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European Union Funding 5-Year Safe Drinking Water Project

The European Union is funding a new research initiative to improve the safety of drinking water and reduce outbreaks of waterborne diseases.

The five-year, 9 million-euro ($11.8 million) Aquavalens project will be led by Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School in eastern England, the school said today in a statement. It will seek to develop more rapid methods of detecting viruses, bacteria and parasites in water before they make people sick, according to the statement.

Globally, about 2 million deaths a year are attributed to unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene and almost 1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, according to the World Health Organization.

“With the technologies we currently have it can take two or more days to identify infectious risks in drinking water and by then the affected water is likely to have been consumed,” Hunter said. “This project will develop more rapid methods so that problems can be identified earlier.”

The project hopes to find low-cost testing technologies that can monitor water supplies year-round to identify unacceptable levels of viruses or bacteria instead of weekly or in some cases even less frequent spot checks, Hunter said.

Gene probes, nano-technologies and bio-sensors will be explored, he said.

“Although the focus is on Europe, hopefully the technologies that will be developed will have applicability that is far wider than just Europe,” Hunter said. “The main activity will be development of water technologies that could be used globally.”

The European Union’s Framework Programme 7, which supports scientific and technological research in the region, is providing funding for the project. Academic groups and biotechnology companies in 13 European countries will be participating in the project, according to the statement.

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