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U of G researcher leads study to monitor UV impact on well water families

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A University of Guelph researcher and an Ontario-based water tech company are partnering on a new study that will explore illness-causing microbes in residential well water in southeastern Pennsylvania, including the impacts on families with young children and the effectiveness of home water treatment systems.

The $3.6-million one-year study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health will be led by Dr. Heather Murphy, who recently joined the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) Department of Pathobiology as a Canada Research Chair in One Health.

“Environmental regulations protect public drinking water systems, but public safeguards don’t apply to privately owned wells, where water quality testing is the responsibility of individual owners, and the prevalence of waterborne diseases can threaten residents’ health,” said Murphy in a statement from the University of Guelph.

Trojan Technologies, based in London, Ontario, is donating more than 900 home UV water treatment systems valued at $1,000 per installation to families participating in the study. VIQUA, Trojan’s domestic water system brand manufactured in Guelph, will be producing and delivering the equipment in support of the study.

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Through the use of text messages and questionnaires, study researchers will monitor how often children under three years of age get sick with issues such as diarrhea, fever, cough, or even respiratory problems, and attempt to determine whether treating well water could prevent these illnesses.

Some participants will be asked to submit stool, saliva and water samples to be tested for specific microbes up to six times per year.

The researchers are conducting a randomized controlled trial, meaning that they will randomly assign each family to one of two groups. Half of the homes will receive a functioning UV device that disinfects water for the whole home. The second half will get an identical device that has been inactivated.

A common misconception is that wells are limited to rural areas, researchers stated. In Pennsylvania alone, about 3 million people use a private well and about 3 million Canadian rely on private wells for drinking water, according to Health Canada.

Murphy heads the Water, Health and Applied Microbiology Laboratory (WHAM Lab), which is split between the OVC and the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the College of Public Health at Temple University in Philadelphia, where the study is taking place.

Murphy will be joined by Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Debbie Lee, and Doctoral student Miriam Wamsley.

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