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UEA launches €9 million project to improve drinking water safety in Europe

UEA launches €9 million project to improve drinking water safety in Europe

RELEASE: 09.00 BST (London time) THURSDAY APRIL 11, 2013 EMBARGO: 00.01 BST (London time) WEDNESDAY APRIL 17, 2013

The University of East Anglia will launch a €9 million EU-funded research project to improve the safety of European drinking water today.

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 organizations in 13 countries will come together today 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.

Prof Hunter said: "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.

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.

"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.

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 in Europe from 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.