UPGro T-Group research finds cancer-causing viruses in Kampala and Arusha slum groundwater

by Isaiah Esipisu and Dr Jan Willem Foppen (T-GroUP)

In Summary

  • The study found that most groundwater in the two slums contains traces of herpes virus, poxvirus and papilloma virus.
  • Cancer is one of the top killer diseases in East Africa, blamed for nearly 100,000 deaths every year.

Watch EGU press-conference presentation by Dr Foppen (start 18:00 minutes into recording)

Researchers from IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and their peers from Uganda and Tanzania have found traces of 25 DNA virus families — some of them with adverse health risk for humans — in underground water in the slums of Kampala and Arusha.

The study, whose findings were presented at the Assembly of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna on Monday, found that most groundwater in the two slums contains traces of herpes virus, poxvirus and papilloma virus.

CANCER

The latter could be one of the causes of cancer in East Africa.

“These viruses have never been found on such a large scale in ground water. Perhaps it is because there has never been an in-depth analysis,” said Dr Jan Willem Foppen, one of the lead researchers and a hydrologist at the IHE Delft — the largest graduate water education institution on the planet.

Cancer is one of the top killer diseases in East Africa, blamed for nearly 100,000 deaths every year.

According to the latest report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, some 32,617 new cases were reported in Uganda last year, with 21,829 deaths.

32,617 DEATHS

In the same period, Kenya recorded 47,887 new cases and 32,987 deaths while there were 42,060 new cases in Tanzania with 28,610 deaths.

Scientists have therefore expressed concerns that the widespread use of groundwater in slums for cooking, cleaning and bathing poses a risk for the residents.

In the two-year study, the scientists analysed surface water (river and drain), spring water, wells and piezometers (groundwater from specific depth) in the three countries.

“We found 25 DNA virus families, of which 14 are from above ground hosts like frogs, mice, rats, cows, horses, monkeys and humans,” Dr Foppen said.

DISEASES

Of the human disease causing pathogens found in the samples, herpes virus and poxviruses can lead to skin infections while the papilloma cause some types of cancers such as cervical, laryngeal and mouth.

“This could be just a tip of the iceberg. We have not found all the viruses. We found the most abundant ones,” Dr Fopen said.

“Let’s do something about sanitation. Let us improve our sources of drinking water and identify new pathways with communities towards sustainability.”

Versions of this article have been published in:

Further papers and data will be published soon.

Cutting-edge discovery on viruses in groundwater: T-GrouP at EGU press conference

Associate Professor Jan Willem Foppen, leader of the T-GroUP project will be presenting his team’s work on mapping DNA viruses in groundwater under African cities at a press conference on Monday 8th April at 14:00 CEST.

This is part of the General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union (EGU), that will be held in Vienna, 7-12 April at which Jan Willem will be presenting.

More details about the research findings to follow.

Meanwhile… here is what T-GroUP has published so far:

  • Nastar, M., Isoke, J., Kulabako, R., Silvestri, G. (2019). A case for urban liveability from below: exploring the politics of water and land access for greater liveability in Kampala, Uganda. Local Environment, DOI: 10.1080/13549839.2019.1572728. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13549839.2019.1572728 
  • Silvestri, G., Wittmayer, M. J., Schipper, K., Kulabako, R., Oduro-Kwarteng, S., Nyenje, P., Komakech, H., Van Raak, R (2018). Transition Management for Improving the Sustainability of WASH Services in Informal Settlements in Sub-Saharan Africa—An Exploration, Sustainability, 10(11), 4052, available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/10/11/4052 
  • Lutterodt, G., van de Vossenberg, J., Hoiting, Y., Kamara, A.K., Oduro-Kwarteng, S., Foppen, J.W.A. (2018). Microbial groundwater quality status of hand-dug wells and boreholes in the Dodowa area of Ghana. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15 (4). DOI: 10.3390/ijerph15040730
  • Nastar, M., Abbas, S., Aponte Rivero, C., Jenkins, S. & Kooy, M. (2018): The emancipatory promise of participatory water governance for the urban poor: Reflections on the transition management approach in the cities of Dodowa, Ghana and Arusha, Tanzania, African Studies, DOI: 10.1080/00020184.2018.1459287
  • Grönwall, J. & Oduro‑Kwarteng, S. (2018). Groundwater as a strategic resource for improved resilience: a case study from peri‑urban Accra. Environmental Earth Sciences, 77(6). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12665-017-7181-9
  • Lutterodt, G., van de Vossenberg, J., Hoiting, Y., Kamara, A.K., Oduro-Kwarteng, S., Foppen, J.W.A. (2018). Microbial groundwater quality status of hand-dug wells and boreholes in the Dodowa area of Ghana. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15 (4), 730. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5923772/
  • Komakech, H.C. and de Bont, C. (2018). Differentiated access: Challenges of equitable and sustainable groundwater exploitation in Tanzania. Water Alternatives, 11(3), 623-637. Available at: http://www.water-alternatives.org/index.php/alldoc/articles/vol11/v11issue3/457-a11-3-10/file
  • Grönwall, J. (2016). Self-supply and accountability: to govern or not to govern groundwater for the (peri-) urban poor in Accra, Ghana. Environmental Earth Sciences75(16), 1163. doi:10.1007/s12665-016-5978-6

:: New UPGro Paper :: Tryptophan-like fluorescence as a measure of microbial contamination

A new paper has been published from the UPGro Gro for GooD project, working in Kenya, which develops the work done under the UPGro Catalyst Project on mapping groundwater quality, which developed an exciting new low-cost, real-time method of measuring microbial contamination of groundwater.

