Microbiological standards for water and their relationship to health risk

R.A. Barrell, P.R. Hunter, G. Nichols

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

103 Citations (Scopus)


Maintenance of the microbiological quality of water has been used as an important means of preventing waterborne disease throughout the twentieth century. The commonest microbiological tests done on water are for coliforms and Escherichia coli (or faecal coliform). This paper reviews the legislative and other guidance for microbial standards in drinking and bathing waters and considers evidence for the relationship between the microbiological quality of water and risk to human health. In the past measures of the microbiological quality of water correlated well with risks of acquiring gastrointestinal disease. More recent work suggests that gastrointestinal disease is more strongly associated with the presence of enterococci than of E. coli. New diseases such as cryptosporidiosis have been shown to cause outbreaks of waterborne disease when levels of conventional microbiological parameters are satisfactory. In response to this, and because of failure of prosecution in one outbreak, the United Kingdom (UK) Government has introduced new legislation that requires water providers to perform a risk assessment on their water treatment facilities and to implement continuous monitoring for cryptosporidium. A new European directive on drinking water has been introduced and legislation on cryptosporidium in drinking water has been proposed in the UK.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-13
JournalCommunicable disease and public health / PHLS
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2000

Cite this