The University of Sheffield
Going Underground: Health Risks from Pathogens in the Soil-Water Environment

A Working Group under the Joint Environment and Human Health Programme, assessing critical interdisciplinary research needs in the management of human health risks from pathogens in soils, sediments and water resources.


Movement of microbial pathogens through catchments is intimately connected with water flow through soils and the transport of sediments. The soil-water environment may act variously as a filter, a sink, a source, a vector, a store or a receptor for pathogens and faecal indicator organisms (FIOs).

Monitoring and managing risks to human health from these soil-water pathogens requires knowledge generation and transfer between pure and applied researchers, practitioners and policymakers.

Tracing pathogens from environmental sources into humans with reliable prediction of exposure and risks of infection remains a considerable epidemiological challenge. The human costs of chronic and acute exposure (or threat of exposure) to pathogens in soils and water are poorly characterised but may be significant not only in terms of disease outbreaks but also in defining health risk factors, public sector budgets and in economies dependent on water quality for tourism or fisheries.

The Going Underground Working Group


The Going Underground project took a major step forward in this area through the development of a new conceptual model for pathogen cycling between humans and the natural environment. This provides a new framework for development of mathematical models, whole-life costing of management options, and directing new interdisciplinary research.

This website contains a summary of the outputs of the Working Group project. These include reports from 3 themed workshops which included participants from across environmental, microbiological, social and public health sciences as well as experts from the public sector and water industries.

The 'Going Underground' project was a collaborative working group funded under the Joint Research Councils Environment and Human Health Programme from April 2007 to December 2009. The project was hosted by the Cell-Mineral Research Centre at the University of Sheffield.

The group was led by Prof. Steven Banwart (University of Sheffield) and Prof. Louise Heathwaite (Lancaster University). The project co-ordinator was Dr. Jonathan Bridge (University of Sheffield).