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New Research Project Funded

Minnesota Sea Grant has been able to fund a new research project, “Survival and Virulence of Harmful Bacteria in the Duluth-Superior Harbor” conducted by Randall Hicks, associate professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth. The project will span three years and will seek to solve a dilemma facing sewage treatment facilities across the Great Lakes and coastal marine areas: what is the best way to treat combined industrial and municipal wastes?

Sometimes treatment facilities stop chlorination when they handle paper mill wastewater, which already contains chlorinated compounds, to limit the amount of the chemical released into the environment. The trade-off when effluents are not chlorinated is the release of potentially-harmful bacteria found in municipal wastes. These bacteria may cause greater human health and environmental problems than the long-term impacts of the chlorine.

wlssd photo

The Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in Duluth, MN, has greatly improved the water quality in the local harbor and estuary since it began operating in the 1970s, but bacteria are sometimes released that could impact human health.

Salmonella cells (the bacteria that causes food poisoning) enter the Duluth-Superior harbor and St. Louis River estuary via outflow from the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District located on the shores of the harbor. This research project will examine how long these harmful cells can survive in the estuary and how long they retain their virulence. Survival of this bacteria can be effected by suspended particles of silt, clay, or sand. Whole communities of microbes can exist on these particles but it’s not known whether the particles help or hinder survival.

This research project will also look at whether Salmonella cells can become functioning members of these communities, and what effect that has on their spread. Scientists will sample the effluent from the sanitary district to determine if several types of harmful bacteria are distributed within it.

Fact sheets and publications will be developed about these findings to help wastewater operators and regulatory agencies predict the risk of public exposure to harmful bacteria. This information may lead to new waste management practices or systems that will optimize the safe disposal of both municipal and industrial wastes in the Great Lakes.

For more information, contact Randall Hicks at 218-726-7263, or rhicks@d.umn.edu.

By Sea Grant Staff
June 2000

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