Water and Health

Previous Research

Workers in the mining and other industries are exposed to micro-organisms transmitted through water distribution systems. High and-or continued exposure to these organisms increases their risk of respiratory disease, especially when immuno-compromised.

A number of pathogenic organisms are resistant to free-living amoebae and as such are able to resist most water treatment regimes. The NIOH has recently embarked on a study to determine the prevalence of amoeba resistant bacteria in South African water distribution systems.

The following projects are classified under this focus area:

Planned Research

South Africa is considered a water scarce country with limited water resources to meet its domestic, agriculture and industrial demands. Reclaimed water use offers a potential solution to augment potable supplies against the backdrop of climate change, severe droughts and the ever increasing competing demands. Nevertheless, studies have shown that if inadequately treated, reclaimed water can be contaminated with a myriad of pathogenic microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, protozoa and helminths with diversity and concentrations varying according to source and level of treatment.

Exposure to reclaimed water is complex and varies according to work situation. Adverse health effects such as diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid fever, viral enteritis, intestinal parasitic infections among others have been associated with exposure to contaminated reclaimed water. Common exposure pathways include hand-to-mouth contact during eating, drinking and smoking or by wiping the face with contaminated hands or by licking splashes from the skin. Another route is by skin contact through cuts, wounds or scratches. Workers can also get exposed through inhalation of contaminated aerosols or mist generated from high pressure wash or sprinkler irrigation.

Although reclaimed water use continues to gain popularity in many countries, information on the role of reclaimed water as a potential source of exposure to waterborne pathogens in different occupational settings in South Africa is limited. Therefore, the broad objective of this study is to evaluate the potential microbiological health risks associated with the use of reclaimed water in different industries including but not limited to agriculture, power stations and mining. It is envisaged that findings from this study will provide science-based evidence to formulate guidelines for the safe use of reclaimed water to reduce exposure and provide safe working environments in the South African context. In addition, results from this study will also help to promote the use of reclaimed water for non-potable applications.

The following projects are classified under this focus area:

Health risks associated with occupational exposure to reclaimed water – Planned Research