The Peruvian Amazon, one of the world’s most biodiverse regions, is subject to pressure from climate change, deforestation, mining, and urbanization, with translational impacts on water quality, ecosystems, and human health. Shifts in the water cycle due to changes in climate or land use threaten ecosystem stability, food security, economic status, and human health. Additionally, recent surges in developmental activities, including logging, agriculture, petrochemical operations, and mining, have caused increases in deforestation and external impacts. These changes can expose humans to pathogens and contaminants (e.g., heavy metals and pesticides) causing acute and chronic illness and water-related, vector-borne disease (e.g., malaria). Rapid migration patterns in this region are linked to agricultural practices and, by extension, to changes in hydrology and climate. Few studies have integrated broadly across disciplines in the upper Amazon, and data gaps in meteorology and water quality prevent an understanding of how these environmental and anthropogenic factors interact in the basin.
Family in Iquitos, Peru gathering water photo by Stephanie Guo
This region is also home to many indigenous populations whose lives are directly dependent on the land and water. In January 2011, a team of Hopkins researchers traveled to the Peruvian rainforest to conduct an assessment of the quality of drinking water utilized by some of these villages to gain understanding of the overall safety of available potable water sources as a first step towards developing a broader water research platform. Using a series of robust, field-adaptable screening procedures that include the analysis of both chemical and microbial analytes, the quality of water from 20 remote villages that border the Marañon River and 12 rural communities near Iquitos, Peru was determined. On-site logistical support provided by in-country collaborators (IQTLAB and Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional para el Desarrollo) facilitated site prioritization and sample preparation.
Kellogg Schwab and Stephanie Guo test village water photo by Pablo Yori
Preliminary results suggest that the majority of drinking water sources in the area are contaminated with E.coli. Most of the households are using contaminated water and this water is becoming further polluted due to unsafe household storage. Select metals, including aluminum and iron, may also pose a problem to the area since concentrations in most source waters surpass World Health Organization guidelines values. This study generated an enhanced evaluation of the sources and types of drinking water contaminants in the Peruvian Amazon. These findings can be utilized to provide insight on the associations and etiologies of related illnesses, which can help prioritize waterborne threats. The goal is to develop robust, sustainable, culturally appropriate treatment strategies to improve the quality of life in targeted local communities.