James Amburgey, Ph.D
James Amburgey, Ph.D

One of the leading researchers working to understand how to prevent recreational water illnesses, Dr. James Amburgey was a natural fit to lead the Recirculation Systems and Filtration Technical Committee for the Model Aquatic Health Code project.

Amburgey, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, has completed several studies to determine the effectiveness of clarifiers in removing cryptosporidium. Recently he’s been working on two separate projects, one focused on nonorganic additives, and the other looking at organic coagulants, cationic polymers commonly known as clarifiers.

“The question is, how does water quality and bather load impact efficacy?” he says.

By all accounts, one the goals of the MAHC has been to ground recommendations in science, and some of Amburgey’s work has served as part of that foundation.

“The only thing that separates this code from others out there is that it’s designed to be based on science, what we can prove, what we know,” he explains. “We certainly tried to incorporate all of the research that we have done, and we tried to get in the lab to fill holes when we found something lacking.”

That has included laboratory studies to determine how factors such as filtration rate and depth of a filter sand bed impact cryptosporidium removal.

“It turns out many times that sand is not sufficiently graded,” Amburgey says.

You might say he used the same methodical approach in leading the Recirculation Systems and Filtration Technical Committee.

“Basically, I put together a team of folks from all over the pool industry — engineers, regulators, design/ build people. … We tried to gather expertise and bring everyone together for a conference call every two weeks,” he recalls. “The committee’s work also included reviewing all state codes and some from foreign countries. Several committee members had experience working abroad.”

In terms of research, Amburgey points out that there isn’t much data on recreational water, so one of the other significant goals of the MAHC is to establish the research needs. This will help him and others secure funding to answer those outstanding questions, and that, in turn, can be used to improve the code over time.

“I’m hoping that, more than anything, we can get a scientific basis for filtration,” he says. “We don’t want to build a totally new code, just get everyone on the same page with things that are going to be known to benefit public health and safety.”