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Water Today Title June 29, 2022

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Advisory of the Day



This story is brought to you in part by TecTeg-Thermoelectric Power Generators

As reported on Jan 10, the boil water advisory issued for Ormstown, QC on October 3, 2016 was triggered by the detection of coliphages in the town's raw well water. As coliphages are rarely cited as the cause of a water advisory, we looked into it further

"Unlike coliforms, coliphages are viruses not bacteria," says Daniel Messier, spokesperson at the Sherbrooke office of the Québec Ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques. "This is the second time that coliphages have been detected in the Ormstown well water, and we had another case of it in Lennoxville in 2009. As these communities get their water from wells which are located in an agricultural area, the Québec government requires that coliphage testing be performed."

Further research reveals that bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacterial cells while copliphages, a variety of these viruses, infect many subspecies of Escherichia coli (E.coli). The USEPA added the detection of coliphages in its 2006 Ground Water Rule (GWR) to improve drinking water quality and provide protection from disease-causing microorganisms.

According to a 2008 study published in the Journal of the New England Water Works Association, "Drinking water monitoring has traditionally relied on the detection of indicator bacteria. Coliform bacteria may be limited in their use as a groundwater indicator since they are readily attenuated. Viruses demonstrate different behavior than coliforms in groundwater."

The New England study revealed that the different indicators were detected in at least one groundwater sample, but rarely in the same sample. These results support using multiple fecal indicators rather than measuring either one alone to effectively determine groundwater vulnerability to fecal contamination.

A 2012 study entitled "Advances in Rapid Coliphage Detection" by Robert Salter states that" Coliphage were added to the EPA GWR as an equivalent indicator to E. coli based on 20 years of epidemiological data showing that over 50% of waterborne illnesses in the US were viral in origin. Coliphage are bacterial viruses and some types are structurally similar to pathogenic enteric viruses."

Other than in Québec, we found little Canadian documentation on coliphage testing. The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality regarding Enteric Viruses states that pathogen detection still suffers from methodological and interpretation limitations. These limitations include the necessity to concentrate large volumes of water, the need for specialized laboratory equipment and highly trained personnel and the cost of analysis, as well as determining which pathogens to test for, given the multitude of pathogens that may be present, which can vary over time and space. Therefore, routine monitoring of drinking water for enteric viruses is currently not practical. More specifically about coliphages, it states: "In the United States, standardized methods for the detection of somatic and male-specific coliphages have been developed (U.S. EPA, 2001a,b)". 

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