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Grant supports study of climate change and waterborne disease

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Justin Remais's team will conduct testing in China and Ecuador to study the ties between weather and water quality and how they may affect growth and transmission of waterborne diseases.

The National Science Foundation awarded the RSPH a five-year, $2.5 million grant to develop new computing tools for simulating the impact of climate change on water quality and waterborne disease.

"This type of disease causes millions of deaths each year, mostly among children, and more than 2 billion people in tropical and subtropical regions have limited access to clean water and adequate sanitation," says Justin Remais, associate professor of environmental health and principal investigator of the project. "To reduce the global burden of waterborne disease, we need to find sustainable solutions to water supply and quality problems that result from climate change."

Remais’ research team will develop computational models of surface water quality and waterborne disease risk that account for the complex relationships between meteorological phenomena and pathogen growth, survival, and transport using test sites in western 
China and northern Ecuador.

The team also will examine how climate change can affect disease transmission by, for instance, altering water flow in streams and rivers or 
changing pathogen transport in waterways.

Pathogens in lakes, rivers, and streams are known to be sensitive to climate change, but researchers have been challenged to make reliable predictions about the effects of future environmental change on water-related infectious disease.

Future climate conditions in some tropical and subtropical regions are expected to disrupt water quality and supply, but interventions such as improved agricultural practices and more targeted sanitation provision could limit climate-related changes in disease.

"Our study aims to identify policies that reduce water-quality problems under future climate conditions and limit disease risk," says Remais.

project team includes earth scientists, environmental engineers, mathematical modelers, social scientists, and epidemiologists from Emory, the University 
of Florida, Georgia Institute of Technology, Trinity College, and the University of Michigan.

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