Cryptosporidium, a microscopic organism found in rivers, lakes, and occasionally tap water, is especially dangerous to young children and those with a weak immune system. It is also one of the leading causes of scour in young calves and is highly infectious.
The parasite has been linked to a number of gastrointestinal epidemics throughout the country and, most recently, was detected in the Westport Public Water Supply. A boil notice was issued last month while authorities traced the source of the outbreak.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s current remedial action list reports 36 water schemes, serving more than 200,000 people, have inadequate treatment for cryptosporidium.
Now, a new study funded by the EPA, and carried out in both Athlone Institute of Technology and the National University of Ireland Galway, revealed pulsed light technology as an effective method of disinfection.
It recommends this “next-generation approach” be considered as a viable way to rid the water supply of harmful parasites.
“We basically store up a huge intensity of voltage and release it in tiny short pulses. We can release 100 pulses a second and the huge bursts of light are 50,000 times as bright as the sun,” said Prof Neil Rowan from AIT, who has been working on the project for the last four years.
“This method rapidly kills cryptosporidium but it would also kill any E coli s in the water or MRSA, or the winter vomiting bug.
“The pulsed light method of disinfecting water is also thought to be relatively cost-effective, though the project is still determining how much it would cost to roll out. It would work in tandem with existing water treatment methods so no infrastructure would need to be changed.
“It is also an environmentally-friendly technology, a clean technology, as there are no lingering chemicals in the water after treatment, as may be the case with some conventional water sanitation approaches.”
Dara Lynott, deputy director general of the EPA, said safe, high quality drinking water is “essential” which is why the agency has prioritised finding solutions for threats to water quality.
“This research has developed an innovative technology that addresses a key drinking water quality challenge and at the same time provides green economic opportunities for Ireland.”