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ECU professor will test water quality in Zambia thanks to Fulbright program

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ECU associate professor Alex Manda said that a key part of his experience in Zambia will include working with community partners and government leaders to educate the public about how to protect groundwater systems.


By ECU News Services

Sunday, June 9, 2019

An East Carolina University associate professor will travel to Zambia next year to assist in water quality testing of the African nation’s groundwater system.

Alex Manda, a hydrogeologist in the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, was awarded a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award in March. The program is the federal government’s flagship international educational exchange system designed to build lasting connections between the United States and foreign countries.

Manda – a native of Zambia – will spend eight months in the country studying the potential contamination of groundwater in the suburbs around the capital of Lusaka. Manda will assess the potential impacts of nitrates in untreated wastewater, while engaging with stakeholders to help them better understand potential sources of contamination. He will also evaluate groundwater management approaches that may address elevated nitrate concentrations.

After visiting family members in April of last year, Manda said he felt like he was seeing the “wild west” of groundwater management. With new developments going up in the Lusaka suburbs, Manda said “every Jim and Jack” were drilling boreholes and wells to create water access with little professional oversight or thought toward the potential interactions with septic systems.

“People have been building out from the city center,” Manda said. “People are creating their own water resources because the government can’t provide resources that far out. They need water and sanitation, but the city just didn’t have the capacity to keep up with demand.”

Lusaka has become a popular urban settlement in Zambia, with a recorded population of 1.7 million during the 2010 census. That number is estimated to grow to more than 3 million by 2020, more than triple the size of Zambia’s second largest city of Kitwe.

“The Lusaka suburbs aren’t connected to the municipal sewer system,” Manda said. “Most use septic tank systems, and when there’s excess water – like during Zambia’s rainy season – that waste can move into the surrounding subsurface material. When septic systems are near wells that are not properly placed, it’s a cause for concern because residents could be drinking contaminated water.”

Manda said that his research team would test nitrate levels in water systems used by those living in Lusaka’s suburbs. The higher the level of nitrates in the water, the greater chance of possible contamination leading to waterborne diseases.

Manda hypothesizes that during the rainy season, fluids from septic tanks drain into the surrounding subsurface material, pushing wastewater deeper into the ground. While wastewater is sinking, the water table is rising due to excess rain, allowing the clean water to mix with contaminants.

Kawawa Banda, one of Manda’s research colleagues from the University of Zambia’s Department of Geology, said that the interaction between groundwater and waste causes waterborne diseases.

Lusaka was left crippled in October 2017 when a cholera outbreak began that resulted in 98 deaths in the capital alone. A test of water sources in the region a year later found that the most commonly contaminated sources were shallow wells and boreholes.

The country contained a brief cholera outbreak that saw seven cases of the illness in January and February.

Manda said that part of his work in Zambia would focus on public outreach, both for the general public and for the country’s Environmental Management Agency and Water Resources Management Authority.

Manda, who enters his 10th year at ECU this fall, said he hopes his research will help him uphold the Fulbright program’s goals of building relationships and leaders. Manda said he’s also interested in developing a study abroad program in Zambia and will use his time in the country to scout locations and potential research partners.

Learn more about Manda’s research online as well as the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program and the University of Zambia.

Walker named 2019 Dean’s Early Career Award recipient

ECU’s Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences has named Dr. Joi Walker, assistant professor of chemistry, as the recipient of the 2019 Dean’s Early Career Award.

“It is a great honor to be selected for the Dean’s Early Career Award,” Walker said. “Starting a new career was exciting and daunting, so to be recognized as having been successful by the dean is not only a validation of my work, but a great encouragement to continue.”

Established in 2015 through the generosity of the THCAS Dean’s Advancement Council, the award recognizes and rewards exceptional performance by tenure-track assistant professors. It represents the college’s breadth of faculty excellence in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics.

Walker came to ECU in August 2015 and teaches courses in general and organic chemistry. She is one of four faculty members who make up the STEM Collaborative for Research in Education at ECU, which is a multidisciplinary team of scholars from departments in Harriot College and the College of Education.

Walker leads courses for undergraduate students working as ECU Learning Assistants, preparing them to work in introductory lab classes and to teach others how to study and learn science skills.

With a focus on chemical education, Walker researches ways to help students be more proficient in science and to increase the number and diversity of students earning STEM degrees. She conducts research on investigation design, data analysis, argumentation and writing in science laboratories.

Medical students teach lifesaving techniques

Two future physicians at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine have partnered with Women for Women Pitt County to help equip local parents with the skills necessary to rescue a baby or child in an emergency.

With funding support from the local organization, medical students Rebecca Jones, Reena Patel and a team of their classmates are now providing free American Heart Association instruction in infant and child CPR and choking rescue as part of Vidant Medical Center’s curriculum for expectant mothers.

Jones and Patel – former nurses in neonatal intensive care and labor and delivery, and Albert Schweitzer Fellows – developed a pilot maternal education program in 2016 as part of their fellowship requirements. Their Happy Hearts program trained hundreds of mothers how to rescue babies up to 12 months old, but participants often requested instruction in rescue techniques for older children, they said.

“As of 2017, drowning, suffocation and choking were among the leading causes of death by unintentional injury for children in North Carolina,” Jones said. “Our goal is to empower parents to begin CPR or choking rescue immediately, before EMS arrives, because we know that this dramatically increases the chance of survival.”

Grandparents, babysitters and other caregivers are welcome to take the course as well.

Classes are offered on the first and third Mondays of every month in the James and Connie Maynard Children’s Hospital Seascape Theater. Infant CPR is from 6-7 p.m. and Child CPR is from 7-8 p.m. Registration is available online at www.vidanthealth.com/womens or by calling 252-847-4819 or 1-800-472-8500.