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RAPID ON-SITE DETECTION OF WATERBORNE PATHOGENS
By Gillian Ward
With flooding in Eastern Canada raising concerns about e-coli, we remember the lives lost in Walkerton, after animal waste infiltrated the town drinking water supply. In the aftermath of that tragedy, Canada looked to the Universities for a rapid detection test for e-coli. Water Today explores the case of one such technological solution, manufactured and distributed by Ontario company, Tecta-PDS.
In Walkerton, Ontario, May 2000, close to half of the town's population fell seriously ill and seven died as a result of drinking tainted water. Routine testing of the water supply revealed e-coli two days after the sample was sent to the lab, but it was several more days before action was taken to notify the public. The inquiry that followed determined that an immediate boil water advisory would have saved lives and the pain and suffering of thousands of people.
With the standard water quality test protocols in use, incubation of a sample can take twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Add to this, the time of transit via courier to the laboratory, the handling time for processing and reporting results back to the community and the response time to send the emergency advisory bulletin to the public. In a perfect scenario, the entire process takes just over 24 hours but often takes much longer. For Canada's remote communities, safeguarding public health is further complicated by adverse weather events, inconsistent power supply and the ever-present factor of human fallibility. The need for effective local testing with rapid results cannot be understated.
When a veterinary pharmaceutical company discovered a unique fluorescent marker produced by e-coli, the field of pathogen detection took a step forward. From this discovery, Dr. Stephen Brown at Queen's University discovered a way to detect the presence of the e-coli marker with a portable incubator and a special test medium. This breakthrough in the research provided another advancement in the development of a rapid detection process, as the sample would not require dilution, and could be performed outside of a laboratory, giving results ten times faster than the typical process.
The Tecta-B16 unit is manufactured, distributed and supported by Tecta-PDS with Dr. Brown as Chief Science Officer. The unit retails for $26,000 but, within the frame work of a standing offer has been reduced significantly in price for First Nation / Indigenous communities and is currently in service in twenty plus remote communities in Quebec, and in remote communities of thirty-five countries around the world, from Australia to Nepal.
The simplicity of the system is one of its best features, according to Tim Adams, EVP and part of a Senior Management team that led a management buyout of the technology from Veolia Water in 2016. "The same person that opens the water treatment plant in the morning and makes the coffee can perform the pathogen detection test", says Adams. The process is, fill the test cartridge with the sample water, then 'plug and play'. Test results can be known as early as 2 hrs depending on the level of contamination. The unit can be programmed to generate immediate emergency alerts to multiple e-mail addresses, improving the likelihood of triggering the local emergency protocol, including the boil water order.
Adams says Canada has been supportive of Tecta-PDS in terms of showcasing the technology as a Canadian innovation. "We felt a strong need to give back to our own country. This comes from the heart, we have offered the Tecta B-16 units for remote First Nations in Canada at a premium discount."
In February 2019, Public Works Canada created a National Individual Standing Offer (NISO), found at https://buyandsell.gc.ca/procurement-data/standing-offers-and-supply-arrangements/HT156-182421-001-PV . Six provinces are listed on the Standing Offer, including Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Québec.
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