Pathogen Detection in Source and Drinking Water: A Community Based Approach to Exposure Assessment on the Crow Reservation

EPA Grant Number: FP916936
Title: Pathogen Detection in Source and Drinking Water: A Community Based Approach to Exposure Assessment on the Crow Reservation
Investigators: Richards, Crystal L.
Institution: Montana State University
EPA Project Officer: Michaud, Jayne
Project Period: September 1, 2008 through August 31, 2011
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2008) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Tribal Environmental Health Research


Water quality has been shown to be directly related to public health, and although drinking water quality has improved in much of the United States there are potentially many areas with aging water systems. Underserved areas (such as Indian reservations in Montana) with water systems that are not heavily regulated, monitored, and updated could have drinking water that poses a health risk. The purpose of this research is to examine water and biofilms as an exposure pathway to pathogenic bacteria on the Crow Indian Reservation. This will involve the development of an exposure assessment study that will examine concentrations of the pathogens Helicobacter pylori, Legionella pneumophilaandMycobacterium avium in both source and drinking waters, as well as in tap water biofilms that can allow shedding of the organisms into drinking water. The overall goal is to create a project that addresses the concerns of the Crow community, involves individuals from the community in the research, and reports all of the data back to the community.


This project will use a multi-disciplinary approach involving microbiology, biofilm engineering, and community based participatory research in order to provide a comprehensive exposure assessment. The purpose of this research is to characterize the drinking water quality on the Crow Reservation as well as develop novel methods for pathogen detection. In order to understand whether drinking water is an exposure pathway for pathogenic bacteria, we will perform field and laboratory experiments to determine their presence and abundance. The field portion of this research will be a cross-sectional study that is designed to estimate the prevalence of pathogen exposure on the Crow Reservation. Laboratory modeling will utilize biofilm reactors that mimic drinking water systems and will allow the evaluation of the effectiveness of current and new sampling techniques at recovering pathogenic bacteria. This project will follow community based participatory research principles in conducting this research and in educating the community about water quality issues on the reservation. This research has and will continue to involve undergraduate students from Little Big Horn College (LBHC), Crow Agency, Montana, in sample collection, detection methods, and presentation of results.

Expected Results:

This project will give a more complete understanding of the microbial ecology, composition, and distribution of pathogens in water and biofilms and will develop new strategies for detection and management of pathogens in drinking water systems. This multifaceted approach will provide not only an assessment of the water quality on the Crow Reservation using standard techniques but also supply new methods for detection of specific pathogens and may indicate additional exposure risks through biofilm shedding. Backing up the environmental sampling with laboratory modeling will optimize sampling and biofilm removal. This project will provide valuable information for regulatory agencies that have an interest in providing safe drinking water to underserved communities. The community involvement, both through homeowner education and participation of LBHC students, ensures that the concerns of the reservation population will be addressed and issues of water quality problems can be met in the future.

Supplemental Keywords:

Drinking water, Biofilms, Pathogens, Water Quality, Community Based Participatory Research, Microbiology, Exposure Assessment, Public Health, Environmental Education,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2009
  • 2010
  • Final