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Drinking water is the most important single source of human exposure to gastroenteric diseases, mainly as a result of the ingestion of microbial contaminated water. Waterborne microbial agents that pose a health risk to humans include enteropathogenic bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. Therefore, properly assessing whether these hazardous agents enter drinking water supplies, and if they do, whether they are disinfected adequately, are undoubtedly aspects critical to protecting public health. As new pathogens emerge, monitoring for relevant indicator microorganisms (e.g., process microbial indicators, fecal indicators, and index and model organisms) is crucial to ensuring drinking water safety. Another crucially important step to maintaining public health is implementing Water Safety Plans (WSPs), as is recommended by the current WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality. Good WSPs include creating health-based targets that aim to reduce microbial risks and adverse health effects to which a population is exposed through drinking water. The use of disinfectants to inactivate microbial pathogens in drinking water has played a central role in reducing the incidence of waterborne diseases and is considered to be among the most successful interventions for preserving and promoting public health. Chlorine-based disinfectants are the most commonly used disinfectants and are cheap and easy to use. Free chlorine is an effective disinfectant for bacteria and viruses; however, it is not always effective against C. parvum and G. lamblia. Another limitation of using chlorination is that it produces disinfection by-products (DBPs), which pose potential health risks of their own. Currently, most drinking water regulations aggressively address DBP problems in public water distribution systems. The DBPs of most concern include the trihalomethanes (THMs), the haloacetic acids (HAAs), bromate, and chlorite. However, in the latest edition of the WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality, it is recommended that water disinfection should never be compromised by attempting to control DBPs. The reason for this is that the risks of human illness and death from pathogens in drinking water are much greater than the risks from exposure to disinfectants and disinfection by-products. Nevertheless, if DBP levels exceed regulatory limits, strategies should focus on eliminating organic impurities that foster their formation, without compromising disinfection. As alternatives to chlorine, disinfectants such as chloramines, ozone, chlorine dioxide, and UV disinfection are gaining popularity. Chlorine and each of these disinfectants have individual advantage and disadvantage in terms of cost, efficacy-stability, ease of application, and nature of disinfectant by-products (DBPs). Based on efficiency, ozone is the most efficient disinfectant for inactivating bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. In contrast, chloramines are the least efficient and are not recommended for use as primary disinfectants. Chloramines are favored for secondary water disinfection, because they react more slowly than chlorine and are more persistent in distribution systems. In addition, chloramines produce lower DBP levels than does chlorine, although microbial activity in the distribution system may produce nitrate from monochloramine, when it is used as a residual disinfectant, Achieving the required levels of water quality, particularly microbial inactivation levels, while minimizing DBP formation requires the application of proper risk and disinfection management protocols. In addition, the failure of conventional treatment processes to eliminate critical waterborne pathogens in drinking water demand that improved and/or new disinfection technologies be developed. Recent research has disclosed that nanotechnology may offer solutions in this area, through the use of nanosorbents, nanocatalysts, bioactive nanoparticles, nanostructured catalytic membranes, and nanoparticle-enhanced filtration.


Nonhlanhla Ngwenya, Esper J Ncube, James Parsons. Recent advances in drinking water disinfection: successes and challenges. Reviews of environmental contamination and toxicology. 2013;222:111-70

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PMID: 22990947

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