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Grand Challenges: Water Emergency Team

Community-Driven Rapid Response to Sanitary Sewer Overflows, Household Backups, and Environmental Contamination

Grant Type: Team Project Grant
Topics: Water, Social Justice, Health, Climate Change
Colleges Represented: SPHL, ARCH

Grand Challenges Grants Program


Exposure to raw sewage from failing infrastructure can lead to negative health outcomes, distress, and feelings of disenfranchisement, particularly in marginalized urban communities. Sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), the release of untreated sewage from a municipal sewer system, affect several cities around the world, with as many as 75,000 occurring each year in the U.S. Baltimore experiences frequent SSOs and household basement backups due to aging and failing sewer and stormwater infrastructure. As a result,  communities are persistently exposed to raw sewage, likely containing waterborne pathogens and possibly antibiotic-resistant (AR) bacteria. While AR bacteria have been identified in wastewater at wastewater treatment plants, no studies have comprehensively evaluated exposure to these pathogens from SSOs or backups, nor the impact of physical damage to the home and infrastructure on communities. This project addresses these knowledge gaps by proposing to develop a community-driven rapid response Water Emergency Team (WET) to respond to SSOs and backups in underserved African American communities in Baltimore and the surrounding region. WET will complete visual household inspections, conduct residential surveys and interviews about impacts and experiences with these events, collect water and surface swab samples from impacted indoor areas, and analyze samples for AR bacteria, reporting results back to the community. WET will work directly with community organizations and neighborhood associations throughout the project, including translating our research findings into an outreach program with the goal of empowering affected communities and informing local policymakers. Climate change will only continue to stress the U.S.’s crumbling infrastructure, disproportionately impacting marginalized communities exposed to raw sewage. Our team has the expertise, experience, and community partnerships to address these issues, bringing national attention and visibility for the university and communities alike.

Pilot Study Photo
Photo caption: The project team and community members conducting a pilot study during the Summer of 2022.

Leadership Team:

PI: Rachel Goldstein (SPHL), Assistant Professor, Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health

PI: Marccus Hendricks (ARCH), Associate Professor, Urban Studies and Planning, Director of the SIRJ Lab

Additional Team Members:

Priscila B. Ramalho Alves, Lab Manager and Post-doctoral Associate of the Stormwater Infrastructure Resilience and Justice (SIRJ) Lab

Emmie Healey, Doctoral Sudent in the Environmental Health Sciences Program at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH)

Taeilorae Levell-Young, MPH Student at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH)

Maeghen Goode, Doctoral Student at the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation

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