Context:

  • Globally, 25% of people lack access to water that is free from microbial contamination, in some countries the proportion is much higher.  This has major health implications, particularly for children.
  • Monitoring water quality for disease-causing organisms is difficult, and the common method is take water samples to a lab to measure Coli bacteria. Although largely successful, it is an expensive in terms of time and materials, and cannot be relied on for some kinds of biological water quality risks – particularly in groundwater where the absence of E.Coli does not guarantee biological safety of the water.
  • Tryptophan-like fluorescence (TLF) is a relatively new way of rapidly measuring biological water quality in the field, without needing expensive and time-consuming lab equipment and consumables. It is better suited to groundwater than surface water monitoring.

Key Points: –

  • This is the first groundwater study to compare TLF with E. Coli specifically.
  • Tryptophan-like fluorescence (TLF) can complement E. coli as a risk indicator, but it is not proposed as a replacement.
  • Both TLF and coli distinguish low/intermediate, high and very high risk sources.
  • TLF has negligible variability due to the method, unlike bacteriological analyses.
  • TLF is useful for pre-screening, monitoring and demonstrating risk in groundwater.
  • Fieldwork for this research was done in rural Kwale Country, Kenya
  • Next steps include:
    • focus on how TLF relates to pathogens and health, rather than just focusing on the coincidence with E.Coli.
    • better understanding of TLF in different groundwater conditions
    • better computer software of processing and presenting TLF data
    • assess the usefulness of TLF in communicating water risks to groundwater users.

Read the full paper (open access) here:

Nowickia, S.,  D. J.Lapworth, J.S.T. Ward, P. Thomson & K. Charles (2019) Tryptophan-like fluorescence as a measure of microbial contamination risk in groundwater, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 646, 1 January 2019, Pages 782-791 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.07.274

If you are interested in finding out more on safe water and water quality monitoring then you watch these RWSN webinar recordings from late last year:

  • Safe water in towns and peri-urban areas: challenges of self-supply and water quality monitoring: https://vimeo.com/266654585
  • La salubrité de l’eau dans les villes et zones péri-urbaines: le défis liés à l’auto-approvisionnement et le suivi de la qualité https://vimeo.com/266649345

Safe water in towns and peri-urban areas: challenges of self-supply and water quality monitoring

Millions of people in towns and cities across Sub-Saharan Africa depend on groundwater day-to-day – but is it safe to drink? How can we measure the safety quickly, cheaply and accurately?  In this RWSN-UPGro webinar, Dr Jenny Grönwall (SIWI/T-GroUP) and Dr Dan Lapworth (BGS) present the latest updates on their research into urban groundwater monitoring and use, and how it can be improved.

Promising new groundwater pollution sensor – New UPGro paper published

1-s2.0-S0043135417302233-gr5
Field test set-up and data output from the MFC biosensor monitoring. A) The diagram shows an aerial view of the system configuration and distance between sensing system and data collection system. B) MFC1 and MFC2 were biosensors placed on the well; MFC3 and MFC4 were control biosensors placed in a vessel simulating the groundwater well. MFC3 and MFC4 were located in a room close to the well and the arrow indicates when they were intentionally contaminated. Monitoring of the sensors contained in the well lasted for 60 days obtaining the same trend as for the period shown.

Shallow groundwater wells, are the main source of drinking water in many rural and peri-urban communities.

The quantity and variety of shallow wells located in such communities make them more readily accessible than private or government operated deep boreholes, but shallow wells are more susceptible to faecal contamination, which is often due to leaching pit latrines.

For this reason, online monitoring of water quality in shallow wells, in terms of faecal pollution, could dramatically improve understanding of acute health risks in unplanned peri-urban settlements.

More broadly, inexpensive online faecal pollution risk monitoring is also highly relevant in the context of managed aquifer recharge via the infiltration of either stormwater or treated wastewater into the subsurface for aquifer storage and recovery.

 To tackle this challenge, IN-GROUND – an UPGro Catalyst Project – trialled four different types of Microbial Fuel Cell (MFC) water quality biosensor in the lab (Newcastle University, UK) and in the field (Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania).  

While further work is needed, the results provided proof-of-concept that these biosensors can provide continuous groundwater quality monitoring at low cost and without need for additional chemicals or external power input.

