Innovations in public health and drinking water

C. K. Fairley, M. I. Sinclair, M. H. Hellard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Defining water quality is difficult. To most people it means water that tastes and looks good and is safe to drink. While the first two of these are relatively easy to define, defining what is safe drinking water is extremely complex. This is because the current water quality parameters are unable to predict reliably if drinking water is or is not be associated with disease. In this paper we will discuss Australia's unique opportunity to provide a different focus on water, and to describe the steps that are being taken by the Australian Water Industry through the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Quality and Treatment (CRC WQT) to understand this complex issue. In this paper only microbiological water quality will be discussed, as other investigators in the CRC WQT are dealing with other issues such as disinfection by-products. There are a number of reasons why Australia can approach the issue of water quality differently from other countries. Australia's most important advantage is having drinking water guidelines and not legally enforceable standards. As a result the Australian Water industry and Government have considerably more flexibility than elsewhere. There are also several other important advantages including a sense of openness and trust between government, industry and academia; a focus on public health; the absence of a tradition of litigation; and the commitment of key players within CRC and Water Services Association of Australia. Research underway in Australia and elsewhere will provide a better understanding of microbiological water quality. Examples include the Water Quality Study currently underway in Melbourne and the planned case control studies of Cryptosporidium and Giardia. The importance of molecular biology and good disease surveillance is also being investigated. These issues will be discussed in this paper.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-78
Number of pages6
JournalWater Supply
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Dec 1999


  • Case-control study
  • Cryptosporidium
  • Drinking water
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Surveillance

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