Samantha Zwicker, MS, PhDc

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Nominated From: University of Washington

Research Site: Peru

Research Area: Environmental Health

Primary Mentor: Joseph Zunt

Research Project


Assessment of water quality in two impoverished river communities in Iquitos and Puerto Maldonado, Peru


It is widely known that water quality is directly associated with waterborne illness, and that water quality monitoring methods need to be improved, especially because the global distribution of waterborne diseases is often unclear. We need to optimize advanced technologies for quantitative research to determine microbial and chemical waterborne contaminants, and create a more comprehensive water quality assessment toolkit that can detect both biological (bacteria, viruses, parasites) and chemical (organic, inorganic, and ionic substances) contaminants in water samples, as both can affect drinking water systems.

The Amazon basin holds more than 50 percent of the earth’s intact tropical forests, which are experiencing some of the world’s highest rates of deforestation. Human land-use changes, namely mining and the construction of settlements and roads, lead to deforestation and increased carbon emissions that contribute to global climate change, as well environmental health issues that often go undocumented. The disparity between urban and rural access to improved water quality still exists; 84% of those without access reside in rural areas. In addition, 7% of the world’s population without access to improved water is in Latin America.

Puerto Maldonado and Iquitos are known as the entrance cities to the southern and northern Peruvian Amazon, respectively. As such, they represent ideal sites to investigate the human-environment interface in a continuously changing landscape, especially as it relates to environmental health. After working in the frontier forests of Puerto Maldonado for five years, I have seen firsthand the many health concerns citizens face as a result of development and unsustainable management. From personal experience and background research, areas in immediate need of assessment that are impacted by deforestation, climate change, mining, and urbanization, are human health, ecosystems, and water quality. These land-use changes are causing exposure to pathogens and contaminants, leading to an increase in acute and chronic illness, infectious diseases, and water specific vector-borne disease
Specific Aims

Aim 1. Assess the water-related health concerns and priorities of the residents of Pueblo Viejo and Claverito using a household survey.

Aim 2. Describe and compare the baseline water quality in Pueblo Viejo and Claverito using measures of basic water quality and microbial analyses.

Aim 3. Quantify the prevalence of water-borne zoonotic diseases leptospirosis, toxocariasis, and giardiasis in Claverito and Puerto Maldonado using hospital and clinic records.

Research Significance

This study will add to our understanding of water quality and water surveillance, in a setting where zoonoses and water contamination are much higher than in the United States. A better understanding of the interaction between zoonoses, human health and water quality could provide useful information for agricultural areas of the United States that would also be at risk for water-borne zoonoses – as well as for areas where humans live near or on water.