The DESIGN Project


The DESIGN project (Detection of Environmental Sources of Infectious Diseases in Groundwater Networks) is an EPA funded project involving University of Galway, UCC and Technical University Dublin (TUD) that aimed to investigate whether private wells are a source of the zoonotic pathogens Cryptosporidium and Verotoxigenic E. coli. University of Galway's role was concerned with the detection of this particular type of pathogenic E. coli in private groundwater wells. 

Click here to read the DESIGN information for participants‌ and find out more.

What was the DESIGN project about?

The E. coli that live in our intestines are not usually harmful, in fact they help us to break down our food. However, certain pathogenic E. coli strains that live in the intestines of cattle and sheep can be harmful to humans. These bugs can be present in high concentrations in sheep and cattle poo and can cause serious gastrointestinal illness in susceptible people, such as young children and the elderly. 

These bugs are known as Verotoxigenic E. coli (or VTEC). Confusingly, they are also sometimes called Shigatoxigenic E. coli (or STEC), these two names are interchangeable and refer to the same type of pathogenic bugs.

Ireland has the highest incidence of VTEC in Europe, in most years in and around 10 times higher than the European average. This is probably due to our high livestock and septic tank density (sources), high rainfall (which washes poo into the groundwater) and reliance on unregulated private groundwater wells for drinking water. The problem usually happens when the head of the well isn't sealed correctly and surface water containing manure gets in and contaminates the well.

The DESIGN project sought to identify whether private wells are contaminated with VTEC and identify weather, geology and local/infrastrucal features that may be linked to well contamination. This research will help us to DESIGN better risk management strategies to protect well owners and their families. 

For details on how to protect your private well see