Date of Award

Spring 5-4-2021

Degree Type

Capstone Project

Degree Name

Master of Public Health (MPH)


Public Health

First Advisor

Dr. Lisa Casanova

Second Advisor

Dr. John Steward


The city of Atlanta, Georgia has experienced high-volume and reoccurring sewer spills over the past ten years; these spills are documented, and the locations made publicly available. With Atlanta’s sewer system aging and large sections both undergoing and still in need of repair, it is likely that sewer spills may continue to occur and have the potential to go undetected if finding them depends on being visible. These spills jeopardize the quality of water, human health, recreational waterways, nature, and aquatic life. We have ongoing research attempting to proactively identify sewage spills by monitoring urban surface waters for spikes in numbers of E. coli. To help determine if E. coli spikes are indicators of sewage traveling from infrastructure points (pipes, manholes, pump stations) to surface water, this study directly observed terrain where past sewage spills occurred. It examined the relationship between sites of sewage spills, their documented location in city records, the contaminated waterway documented in city records, their sewer system sources, and their proximity to neighboring creeks. In this study, public data from the City of Atlanta was gathered and sorted based on date, time, volume of sewage in gallons, and impacted waterways. This project collected detailed data on a subset of sites that had documented sewage spills, including spill source, terrain type, proximity to surface water, and other characteristics. The results of this study suggest that Peachtree Creek and neighboring residents and wildlife may be at high risk for sewer spill related contamination. Although the City of Atlanta has funded billions of dollars towards addressing the aging and complex city sewer system, methods are still needed to proactively identify and prevent spills that affect the health of city residents, wildlife, and aquatic life.

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Available for download on Tuesday, May 03, 2022