A new report by the University of Waterloo provides guidance on a fast and affordable way for communities to test their drinking water for E. coli.
“We have developed a tool for rapid detection of E. coli in contaminated water,” says lead researcher Sushanta Mitra, a professor at the university. “If we are able to detect E. coli, then it will ensure safety of water for individuals, communities, and municipalities.”
The researchers developed a new litmus paper test—the DipTest—for detecting the bacteria in water samples by performing enzymatic reactions directly on the porous paper substrate. Unlike current tests, which can cost in excess of $70 and takes several days to test, the Waterloo researchers’ method costs approximately 50 cents and takes under three hours.
“The DipTest technology has two key components: The bottom of the paper is laced with sugar that attracts E. coli from water; and as the water rises inside the paper, trapped E. coli moves to the reaction zone and reacts with specific chemicals to produce color,” Mitra says. “Already, we are performing a number of test trials with different entities like 3M and LaMotte.”
It’s expected that a fully commercialized device will be available by the middle of 2018.
Making A Difference
The researchers set out to find a way to fix water contamination as it is a growing problem that needs plenty of action.
“Access to safe drinking water is a global problem,” Mitra says. “Millions of individuals across the world are getting sick due to contamination of water, which is a huge public health burden. Personal hygiene and education regarding water safety are critical.”
Pauli Undesser, executive director of the Water Quality Association, Lisle, Ill., says media and research reports show there are concerns with water quality in all regions of the country. It’s not just lead and it’s not just in Flint, Mich.
“For example, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), found that the chemical known as chromium-6, has been found in the tap water of more than 200 million Americans in all 50 states,” he says. “The EWG also identified toxic chemicals known as PFCs in the drinking water of 15 million Americans in 27 states.”
Other problems include arsenic in the Northeast, nitrates in the Midwest, and a variety of contaminant and drought concerns in the West.
“We are also concerned that many homeowners are unaware of the quality of their local municipal water system,” Undesser says. “A Consumer Opinion Study conducted on behalf of WQA earlier this year found that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed either had not received or did not know if they had received their local Consumer Confidence Report. This tells us that those homeowners don’t even know if water treatment might be something to consider for their home.”
WQA supports efforts like those of the EWG to call attention to the problems, and support legislation in several states to mandate testing of water, especially in schools.
“WQA is a resource to lawmakers and regulators. We also provide research and reports to the public, encouraging homeowners to get their water tested if they have any concerns,” Undesser says. “WQA’s Product Certification program certifies drinking water treatment devices that tested to remove any contaminants that pose a threat to the water supply.”
Consequently, WQA is also engaged in an ongoing battle to keep counterfeit filters out of the marketplace. The organization also has extensive education and training certification programs that enable water treatment professionals to obtain education and training that is needed to do their jobs effectively.