 Full details of the work can be founded in this open access paper: Velasquez-Orta SB, Werner D, Varia J, Mgana S. Microbial fuel cells for inexpensive continuous in-situ monitoring of groundwater quality. Water Research 2017, 117, 9-17. 

 For more details contact Dr Sharon Velasquez-Orta 

New Arsenic & Fluoride mapping tool

The Eawag “Groundwater Assessment Platform”, funded by SDC, is now live: http://www.gapmaps.org/

“Over 300 million people worldwide use groundwater contaminated with arsenic or fluoride as a source of drinking water. The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag) has developed a method whereby the risk of contamination in a given area can be estimated using geological, topographical and other environmental data without having to test samples from every single groundwater resource. The research group’s knowledge is now being made available free of charge on an interactive Groundwater Assessment Platform (GAP). enables authorities, NGOs and other professionals to upload their own data and generate hazard maps for their areas of interest.”  More.. 

Other interesting and recent research and reports on fluoride and arsenic in groundwater:

UPGro:

Coming very soon – the Africa Groundwater Atlas

Other

Water quality is interesting!

By: Carlos Enrique Aponte Rivero on T-group.science

Yes! It is very interesting for these kids, obviously amazed by the strange equipment put into the water. As soon as I started to set up the probes and to do the water quality measurements, I was suddenly surrounded by children, getting closer and closer trying to find out what is this about. It was in Osunyai Street, where I took a sample from a borehole close to Sombetini Primary School. The children are students of this school and they were just walking around when I arrived to continue with my data collection. The T-GroUP Project gave me the opportunity to mix my technical background in chemistry and water quality with social science, an exciting challenge with an interesting experience working in the field.

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Continue reading Water quality is interesting!

Fancy a swig? Water quality in shallow wells in Kisumu, western Kenya

by Heather Price, reposted from: http://sti-cs.org/2015/07/16/fancy-a-swig-water-quality-in-shallow-wells-in-kisumu-western-kenya/

We all know that access to sufficient clean water is vital for sustaining life. For us humans, the ideal scenario is that everyone can go to a tap in their house, turn it on, and an endless supply of clean water pours out. But currently more than 700 million people worldwide do not have ready access to an improved water source, and instead rely on other water sources including lakes, streams, and unprotected hand dug wells. While access to piped water is on the highest rung of the “water ladder”, these other sources are of more variable quality. I’ve recently been working on a project which looks at the role that shallow hand dug wells play in water supply in urban settlements in western Kenya.

Continue reading Fancy a swig? Water quality in shallow wells in Kisumu, western Kenya

Hidden Crisis: Borehole failure highlighted in Uganda Sector Performance Report

The UPGro Hidden Crisis project, led by Prof. Alan MacDonald at BGS, has already made an impact in its first study country – Uganda. Each year, the Ministry of Water and Environment coordinates a Joint Sector Review (JSR) and produces a Sector Performance Report (SPR) which reports on progress in the water and environment sectors and identifies the priorities head.

The 2014 report picked up on the work in the Catalyst phase and the further investigations by WaterAid into the problem of high iron levels in borehole water – largely due to inappropriate pump and pipe materials. The installation of cast iron or galvanised iron materials in acidic groundwater (ph <6.5) is largely preventable but all too common in many areas of the world. It leads to premature failure of the pump and makes the water unpalatable, or even unusable.

Box 12.5 in the 2014 Sector Performance Report (SPR) - click to download report from MWE website
Box 12.5 in the 2014 Sector Performance Report (SPR) – click to download report from MWE website

UPGro Catalyst Researcher recognised as a leading ‘Innovator under 35’ by MIT Technology Review

Dr Sharon Velasquez Orta (Newcastle University) has been recognised by the MIT Technology Review as one the leading “Innovators under 35” for 2015 for her work on developing a low-cost biosensor of measuring groundwater quality. In the UPGro Catalyst project (INGROUND), she and colleagues from Newcastle University and Ardhi University have been developing the sensor in the lab and trialling it in Tanzania:

“Her biosensor detects fecal contamination in water reserves destined for human consumption”

“In low resource areas, like sub-saharan Africa, the absence of water quality data poses a serious risk. For this reason, Sharon Velasquez has harnessed the degradation process undertaken by some organic bacteria to generate electricity which allows her biosensor to detect fecal contamination within the water source.

“The microbial fuel cells (MFC) that Velasquez uses work like batteries, the difference being that with MFCs the current flow is generated by the electrically charged components that batteries produce upon charging.

“In this way it is possible to create sensors that detect the organic material present in the medium as the bacteria begins to metabolize the organic material.

“Velasquez´s biosensor is characteristic due to its cylindrical shape which allows the resulting chemical reaction to happen directly in the environment.

“This technology aims to address the issue of fecal contamination of water supplies, given that this cannot be continuously controlled via existing systems because the detection process is lengthier and requires greater human resources.”

The INGROUND project is due for completion later this year.

Source: http://innovatorsunder35.com/innovator/sharon-vel%C3%A1squez (accessed 13.08.2015)