by Tricia Barker, Prairie Research Institute
Every year, thousands of people, including many businesses, government agencies, and organizations, benefit from the research and educational activities supported by the Hazardous Waste Research Fund (HWRF) in ways that include public health/safety; awareness of pollution prevention and reduction strategies; environmental and natural resource preservation; and sustainable economic development.
PRI uses HWRF funds to conduct priority research and to provide competitive grants to other researchers, businesses, and organizations in the state.
One current project is assessing the health risk of Legionella (the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease) in private wells. There are over 50,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease annually, but 96% of all cases are not investigated by the Centers for Disease Control. PRI’s public health staff suspect that many uninvestigated cases occur in people whose sole water source is a private well—individuals who often live in rural areas, have lower income levels, and have reduced access to health care. These factors make this population particularly vulnerable to Legionnaires’ disease, especially if they also have underlying health conditions. Results from this project will help protect vulnerable Illinoisans.
A second project is evaluating the amount of microplastics in landfill leachate. Landfill leachate is sent to wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) to be treated before entering the environment. While most microplastics are filtered out of the water at WWTPs, some do end up in biosolids that are then land-applied or go back into the landfill. Microplastics either end up in the environment after land application or get cycled back through the landfill leachate-WWTP treatment cycle, where valuable energy and time are wasted on retreating microplastics. In addition, microplastics harbor contaminants like per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), heavy metals, and other persistent pollutants as well as pathogens that then can be released in the environment. By determining if landfill leachate is a significant source of microplastics to WWTPs, an effective source treatment for microplastics at landfills could be implemented to stop the spread of microplastics and their co-contaminants in the environment.