Teagasc Partners in €9 Million EU Water Safety Project

The University of East Anglia will launch a €9 million EU-funded research project to improve the safety of European drinking water. Teagasc, Agriculture and Food Development Authority, is one of the partners in this project.

Around 330,000 cases of water-related disease such as E.coli and the norovirus are reported yearly in Europe, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Between 2000 and 2007 there were 354 outbreaks of waterborne diseases across 14 countries. Symptoms include diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pains, nausea, headache, and fever.

The five-year Aquavalens project will develop and apply more rapid methods of detecting viruses, bacteria and parasites in water before they can make people sick.

Scientists, engineers, policy makers and public health practitioners from 39 organisations in 13 countries will come together to launch the project in Sestri Levante, Italy. 

The research will be led by Prof Paul Hunter from UEA’s Norwich Medical School. Consortium partners include small businesses, industries, universities and research institutes. The project is funded by the European Union’s Framework Programme 7.

“Although most European countries are fortunate to have some of the safest drinking water in the world, outbreaks of disease do still occur each year,” explains Prof Hunter. “Millions of Europeans drink water from very small supplies that are currently difficult to properly monitor and which have been shown to pose a risk – particularly to children who suffer the most from episodes of illness, with greater rates of hospitalization and higher mortality rates. With the technologies we currently have it can take two or more days to identify infectious risks in drinking water and by then the affected water is likely to have been consumed.”

He continues: “This project will develop more rapid methods so that problems can be identified earlier. It will prevent people becoming sick by stopping them drinking contaminated water.”

The project will progress through four main phases. The first phase will focus on performing cutting edge science and genome research on the microbes that cause disease though drinking water such as Cryptosporidium, Campylobacter and Norovirus.

The second phase will develop and apply state-of-the-art technologies to detect these agents in water such as gene probes, nano-technologies and bio-sensors.

In the third phase, new technologies will be used to test the safety of European drinking water in large water utilities, small private supplies and in the food industry.

Teagasc will lead a work package as part of this project.  This work package will focus on utilising the technologies developed as part of the Aquavalens project to test the safety of water used in irrigation supplies for ready to eat produce, in food processing and in the bottled water industry.

Teagasc will work in tandem with an Irish based SME, City Analysts, as well as a number of partners across Europe to achieve the objectives of the work package. Dr Kaye Burgess, Teagasc Food Research Centre,  Ashtown will lead the work package on behalf of Teagasc along with her colleague Dr Karl Richards, Teagasc, Johnstown Castle. It is hoped that the technologies developed as part of this project will help to improve the safety of European water and reduce the burden of water associated illness.  Throughout the project there will be close linkages with relevant stakeholders to ensure the developed technologies meet their needs and will have strong market potential.

The fourth and final phase will focus on understanding how these technologies can be integrated into existing practices to protect the health and safety of people inEuropefrom the threats of water contamination including those associated with environmental change.

Throughout the project, close cooperation will be maintained with biotechnology companies, water providers and food producers so that new technologies will meet real needs and find strong markets. Links with national and international government agencies such as the European Commission and the World Health Organisation will ensure that the project’s findings will influence European policy.

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