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Why You Need A Water Test Kit For Your Family's Health

Bacteria and impurities in water is a major cause for concern in many households. It shows up everywhere. It is on the food we eat and in the water coming from our tap. We are exposed to it everyday when out in public. Coughs and sneezes carry it. It can even be found on hard surfaces.  

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Everyone should think about a water test kit for their home. No matter where you live. Because you never know until you do the testing. Let's take a look at what can be waterborne in what you and your family drink.

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  • The health problems associated with waterborne Cryptosporidium and Giardia lamblia are well known. Up to 400,000 people were affected in the largest recorded outbreak of Cryptosporidium, in Milwaukee in the USA. As well as being a major dilemma for water companies, these protozoan parasites are also a problem for environmental health officers. 

  • There are risks of Cryptosporidium associated with private source supplies that do not apply to municipal sources. These are: the immediate proximity of young farm animals to many supplies; 

  • the inadequate protection of many sources leading to rainwater washing faecal material into the collection point; and 

  • the absence of treatment to many supplies and the inadequacy of the treatment systems that are installed. 

  • The Private Water Supplies Regulations 1991 (HMSO, 1991) do not require private sources such as wells to be monitored for Cryptosporidium or Giardia lamblia. They rely on the presence of a single faecal indicator organism (faecal coliforms) to alert local authorities to the possible contamination by pathogens. Because of its longevity Cryptosporidium may be isolated in water where the coliform population has become inactive. 

Because of these theoretical risk factors, Bradford and District Metropolitan Council successfully applied to the Department of the Environment for research funding to investigate the problem. During the winter period of 1996/7 with Craven District Council we regularly tested 15 high-risk supplies to find out the extent of the problem. We selected as wide a variety of supplies as possible within that risk category. All the sites were spring and surface water supplies rather than boreholes. They included commercial and domestic supplies and the population using the water ranged from one house to a whole village. 

Rainfall Effects 
Previous studies of environmental water samples have often indicated an association between rainfall and Cryptosporidium. There has been found to be an increase of cases in the early spring with a second lessor peak in the mid autumn period. It has been proposed that these peaks coincide with high rainfall. This is also the time of farming events such as slurry and muck spreading, lambing and calving. There appears to be a corresponding association with general contamination of private water supplies at these times.  

The connection between rainfall and contamination is relevant because monitoring should take place at the time when conditions are most likely to produce the poorest results. We therefore sampled just after significant precipitation events when, should contamination occur, we would have a reasonable chance of finding it. Sampling therefore normally followed times of rain. The only samples that were not taken within two days of rain were those following periods of snow. The sampling then took place the day after a thaw. 

Fifteen sites were selected and sampled ten times each. The aim of the study was to select supplies that were worst cases and to sample them when they were most likely to be contaminated. In that way if Cryptosporidium and Giardia lamblia were going to be found in private water supplies our methodology should find them. 

Supplies were rated on a number of points, including: 

type of supply, ie. spring or surface supply, 
source protection, 
quantity of animals on or up hill from the site, condition of collection chambers, tanks and pipework, and 
previous results for faecal coliforms. 
The sampling was carried out according to the procedures laid down in Report 71, 'The Microbiology of Water 1994, Part 1 - Drinking Water'. [7] All sampling took place early in the morning and samplers were required to visit at approximately the same time for each site. This was to remove the effect of any possible diurnal variations in contamination load. 

During the sampling period nine of the 15 supplies were found to contain Cryptosporidium (60 per cent). In addition, eight of the supplies also contained Giardia lamblia (53.3 per cent). Cryptosporidium was found in 21 (14 per cent) of the 150 samples taken. This ranged from nil positive results in some of the supplies to 40 per cent of the samples in the most highly contaminated. Twelve positive results for Giardia lamblia cysts were found in the samples (8 per cent). Of the 21 positive results for Cryptosporidium, 57.1 per cent were also positive for Giardia lamblia 

We also looked at other parameters of water quality to try and establish a link between them and Cryptosporidium. Statistically significant correlations to Cryptosporidium for Faecal streptococci (r = 0.6783 p 0.001) and Clostridium perfringens (r = 0.6268 p 0.001) were found. 

There was no significant correlation in this study between Cryptosporidium and coliforms (either total or faecal), turbidity, conductivity or the sanitary assessment score. 

The use of a combination of indicators may identify potential problems. Multiple regression analysis with turbidity, faecal and total coliforms, Faecal streptococci and Clostridium perfringens gave an R2 value of 0.6259. This shows that 62.6 per cent of the variation in Cryptosporidium levels could be accounted for by these factors. It should be emphasised that this is not a causal relationship. The benefits, however, of including Faecal streptococci and Clostridium perfringens in sampling programs are clear. 

From an article posted on Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

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