With the EPA and environmental protections under serious fire, I feel compelled to speak out.  However, instead of adding to the arguments, I thought I’d show you what some of my research in sustainability and environmental health looks like.  A researcher at SUNY Albany and I recently submitted this abstract to the 2017 ISIE-ISSST conference.

Assessing the health risks of combined sewer overflow mitigation efforts through combining quantitative microbial risk and life cycle assessment approaches

Combined sewer overflows (CSOs), exacerbated by climate change and aging infrastructure, have resulted in a variety of detrimental effects on both ecological and human health ranging from water quality degradation, aquatic life die-off to the increased gastrointestinal illnesses. Green infrastructure systems have been suggested as promising solutions to mitigate the negative environmental impacts of CSOs. The previous life cycle and cost analyses have identified the environmental benefits and cost savings of rain gardens, green roofs, retention ponds and treatment systems for augmenting water supplies. However, it is well recognized that the public health concern represents one of the main barriers for the smooth transition to green infrastructure. To date, life cycle health risk assessment of green infrastructure options is limited. The health risks of green infrastructure options, influenced by climate conditions, choices of treatment technology, characteristics of receiving water bodies, and human behaviors, are highly variable and difficult to quantify.

The goal of this study is to assess life cycle health risks of green infrastructure options through coupling life cycle, microbial risk, and statistical analyses with New York State’s Capital District as a case study. The aging combined sewer systems of New York State’s Capital District release 1.2 billion gallons of rain-fueled sewage spills into the Hudson River each year, making it the most sewage-tainted section of the river. Exacerbating these sewage spills is the increase in number and severity of extreme storms due to climate change. The number of days with precipitation greater than 1” in the region is expected to increase 50%, from 10 in 2000 to 15 in 2050. In 2014 a long-term control plan (LTCP) was implemented to cut such spills over a 15-year period and address these interrelated issues. Although a significant amount of assessment, modeling, and planning went into the development of the LTCP, both an evaluation of the project’s first phase, and a blended quantitative microbial risk assessment/life cycle assessment (QMRA/LCA) are lacking. This study quantifies the health risks of green infrastructure options identified in the LTCP in terms of microbial risk and system life cycle, and identifies variability and uncertainty of modeling results.

QMRA uses mathematical models to assess the risks from microbial agents through environmental exposures, and to characterize the nature of adverse outcomes. In contrast, LCA is an analytical tool for the environmental assessment of products or services across their life cycle. While the complimentary natures of these methodologies lend themselves well to integration, significant issues remain, including the selection of functional units, the handling of variability and uncertainty, and the integration of nonstandard operation scenarios.[1][2] This study will explore these issues in greater depth.

[1] Harder, R. et al., 2015. Review of Environmental Assessment Case Studies Blending Elements of Risk Assessment and Life Cycle Assessment. Environmental Science & Technology, Volume 49, pp. 13083-13093.

[2] Kobayashi, Y. et al., 2015. Global and local health burden trade-off through the hybridisation of quantitative microbial risk assessment and life cycle assessment to aid water management. Water Research, Volume 79, pp. 26-38

Interested in collaborating on a sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and/or environmental health project?  Contact me.