E.Coli in drinking water can be a serious health hazard. Researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed a frugal test to test drinking water for E.Coli at a low cost. We interviewed Sushanta Mitra who lead the research and co-founded Glacierclean Technologies, the company that will commercialize the test.

What are the health hazards of E.Coli in drinking water to the individual?

It can cause diarrhea. But more importantly, it is an indicator organism for water quality. If E. coli is present, most likely other pathogens like norovirus etc. are present, which can be very deadly.

Is there a clear view about the causes for E. Coli outbreaks?

Yes, it happens due to faecal contamination by run-off during rainy seasons or cross-contamination between drinking and sewage lines. Also, poor hygiene could be another reason.

How many people are affected by E.Coli worldwide and in which areas particularly?

It can affect billions of people.. 70 % of diseases worldwide are due to water-borne illness. Most vulnerable are the limited resource communities worldwide including those in developing countries.

You developed a paper strip to test for E.Coli. How does the technology to detect E.Coli work?

It is made of paper strip. Paper is a porous material. We apply sugar at the bottom of the paper to attract E. coli (almost fishing bacteria from water). Once E. coli is in contact with paper, due to capillary action both E. coli and water front moves up inside the paper and reach the reaction zone, where we have proprietary chemical reagents that react and produce the colour change.

How accurate is the test?

Currently, we are able to meet the recreational water standards. Work is in progress to meet the US EPA standard for potable water.

You founded Glacierclean Technologies to commercialize the test. When do you expect that the new test becomes available?

It should be available within 9 months. A number of organizations have shown interest in doing field trial with us and we are partnering with them to make our products more robust and field-deployable.

Can you give an indication of the price of the test?

It would be less than 20 cents per test.

What are the other advantages of the new test compared to existing tests?

It is fast, cheap, easy to carry and empowers individuals to have a choice of clean and safe drinking water.

ApartĀ from not drinking the water, what can be done once the E.Coli is detected in the drinking water?

A quick solution is to boil water and also put chlorine tablet. Our rapid detection methods allows individuals to take these measures quickly, thereby avoid falling ill.

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Photo’s: courtesy of Sushanta Mitra