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World Water Day: safe, clean drinking water for Vienna and the world

(Vienna, 21 March 2016) Test methods that were co-developed by MedUni Vienna’s Department of Water Hygiene (Institute for Hygiene and Applied Immunology) help to ensure safe water supplies throughout the world – and of course in Vienna itself. Within the framework of the Interuniversity Cooperation Centre (ICC) for Water & Health, MedUni Vienna and Vienna University of Technology jointly devised the Vienna source management system. Also, a method for checking the efficiency of UV irradiation water disinfection plants developed at MedUni Vienna has been in use for a long time now in Germany, England and France and was adopted by New York at the beginning of this year. UV radiation is used to disinfect water in many towns.

If the water in a drinking water resource (source, spring, surface waters such as lakes or rivers) is contaminated by microorganisms, it has to be disinfected to protect people's health. Over the last few years, the use of ultraviolet radiation (wavelength 254 nanometres) has become very important throughout the world. Drinking water is fed through an irradiation chamber. "The radiation is absorbed by the genetic material of the microorganisms so that they are no longer able to multiply. This renders any pathogens harmless," explains Regina Sommer, Head of the Department of Water Hygiene at MedUni Vienna, to coincide with World Water Day on Tuesday.

Sommer: "We have known since the beginning of the 20th century that UV radiation can be used to disinfect water but we had no accurate test to determine whether the radiation had been sufficiently effective. The test method for monitoring the hygiene of UV disinfection plants outlined in Austrian National Standard ÖNORM M 5873 was developed at MedUni Vienna and in 2010 it was established at the Wiental Water Technology Centre, founded by the university. UV plants for disinfecting drinking water in France, Germany and England, as well as many other countries, have to be tested in accordance with this Austrian National Standard.

Satellite-assisted source management ensures top-quality drinking water in Vienna
In Vienna itself, low concentrations of chlorine are added to the water supply for disinfection purposes. UV disinfection is used in many other supplies. In order to ensure that the drinking water in Viennese households is always of the best and purest quality, there is a source protection and management programme that was developed by ICC Water & Health in conjunction with Wiener Wasser [Vienna water utility company].

Alpine karst spring water and Viennese mountain spring water from Rax/Schneeberg and Hochschwab are an important drinking water resource but they are susceptible to contamination (e.g. due to temporary pollution during summer thunderstorms). Satellite -controlled, automated sampling technology, modern molecular-biological methods and innovative on-line measuring technology installed at the sources can immediately detect the slightest variations in quality. Wiener Wasser therefore has access to high-tech instrumentation to help it make an accurate decision as to which sources have the purest water.

"This ensures that the best possible water comes out of taps in Vienna at all times," says Sommer, who is also Chair of the Austrian Codex Commission for "Drinking water". And one more tip from the water expert about drinking water from the tap: "Let the water run until it is cold so that you can be sure that it is quite fresh and has not been standing in the pipe. This is not wasting water but is necessary to clean the water pipe, just as important as washing dishes, for example."

Five research clusters at MedUni Vienna
In total, five research clusters have been established at MedUni Vienna. In these clusters, MedUni Vienna is increasingly focusing on fundamental and clinical research. The research clusters include medical imaging, cancer research/oncology, cardiovascular medicine, medical neurosciences and immunology. This paper falls within the remit of the Cluster for Immunology and Cardiovascular Medicine.


» Interuniversity Cooperation Centre ICC Water & Health (funded by the Federal Ministry for Science, Research and Economic Affairs; Higher Educational Structural Fund) (MedUni Vienna/Vienna University of Technology)
» Wiental Water Technology Centre (MedUni Vienna/University of Veterinary Medicine/Austrian Institute of Technology)