out where contaminants are coming from — cows, dogs, birds, wildlife or humans — which could help health officials track sewage contamination and waterborne disease threats.
McLellan has previously contributed to the cleanup of Bradford Beach and is also researching ways to improve the water quality of the South Shore Park beach in Bay View. In addition, she is involved with efforts to address leaky storm and waste water infrastructure in Milwaukee and Wauwatosa.