Microbial water quality

Research into microbial water quality and health

KWR conducts research into microbial water quality in all types of water systems and its possible impact on health. We study the potentially hazardous microorganisms and the effectiveness of treatment techniques. We carry out risk analyses so as to identify possible risks in advance. And we develop molecular methods (DNA techniques) to detect organisms and trace contamination sources.

Microbially safe water

Microorganisms might be present in the water source, or be introduced into the water from the outside during its storage and distribution, or actually flourish in the water itself. They might include pathogens, or they might degrade the water’s quality and cause technical problems through the formation of biofilms or biofouling. Our experts study the growth conditions, prevention and risk assessment of potentially hazardous microorganisms. Our sphere of action is wide: from drinking water systems and water distribution installations, to cooling towers, fountains and wastewater treatment plants. We research the effectiveness of both natural and technical processes aimed at guaranteeing the safety of (drinking) water. We develop methods, such as the Continuous Biofilm Monitor, to measure and manage microbial activity, and we draw up operational procedures for water companies based on water quality measurements and distribution network modelling. We also conduct applied and fundamental research into virus inactivation mechanisms for the purpose of optimising disinfection techniques.

Analysing and managing microbial risks

We carry out risk analyses so as to identify possible microbial risks in advance. Among the techniques we use is Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA), which allows us, on the basis of available data on known pathogens, to predict the probability of infections and calculate the effect of specific treatment techniques. We do this, for example, in the framework of the compulsory Analysis of Microbial Safety of Drinking Water (AMVD). For the integrated management of the risks to water quality from source to tap, we are also involved in the development of Water(cycle) Safety Plans. We conduct this activity in collaboration with Dutch partners, like RIVM, and international ones, like WHO. A relatively new target of research is the growing antibiotic resistance of microorganisms in water and the soil.

Wide application of DNA techniques

We develop different molecular biology methods (hydrogenomics), in which we use data about the DNA of organisms to rapidly establish the presence, identity and concentration of specific pathogens, for instance. Among the methods we use are (q)PCR (quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction), T-RFLP and NGS (Next Generation Sequencing). Since high biodiversity is an indicator of the good quality of surface water, these techniques allow us to draw conclusions about water quality. Using environmental DNA techniques, we can also detect the presence of higher organisms without having to catch them.