Why is water testing necessary?

Raw water resources across the world are most commonly contaminated as a result of human sewage and in particular human faecal pathogens and parasites.

In 2006, waterborne diseases were estimated to cause 1.8 million deaths each year while about 1.1 billion people lacked proper drinking water [1]. People in the developing world need to have access to good quality water in sufficient quantity, water purification technology and availability and distribution systems for water. In many parts of the world the only sources of water are from small streams often directly contaminated by sewage.

Most water requires some type of treatment before use, sometimes even water from deep wells or springs. The extent of treatment depends on the quality of the water. Appropriate technology options in water treatment include both community-scale and household-scale point-of-use (POU) designs. [2]

The most reliable way to kill microbial pathogenic agents is to heat water to a rolling boil [3] but this requires abundant sources of fuel and is a tedious task, especially if it is difficult to store boiled water in sterile conditions. Other techniques, such as varying forms of filtration, chemical disinfection, and exposure to ultraviolet radiation (including solar UV) have been demonstrated in an array of randomised control trials to significantly reduce levels of water-borne disease among users in low-income countries [4].

Over the past decade, an increasing number of field-based studies have been undertaken to determine the success of POU measures in reducing waterborne disease. The ability of POU options to reduce disease is a function of both their ability to remove microbial pathogens if properly applied and such social factors as ease of use and cultural appropriateness. Technologies may generate more (or less) health benefits than their lab-based microbial removal performance would suggest.

The current priority of the proponents of POU treatment is to reach large numbers of low-income households on a sustainable basis. Few POU measures have reached significant scale thus far, but efforts to promote and commercially distribute these products to the world’s poor have only been under way for a few years.

Parameters for drinking water quality typically fall under two categories: chemical/physical and microbiological. Chemical/physical parameters include heavy metals, trace organic compounds, total suspended solids (TSS), and turbidity. Microbiological parameters include Coliform bacteria, E. coli, and specific pathogenic species of bacteria (such as cholera-causing Vibrio cholera), viruses, and protozoan parasites.
Chemical parameters tend to pose more of a chronic health risk through build-up of heavy metals although some components like nitrates/nitrites and arsenic may have a more immediate impact. Physical parameters affect the aesthetics and taste of the drinking water and may complicate the removal of microbial pathogens.

Originally, faecal contamination was determined with the presence of coliform bacteria, a convenient marker for a class of harmful faecal pathogens. The presence of faecal coliforms (like E. Coli) serves as an indication of contamination by sewage. Additional contaminants include protozoan oocysts such as Cryptosporidium sp., Giardia lamblia, Legionella, and viruses (enteric). [5] Microbial pathogenic parameters are typically of greatest concern because of their immediate health risk.

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