As a result of Cryptosporidium parvum in drinking water, several outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis have occurred in the last 10 yr. Although it is generally believed that movement of pathogens through the soil is minimal, recent research has shown that appreciable numbers of C. parvum oocysts may be transported via preferential or fingered flow to groundwater. The objective of the present research was to further investigate and model the transport of oocysts through preferential flow paths in the vadose zone under a “worst-case” scenario. This was studied by adding calves feces containing C. parvum oocysts with a Cl tracer to undisturbed silt loam columns and disturbed sand columns during a simulated steady-state rain. The sand columns exhibited preferential flow in the form of fingers whereas macropore flow occurred in the undisturbed cores. In the columns with fingered flow, oocysts and Cl were transported rapidly with the same velocity through the columns. Although only 14 to 86% of the amount applied, the number of oocysts transported across the columns was several orders of magnitude above an infective dose. The macropore columns had only a very limited breakthrough of oocysts, which appeared several pore volumes after the Cl broke through initially. A simulation model for the transport of oocysts via preferential flow was developed on the basis of an existing preferential flow model for nonadsorbing solutes, with addition of a first-order sink term for adsorbance of the C. parvum to the air–water–solid (AWS) interfaces, and with velocity and dispersivity parameters derived from Cl transport. The breakthrough of C. parvum oocysts could be described realistically for the sand columns. However, the model could not describe oocyst transport in the columns with macropores.

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