Can effect-based monitoring be integrated into Water Safety Plans?

Peta Neale, Beate Escher, Milo De Baat, Magali Dechesne, Daniel Deere, Jérôme Enault, Stefan Kools, Jean-François Loret, Patrick Smeets and Frederic Leusch


This blog post was written by the authors of a recent Journal of Water & Health paper and summarises the key features of the research and its implications.

Day in and day out, utility workers aim to assure safe drinking water. Water Safety Plans (WSPs) describe procedures to assess and manage the risks associated with microbial, chemical, physical and radiological hazards in water. The best understood and highest priority chemical hazards are usually monitored with targeted chemical analysis, in accordance with legal requirements to demonstrate water safety. However, drinking water can potentially contain many different chemical contaminants, including pharmaceuticals, pesticides and industrial compounds, as well as chemical transformation products and disinfection by-products. This means that targeted chemical analysis alone cannot capture the potential and yet unknown chemical burden in drinking water or account for the mixture effects that occur between the different chemicals present.

In this article, we show how effect-based monitoring can be applied to complement chemical analysis to assess chemical hazards within the WSP framework. Effect-based monitoring uses bioassays, which are laboratory methods to detect potential effects of chemicals in the water using cells and/or organisms. So rather than just measuring the presence of chemicals, information become available on the mixture effects of all known and unknown chemicals in a water sample. Effect-based monitoring has been used extensively for water quality monitoring over the last couple of decades, but it has yet to be integrated into WSPs.

Effect-based monitoring can be applied for the four different monitoring categories identified within the WSP framework: ‘system assessment’ (to assess baseline risks), and ‘validation’, ‘operational’ and ‘verification’ (to assess, respectively, whether the WSP ‘will be’, ‘is currently’ and ‘was retrospectively’ effective at managing risks). Effect-based monitoring can also be integrated within many of the WSP modules, with examples from the literature provided for each relevant module. Resources, such as standard operating procedures, guidance documents and decision-making frameworks, are currently being developed to facilitate the integration of effect-based monitoring in WSPs.

Overall, effect-based monitoring can be applied within different monitoring categories in the WSP framework and can aid in safeguarding water resources by providing complementary information about chemical hazards in drinking water.


The article can be read in full over on the Journal of Water & Health webpage. 

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