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Vinson Fellow investigates residential septic tank use in coastal Georgia

May 9, 2018 | Students

By Aditya Krishnaswamy

Aditya Krishnaswamy

Vinson Fellow investigates residential septic tank use in coastal Georgia

As student interested in using data science to drive progress in public health, the Vinson Fellowship was perfect for me. My project catered directly to my interests and needs, as it involved using data to study a public health and environmental problem and as it showed me the type and rigor of work in public service.

Specifically, my project was focused around the links between wastewater management systems, the environment and sociodemographic characteristics of populations such as income and race. While I came into the fellowship with some programming and data analysis experience, I still received significant advice from faculty mentors Scott Pippin and Matt Hauer and postdoctoral fellow Jessica Alcorn. From understanding the problem at hand to quantitative methods for analyzing the data, all three were extremely helpful and instrumental in my success during the program. Without the help from the three of them, I would not have enhanced my data analytics and GIS skills and my project would not have been as exciting and challenging.

Primarily, my research involved linking socioeconomic status to wastewater management systems. There has been some research to indicate that septic systems may be harming water quality, so we wanted to visualize the potential of this issue in coastal Georgia. Initially, we wanted to study the link between failing wastewater systems and water quality, but due to lack of data and time, we had to change the scope of our project. We settled on understanding what types of populations are most linked to high rates of septic tank usage. This allowed us to understand whether certain populations are disproportionately affected by the problems associated with wastewater management. This research was done using U.S. Census data and a GIS database of septic tank locations in coastal Georgia.

As we profiled the types of populations that use septic systems, we discovered a link between socioeconomic status and septic usage. We found that home age, education and race were significant predictors of the type of wastewater management system a home or building uses. As we continue this research, we hope to learn more about the kinds of wastewater management systems used in coastal Georgia.

I hope to use the findings from our research to guide policy implementation in Georgia regarding wastewater management. Following the Vinson Fellowship, I will be continuing to work with my mentors on this research so we can further our knowledge on this issue. I have enjoyed my time so far as a Vinson Fellow, and I am excited to continue working here in the future!


Aditya Krishnaswamy is a sophomore Foundation Fellow from Marietta majoring in statistics and mathematics, with a minor in public health. He is the president of the UGA Science Olympiad Outreach and policy coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute’s UGA chapter. He has conducted research with the Odum School of Ecology and the College of Public Health, studied at Oxford University and held a data science internship in Chennai, India with a startup company.