Non-microbiologists may assume that the goal of water utilities should be the elimination of all microbes from our drinking water. But the water we drink has never been sterile; perfectly safe water contains millions of non-pathogenic microbes in every glassful. Like every other human built environment, the entire water distribution system — every reservoir, every well, every pipe, and every faucet — is home to hundreds or thousands of species of bacteria, algae, invertebrates, and viruses, most of which are completely harmless to humans. In April, 2012, the American Academy of Microbiology convened a colloquium to assess what is known about the microbial inhabitants of the water distribution system and to propose goals for advancing our understanding of these communities in order to enhance the safety of our drinking water and the resilience of our water infrastructure.
Prepared by Mark Lechevallier and Merry Buckley
It is a familiar scenario experienced around the world: an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness suddenly emerges in a community, and no one knows where it came from or how to stop it. At the start of the outbreak, only a few people are affected, most often the very old and the very young. As the outbreak worsens, more and more people fall ill, and people who were weak or unwell may develop life-threatening complications. Such outbreaks sometimes originate from a source that most people in the United States and other developed countries trust unquestioningly: drinking water. This report examines the risks related to pathogens in the water supply and puts forth recommendations for areas of research, communication needs, and methods of microbial risk assessment.
Prepared by Joan B. Rose, Ph.D., and D. Jay Grimes, Ph.D.
Evaluates current status of water quality, discusses new and emerging issues, and examines shortcomings of current practices. Outlines gene probes, genotyping, antibody, and PCR (polymerase chain reaction) techniques that stand to replace outdated testing methods. Makes specific recommendations for risk assessment, technology use, data collection, research collaboration, and evaluation and development of best practices.
Prepared by Timothy E. Ford, Ph.D., and Rita R. Colwell, Ph.D., D.Sc.
Discusses issues in identification of the current extent of waterborne disease outbreaks, the future threat of waterborne outbreaks, and epidemics (and potential pandemics) within both developed and developing countries. Provides a framework for addressing these water quality issues globally.