Look­ing for No 2: Dogs sniff out fe­cal pol­lu­tion

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

FAIR HAVEN: Some spe­cially trained dogs are help­ing hu­mans curb them­selves. A com­pany that has trained dogs to rec­og­nize the smell of hu­man fe­cal bac­te­ria has been sniff­ing out sources of wa­ter pol­lu­tion na­tion­wide, dis­cov­er­ing bro­ken sewer pipes, leak­ing sep­tic tanks and il­le­gal sewage dis­charges, to the de­light of en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and govern­ment agen­cies.

Con­ven­tional wa­ter sam­pling tests take 24 hours at a lab­o­ra­tory, and of­ten must be du­pli­cated to en­sure their ac­cu­racy. Test­ing of sewer sys­tems with dye or smoke takes days and is costly. But the dogs give an in­stant yes-or-no in­di­ca­tion as to whether a par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion is con­tam­i­nated with the bac­te­ria.

Us­ing dogs res­cued from shel­ters and spe­cially trained to de­tect hu­man waste in the same way other dogs are trained to sniff out drugs or ex­plo­sives, the dogs of Ot­is­field, Maine-based En­vi­ron­men­tal Ca­nine Ser­vices are al­ways look­ing out for No 2. “I could make a lot of jokes about what kind of job this is, but I won’t,” said Scott Reynolds, who runs the com­pany with his wife, Karen. “They alert us to the pres­ence of hu­man-spe­cific bac­te­ria, E coli, poop, what­ever you want to call it.”

En­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lem

Hu­man fe­cal con­tam­i­na­tion is a se­ri­ous en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lem that can cause ill­nesses in­clud­ing in­testi­nal prob­lems; hep­ati­tis; res­pi­ra­tory in­fec­tions; and ear, nose, and throat prob­lems. Con­tam­i­na­tion from the E coli bac­terium, nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring in hu­man in­testines, be­comes dan­ger­ous if it is present in the en­vi­ron­ment in high enough con­cen­tra­tions. It is the lead­ing cause of beach and wa­ter­way clo­sures in the US, and track­ing down the source of such pol­lu­tion is a high pri­or­ity for lo­cal and state gov­ern­ments.

One re­cent day, two of the com­pany’s dogs sniffed the edges of a pond near the New Jer­sey shore in Fair Haven, where pol­luted runoff was help­ing to choke the pond with thick al­gae that cov­ered it with a green scum. En­vi­ron­men­tal groups in­clud­ing Clean Ocean Ac­tion, along with the lo­cal govern­ment, hired the com­pany to de­ter­mine whether any sewage was making its way into the pond, which feeds into the nearby Navesink River, a wa­ter­way hav­ing its own prob­lems with bac­te­rial con­tam­i­na­tion.

Sable, a 10-year-old Ger­man shep­herd-husky mix Reynolds res­cued from a shel­ter, and Remi, a 3-year-old black Lab mix they found as a stray, were put to work. They sniffed the shore­line and found noth­ing amiss. “Just as im­por­tant as what you find is what you don’t find,” Karen Reynolds said. The cou­ple then took the dogs to a nearby man­hole, which town work­ers had opened, to demon­strate what the dogs do when they smell hu­man waste. Sable is trained to bark when he smells it; Remi is trained to sit still, and that’s pre­cisely what they did as soon as they sniffed the man­hole. Their re­wards: a treat for Remi and some play time with a ten­nis ball for Sable.

Good dog­gie

The dogs are trained to ig­nore fe­cal bac­te­ria from an­i­mals, and cus­tomers of­ten try to trick them (un­suc­cess­fully) dur­ing eval­u­a­tions of the com­pany. Wa­ter­way con­tam­i­na­tion from bird, wild an­i­mal and pet waste is also a sig­nif­i­cant source of wa­ter pol­lu­tion. Rick Ha­ley, a wa­ter qual­ity an­a­lyst with the Sk­agit County, Washington, pub­lic works de­part­ment, was among them. He had the dogs sniff sam­ples of an­i­mal waste, all of which they ig­nored un­til they got to one con­tain­ing hu­man bac­te­ria, which they flagged.

Once the dogs went to work there, they helped au­thor­i­ties find 15 to 20 leak­ing sep­tic tanks that were pol­lut­ing wa­ter­ways, in­clud­ing one in Bayview State Park that rou­tinely had to be closed to swim­ming when bac­te­ria lev­els got high. Af­ter the dogs found an up­stream source of sewage from a faulty sep­tic tank, re­pairs were made, and the beach saw much fewer clo­sures, Ha­ley said.

The com­pany has done work in 15 states, with bases in Ot­is­field; Lans­ing, Michi­gan; and Santa Rosa, Cal­i­for­nia. Peg Kohring, a di­rec­tor of The Con­ser­va­tion Fund in Sawyer, Michi­gan, has hired the dogs three times in the past five years to track down pol­lu­tion making its way into Lake Michi­gan. “We had quite a few beach clos­ings be­cause of high E. coli, and we did ex­ten­sive wa­ter test­ing, but you don’t know ex­actly where the prob­lem is,” she said. “With the dogs we’re able to go right to the source. They found a home­owner whose house was only half con­nected to the sep­tic sys­tem; the other half was wash­ing di­rectly out into a creek. We found 30 home­own­ers who had no idea where their sewage was go­ing.” The dogs also helped the city of Bridg­man, Michi­gan, pin­point where a sewer pipe had bro­ken. — AP

SOUTH PORT­LAND: In this Tues­day, Oct 11, 2016, photo, Scott Reynolds of En­vi­ron­men­tal Ca­nine Sys­tems, left, and Fred Dillon, the storm-wa­ter pro­gram co­or­di­na­tor for the city of South Port­land, Maine, in­spect a storm wa­ter drain pipe. — AP

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