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Water testing: Canadian firm target Kenya with handy kit

Tecta B16 for testing E. coli and total coliform.
The testing unit, known as Tecta B16. It is a bench top detection and data logging system for analysing water samples. The kit shows whether water has E. coli and total coliform.

Kenya Bureau of Standards and World Health Organization have guidelines for drinking water. Drinking water must have no hazardous organisms and chemicals.  It must obey laws on physical, chemical, inorganic contaminants, organic contaminants, microbiological and radioactive materials. Viruses and bacteria pollute swimming pools too.

Tecta-PDS is promoting its automated, microbiological water quality monitoring system. It is easier to operate and gives quicker results than standard method, the firm says. The firm’s representative calls the technology a “lab in a box.” The testing unit, known as Tecta B16, measures 48 cm wide by 62 cm deep by 34 cm high. The kit eighs about 28 kilogrammes.

It is a bench top detection and data logging system for analysing water samples. It analyses samples to check whether it has Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) and total coliform.

Mr Eric Marcotte, technology manager at Tecta-PDS, said Tecta B16 helps or even bypasses lab-based testing.

“Such an automated testing solution would enable users to perform their own water quality monitoring under their own control,” he told a video meeting with African water stakeholders on 29 July. “In addition, it would also provide additional staff safety as it limits the various person-to-person points of contact throughout the sampling and testing process.”

How does it work?

Tecta B16 is a self-contained bench top device that houses 16 incubation chambers. This means it can test 16 samples at the same time. It gives positive results within as little as two hours. It gives negative results within 18 hours because it must confirm the sample is negative.

Test management software within Tecta B16 gives an alert of a positive sample detection for both E. coli and total coliform.

During testing by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a member of field water sampling team said Tecta B16 was a very user friendly technology.   They noted that the software interface was extremely straight forward and that the two-hour training session with Tecta-PDS staff was more than adequate to train them on the operation.

Following the testing, an operator also noted that Tecta B16 does not require staff available after hours and on weekends to read the results of samples. It can analyse up to 16 samples during working hours. The device automatically shuts down after 18 hours. It stores results for later evaluation. In addition, when Tecta B16 sends alerts on e-mail or as a text message if results are positive.

Tecta B16, measures 48 cm wide by 62 cm deep by 34 cm high. It weighs about 28 kilogrammes.

Is Tacta B16 approved?

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, whose duty is to protect the United States’ air, water and land resources, has approved Tecta B16. The agency accepted the use of Tecta B16 in testing for E. coli and total coliform bacteria in drinking water in 2014. The US agency had carried out verification testing of Tecta B16 in 2007.

To comply with the revised Total Coliform Rule, US water utilities need coliform detection technologies that are able to detect E. coli at concentrations of one colony forming unit (CFU) per 100 millilitres. Verification test found Tecta B16 sample analysis results consistent with the requirements of revised Total Coliform Rule.

Why test for E. coli and total coliform?

Water authorities have made it a must for water suppliers to test drinking for E. coli or total coliform bacteria. Faecal pollution can introduce disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites into drinking water supplies.

Looking for E. coli and total coliform bacteria shows whether there is a health risk. Where they are present it shows possibility for contamination, either sewage, human or animal waste.

World Health Organization has advised water providers and regulators to immediately investigate E. coli or total coliform bacteria in drinking water. They must at least repeat test if they find total coliform bacteria. They must further investigate if these bacteria are in repeat test.

Further, it says E. coli is the more precise indicator of faecal pollution. The UN health agency says total coliform bacteria are not acceptable indicators of the sanitary quality of rural water supplies, particularly in tropical areas where many bacteria of no sanitary significance occur in almost all untreated supplies.

According to WHO, in the great majority of rural water supplies in developing countries, faecal contamination is widespread. The agency urges national surveillance agency to set medium-term targets for the progressive improvement of water supplies.

What is Kenya doing?

Water Services Regulatory Board (Wasreb) is a government firm that sets standards for licensed water services providers. Wasreb has given rules on drinking water quality. Wasreb borrowed these rules from Kenya Bureau of Standards. Water firms must ensure that E. coli and coliforms are absent in drinking water and containerised drinking water.

Each water services provider must study results of their water testing to ensure they follow the Kenya Standards. These standards are on aesthetic, inorganic contamination, organic contamination, radioactive material and microbiological limits.

Obedience to both drinking water and effluent rules covers two areas. First, the number of tests conducted against number of samples planned. Second, the number of samples within norm against number of samples tested.

Wasreb says water firms must follow these requirements. “If it is deemed necessary, the Water Works Development Agency or Wasreb may take a sample to carry out an independent analysis of the sample,” the authority says.

READ – How Kenya’s water organs are arranged

What is the quality of water by Kenya’s water firms?

Drinking water quality looks are chlorine residual and disease-causing bacteria. Water firms must score more than 95% for their drinking water to be certified as of “good” quality. Wasreb shows in its Impact Report 2020, that only six firms out of 87 scored “good” on drinking water quality. These are Nyeri, Eldoret, Meru, Nanyuki and Kiambu, all scoring 96%, and Nakuru Rural with 95%. Over half of analysed firms (45) had “unacceptable” drinking water quality.

READ – More than half of water firms supply ‘unacceptable’ water

What about swimming pools?

WHO says contact with swimming pool and similar recreational water cause E. coli related infections. In addition, it calls for protection of such water areas, as well as drinking-water sources, from animal waste. The UN health agency says adverse health effects relate not only to  stomach and the small intestine infections. They include skin, eye and ear infections arising from pollution of water by excreta from bathers.

WHO requests regulators to assess whether swimming pool and spa waters follow local and national standards. It recommends interim standards in countries where it is difficult to reach the guideline objectives immediately.

About Kaburu Mugambi

Kaburu Mugambi is a veteran of business reporting having worked with two national newspapers in Kenya. He is a graduate of economics from Kenyatta University. He started his journalism career in 2000 with The People Daily as a business reporter before becoming a business sub-editor. He joined Daily Nation in 2004 as a business writer. He holds a post-graduate diploma in mass communication from University of Nairobi's School of Journalism and an MBA in marketing from the same university. In 2016, he founded Water Tower, a media firm focused on water, energy and climate. Its content cuts across water, energy and climate with emphasis on adaptation and sustainability.

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