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2.2 Proven methods and high-tech analysis – management concepts to enhance health and hygiene

Proven methods and high-tech analysis – management concepts to enhance health and hygiene

Around two million people worldwide die from a lack of drinking water or contaminated drinking water. Water, especially clean water, is a precious commodity – one that is however scarce in many regions of the world. There is an urgent need for new and efficient processes and management concepts to find ways to provide as many people as possible with a day-to-day supply of clean water. The aim is to achieve a high level of efficiency throughout the entire use cycle – from obtaining water through to cleaning wastewater.

The health of the global population is directly linked to the quality and quantity of fresh water available for use. According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), the most important factor in world health is preventing the transferable pathogens (bacteria, viruses and parasites) present in contaminated drinking water. Unhygienic conditions, a lack of sanitation and poor-quality drinking water are the main reasons why a child under 5 dies every 3 seconds in developing and emerging countries.

In addition to mass contamination, the situation is also deteriorating in many developing countries due to a drastically worsening water shortage. Compared with developing and emerging countries, Germany and the other industrialised nations are mainly at risk through a multitude of new chemical substances and also pathogens that primarily spread via the waterways.

Germany’s largest ultrafiltration facility

One of the world’s largest ultrafiltration membrane facilities was commissioned in the Eifel region in 2005. Every hour, 7,000 cubic metres of water flow through the facility from the dam, and can then be used as drinking water. Dissolved substances, particles and micro-organisms are filtered out by the ultra-fine membrane pores within the facility. The BMBF funded extensive pilot tests as part of the research project on high-performance membrane technology before the facility was put into operation. The high-performance membranes tested in the Eifel regions met expectations in full: even when the water was extremely contaminated (e.g. after heavy rain), they eliminated almost 100% of the parasites and viruses present. The costs for materials and debt service including new buildings came to less than ten cents per cubic metre of drinking water (project 2.2.01).

AQUASens – a fast and mobile method for detecting water impurities

Even today, methods for detecting microbial contamination in water samples are incredibly laborious – and often take longer than a week. Within an interdisciplinary BMBF – research project involving scientific institutions and companies, a semi-automatic analysis device was developed that can detect both small molecules (such as hormones, antibiotics and pesticides) and much larger bacteria: by means of an immunological test that uses a tiny water sample and is complete within hours. This enables those responsible to obtain fast, reliable information on the degree of water contamination and the potential threats (project 2.2.02).

Pathogens in taps

Even top-quality drinking water can still be contaminated in the last few metres before it emerges from the tap: poor-quality seals and hoses are a bacterial paradise. Those working on the BMBF project researching biofilms in the home took 20,000 measurements over the course of four years to test the level of hygiene in hot water systems. The results showed that legionella was present in over 13% of these hot water systems (project 2.2.03).

Current aspects of swimming pool hygiene

When treating swimming pool water, chlorine must be used as a disinfectant (also see DIN 19643). However, the reactions of chlorine with substances that get into the pool either via the water or the pool users produce unwanted disinfection by-products. It is suspected that these by-products pose a risk to health. The aim of the project entitled “Gesundheitsbezogene Optimierung der Aufbereitung von Schwimm- und Badebeckenwasser” (optimizing the treatment of pool water with regard to health) is to investigate the effects of these by-products – particularly on those with respiratory or other chronic illnesses (project 2.2.04).

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