Microbiological and Chemical Quality of Packaged Sachet Water and Household Stored Drinking Water in Freetown, Sierra Leone

PLoS One. 2015 Jul 10;10(7):e0131772. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0131772. eCollection 2015.


Packaged drinking water (PW) sold in bottles and plastic bags/sachets is widely consumed in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), and many urban users in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) rely on packaged sachet water (PSW) as their primary source of water for consumption. However, few rigorous studies have investigated PSW quality in SSA, and none have compared PSW to stored household water for consumption (HWC). A clearer understanding of PSW quality in the context of alternative sources is needed to inform policy and regulation. As elsewhere in SSA, PSW is widely consumed in Sierra Leone, but government oversight is nearly nonexistent. This study examined the microbiological and chemical quality of a representative sample of PSW products in Freetown, Sierra Leone at packaged water manufacturing facilities (PWMFs) and at points of sale (POSs). Samples of HWC were also analyzed for comparison. The study did not find evidence of serious chemical contamination among the parameters studied. However, 19% of 45 PSW products sampled at the PWMF contained detectable Escherichia coli (EC), although only two samples exceeded 10 CFU/100 mL. Concentrations of total coliforms (TC) in PSW (but not EC) increased along the supply chain. Samples of HWC from 60 households in Freetown were significantly more likely to contain EC and TC than PSW at the point of production (p<0.01), and had significantly higher concentrations of both bacterial indicators (p<0.01). These results highlight the need for additional PSW regulation and surveillance, while demonstrating the need to prioritize the safety of HWC. At present, PSW may be the least unsafe option for many households.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / analysis
  • Consumer Product Safety / standards
  • Drinking Water / chemistry*
  • Drinking Water / microbiology*
  • Enterobacteriaceae / isolation & purification
  • Escherichia coli / isolation & purification
  • Fluorides / analysis
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Iron / analysis
  • Manganese / analysis
  • Nitrates / analysis
  • Porphyrins / analysis
  • Sierra Leone
  • Water Microbiology
  • Water Purification / instrumentation
  • Water Purification / methods
  • Water Quality / standards*
  • Water Supply / standards*


  • Drinking Water
  • Nitrates
  • Porphyrins
  • chlorin
  • Manganese
  • Iron
  • Arsenic
  • Fluorides