Purification and disinfection are vital processes for making water safe. The problem is, when certain disinfectants, such as chlorine, react with organic matter in water, the by-products are anything but safe themselves. If people consume them, we know they can have serious effects on the liver and nervous system, and they cause environmental damage, even at low levels. Furthermore, the full effects of disinfection by-products (DBPs) are not fully understood, they may be more harmful than we realise.
Against this background, the three year H2OforAll project, funded through Horizon Europe, has been working to develop new tools and technologies to protect and treat drinking water, to keep it free from DBPs. The project involves the development of fast, accurate and cost effective monitoring devices to detect the presence of DBPs, as well as techniques to model their spread through water distribution systems.
The toxicity and environmental impact of DBPs is being studied and new water treatments developed, to remove DBPs or prevent them forming in the first place. Finally, a reliable shared database is being created, providing reliable data on where DBPs are found in Europe, and helping to raise awareness of them.
Opportunities in the pipeline
British universities are playing key roles in different aspects of the project. While the University of Leicester is helping to develop much of the technology involved, the University of Leeds is focusing especially on user engagement, and raising awareness of the risks that DBPs present.
Dr Evangelos Pournaras is Associate Professor at the School of Computing in the University of Leeds. He explains:
For us, H2OforAll aligns well with our work on earlier EU-funded projects, focusing on sustainable consumption. We have the grand challenge of raising citizens’ awareness in this project, but in a completely different domain of utmost importance.
Here we’re trying to make people aware of these pollutants, and how the end consumer can decrease their exposure by making small changes in their lifestyle, such as in the way that they consume drinking water, how they treat waste water, or which detergents they use to do their laundry. We’re mapping household risks and helping people collectively to adopt new practices.
Strength in collaboration
The strengths that the University of Leeds brings to the project include long standing expertise in awareness raising and use of decision support models, and the collection of novel data that projects such as H2OforAll depend upon.
Dr Pournaras said:
Still being able to take part in European projects like this, because of the Horizon Europe guarantee, is a big win for UK competitiveness.
I’ve also worked on European projects in other countries: it’s an incredible experience, and it’s great that we still have these opportunities in the UK.
In this case what we are tackling is an important issue of public health, including in the UK, where protecting water quality is a timely issue of public discourse.
There are many different partners in our consortium, tackling different aspects of the problem. We’re working together to address a health issue that affects us all.
Top image: Credit: borchee, E+ via Getty Images