"It's nice to know that our work is being recognized by a government institute in India and being presented at the highest level," said Steve Hamner, research associate in microbiology. "Lots of things get done judicially in India," he added. The Ganges River is considered a goddess, but Tim Ford, head of MSU's microbiology department, said it has become a soup of pollution.
"It's a beautiful river. It's just really mucked up," he said. The river contains untreated sewage, cremated remains, chemicals and disease-causing microbes, the researchers said. The scientists also added that cows wade in the river and people wash their laundry in it and drink from it.
Ford said the Ganges has become the kind of place where genetic material could transfer between pathogens and create new pathogens.
"Wastewater treatment is critical to protecting human health from waterborne diseases. The Ganges River is a major source of disease burden in that region," Ford said.
Hamner said MSU and a government lab in India each sampled the Ganges and found enterohaemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC) bacteria. The bacteria known as 0157:H7 bacteria. It was first detected in the United States in 1982 after someone ate a tainted hamburger. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 0157:H7 now infects more than 73,000 people and kills about 60 people a year in the United States.
Hamner learned this spring that a research institute in Lucknow, India reported its lab results to the Indian Supreme Court. In doing so, it referenced MSU's findings and echoed MSU's concerns. The Lucknow Institute tested a portion of the Ganges about 200 miles upstream from Hamner's sampling.
He doesn't expect to see a pure Ganges in his lifetime, but the Supreme Court involvement is encouraging, Hamner said, adding that he didn't think the Supreme Court of India would have been as open if the report had come from MSU alone.
"This is the best of things. It's wonderful," Hamner said.
"Getting regulators and legislators to understand the importance of not discharging untreated human waste into the Ganges River is critical to moving forward," Ford added.