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Drinking water analysis – why is it important and gaining acceptance

Drinking water analysis – why is it important and gaining acceptance
Ship operators have known for centuries when embarking on a voyage that extensive preparations must be made for a successful voyage, and from the beginning, a clean source of potable water has always been a critical priority.

The definition of potable water refers to water of all types, treated or untreated, designated for drinking, cooking, or other household purposes. As the shipping industry has grown throughout the years, the stringent requirements, regulations, and standards have grown to staggering proportions and in 2013, there was a strong focus on potable water.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), drinking water is a major vehicle for infectious disease transmission on ships and the greatest microbial risks are associated with ingestion of water that is contaminated with human and animal (including bird) excreta. Faeces can be a source of pathogenic bacteria, viruses, protozoa and parasites.

Failure to ensure drinking-water safety by regular testing may expose those onboard to the risk of outbreaks of intestinal and other infectious diseases. Pathogenic outbreaks associated with drinking water are particularly vicious because of their capacity to infect a large number of persons. Since potable water is used in cooking, microbes in the water can cause food-borne infections as well.

Diagnosing the possible pitfalls of water contamination can be a complicated matter as microbial or chemical contamination can occur during many of the processes involved in obtaining and securing water onboard a vessel. Delivery to ships by hoses or transferred to the ship via water boats or barges; lack of adequate water disinfection; extensive and complex piping systems that are difficult to inspect, repair, and maintain. These are just a few of the ways contamination can occur.

Unfortunately when a potable water system is compromised, the ill effects of the contaminants can be compounded. Limited flow rate, tank or pipe corrosion, alkalinity, acidity, or temperature can accelerate the growth of bacteria and toxins. On the other hand, the growth of bacteria can also worsen these issues by producing carbon dioxide, which reacts with the water to increase acidity, resulting in accelerated corrosion.

The Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) brought to the industries attention the importance of water testing by issuing MLC 2006 standard which includes Regulation 3.2 - Food and Catering which specifies the requirements for drinking water quality on board ships. The purpose of this legislation is to protect the seafarer and to give him access to clean and safe potable water.

For this purpose, each flag authority has recorded minimum standards for living conditions in a Marine Notice that also regulates drinking water. There are numerous drinking water quality monitoring parameters, but it is not economically feasible to test for every parameter. As such, the Guidelines for Drinking Water-Quality (WHO-2011) specify only the reasonable minimum requirements for safe practices to protect the health of consumers and numerical guidelines values for water constituents or quality indicators. Neither the minimum requirements for safe practices nor the numerical guidelines values are mandatory limits, but are rather, health-based guidelines.

In order to help the maritime industry maintain the guidelines set forth for potable water, Veritas Petroleum Services (VPS) has specifically designed a key solution for third-party accurate water analysis at the main ports of Rotterdam, Houston, and Singapore. This eliminates the disadvantages of using ship’s crew, who are not professionally trained to carry out complex chemical and microbiological analysis. Testing is performed in compliance with the WHO guidelines, MLC 2006 and IHR (International Health Regulations, 2005) requirements.

A typical water analysis test by VPS will involve a trained staff boarding the vessel to obtain water samples and perform on-the-spot tests for temperature appearance, odour, chlorine levels and turbidity. This process may take more than one hour. Upon completion, the samples are transported under controlled conditions to specialized VPS laboratories within a two-hour timeframe to prevent any changes in the parameters measured.

Then VPS leverages its network of laboratories and staff for an additional test parameter, namely pH, conductivity, Cyanuric acid and microbiological tests (Enterococci, E.Coli and Heterotrophic Plate Count). VPS carries out these tests and provides the test results to its clients within three working days.

The cost of a drinking water analysis programme is extremely low, offering mainly safe water for the crew and compliance with applicable regulations. In addition to mitigating the health hazard for the crew, this programme also prevents operational and financial loss due to downtime required in the event of a waterborne outbreak onboard a vessel.

As a result of a heightened awareness of the risks of water contamination and the regulations for potable water, VPS Singapore has seen a twofold increase in vessels opting to test their water since last year.

Leonardo Alphonso is a technical adviser at VPS. Email: [email protected]