Friday, August 21, 2009

Recycled Effluent Safe - Public Health Study Finds

Recycling of water is now a major effort in Australia, a very dry continent.

Serious drought over about 10 years has driven urban water users and the various urban water authorities to invest in a range of water recycling schemes. Some are very sophisticated, others less so.

The Ministerial Council on the Environment has promulgated new Guidelines to Using Recycled Water and many jurisdictions have started to use these guidelines to develop recycled water schemes too.

The following is a media release that reports on a public health examination of recycled water use and abuse in a major scheme NW of Sydney, Australia.

It is generally good news..........treated recycled effluent was ok, even with some misuse and abuse of the water.

As purple taps become an increasingly common sight in new Australian suburbs, a study has found no corresponding jump in gastro cases linked to the recycled water they deliver.

Researchers checked two years' worth of patient records from GPs located in Australia's largest residential recycled water scheme, in Sydney's northwest, and they found nothing out of the ordinary.

More than 18,000 homes are in the Rouse Hill Recycled Water Scheme and residents are told the extra water they have on tap, coming from a nearby waste-water plant, is not for drinking.
Similar schemes have been rolled out in new suburbs across the country, but the Monash University study was the first to check for any related impact on public health.

"They have recommendations on how the water should be used but (authorities) obviously can't police that," says Associate Professor Karin Leder, of the university's School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine.

"But what we can say ... in practice, we were unable to identify any observable health risks."
Dr Leder says the recycled water was "very heavily treated" and "any health risk would be very unlikely" but there was still a chance, in the event of a treatment failure, that it could contain pathogens or bacteria capable of making people sick.

The study did uncover some well-meaning households which used recycled water to top up their swimming pool, against advice.

"Even if people are using the water exactly as recommended there is the potential for ingestion - drinking very small amounts of water - during activities like car washing," Dr Leder says.

Researchers reviewed 36,000 patient visits across 11 doctors' clinics to check for any spike in acute gastroenteritis, acute skin complaints or acute respiratory conditions. Rates of illness were no different to surrounding suburbs with no access to recycled water and, Dr Leder says, this was a positive sign for the water-saving scheme. "Australia should continue to pioneer ... these kinds of recycled water schemes," she says. "When properly managed, they are a safe option that can be considered among the many options that might be available for recycling water."

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