Informing water distribution line rehabilitation through quantitative microbial risk assessment

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Oct 15:739:140021. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140021. Epub 2020 Jun 6.


Poor urban water quality has been linked to diminished source water quality, poorly functioning water treatment systems and infiltration into distribution lines after treatment resulting in microbiological contamination. With limited funding to rehabilitate distribution lines, developing nations need tools to identify the areas of greatest concern to human health so as to target cost effective remediation approaches. Herein, a case study of Hyderabad, Pakistan was used to demonstrate the efficacy of combining quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) for multiple pathogens with spatial distribution system modeling to identify areas for pipe rehabilitation. Abundance of Escherichia coli, Enterococcus (enterococci), Salmonella spp., Shigella spp., Giardia intestinalis, Vibrio cholera, norovirus GI and adenovirus 40/41, were determined in 85 locations including the source water, treatment plant effluent and the city distribution lines. Bayesian statistics and Monte Carlo simulations were used in the QMRA to account for left-censored microbial abundance distributions. Bacterial and viral abundances in the distribution system samples decreased as follows: 9400 ± 19,800 norovirus gene copies/100 mL (average ± standard deviation, 100% of samples positive); 340 ± 2200 enterococci CFU/100 mL (94%), 71 ± 97 Shigella sp. CFU/100 mL (97%), 60 ± 360 E. coli CFU/100 mL (89%), 35 ± 79 adenovirus gene copies/100 mL (100%), and 21 ± 46 Salmonella sp. CFU/100 mL (76%). The QMRA revealed unacceptable probabilities of illness (>1 in 10,000 illness level) from the four exposure routes considered (drinking water, or only showering, tooth brushing, and rinsing vegetables consumed raw). Disease severity indices based on the QMRA combined with mapping the distribution system revealed areas for targeted rehabilitation. The combined intensive sampling, risk assessment and mapping can be used in low- and middle-income countries to target distribution system rehabilitation efforts and improve health outcomes.

Keywords: Bayesian statistics; Distribution system; Drinking water quality; Quantitative microbial risk assessment; Waterborne pathogens.

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Escherichia coli
  • Humans
  • Pakistan
  • Risk Assessment
  • Water Microbiology*
  • Water*


  • Water