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Printer Friendly VersionSelected Information - Live Research

CP482  Rapid tracking of hydrocarbon contamination in drinking water Drinking Water Quality

Project Appreciation and Objectives

Taste and odour complaints are often tracked back to the presence of aromatic and aliphatic hydrocarbons, with chemical analysis revealing a spectrum of compounds, usually at low concentrations. Water companies can readily access information on the potential risk to human health of these compounds, but they find it difficult to quickly determine their most likely source, and therefore to stop or prevent further contamination. Individual proprietary or generic hydrocarbon products have characteristic analytical profiles which can be influenced by the contamination route: direct spill, permeation through pipes, through soil, etc; if companies could cross reference to these "fingerprints" then they would be able to more rapidly identify the likely source of contamination.

This project will create a look-up-table of analytical profiles for hydrocarbon-based products (e.g. diesel, petrol, heating oil, domestic solvents and oils) cross-referenced with different sources of contamination (e.g. permeation of plastic pipes, joints and valves). The list will be based on current information from the literature, WRc and the water companies' own experiences, together with controlled laboratory research to establish spectra of hydrocarbons with different products and potential contamination sources.

Business Benefits to Clients

  • Quicker resolution of hydrocarbon contamination and a quicker return to the "wholesomeness" of water.
  • Identification of likely sources of contamination leading to improved risk mitigation and therefore less likelihood of repeat contamination.
  • Less repeat laboratory analysis saving time and money.
  • A reduction in customer complaints and reporting to DWI.

Work Programme

  1. Review of WRc's National Centre for Environmental Toxicology (NCET) enquiries on hydrocarbon contamination known sources to identify any specific "spectrographic fingerprints" of hydrocarbon sources, supported by a literature review of the behaviour of hydrocarbons on water pipes and fittings.
  2. Collate analytical information and hydrocarbon profiles from manufacturers of common hydrocarbon based chemicals that may end up in the water supply.
  3. Collate information from relevant water companies' laboratories to determine which analytical techniques are used (so the project output is directly applicable to the water companies' laboratories) and any existing information linking a specific hydrocarbon "fingerprint" to a known contamination source.
  4. Laboratory-based experiments to establish a "spectrographic fingerprint" of common hydrocarbon based chemicals and the mobility and preferential movement of these chemicals through various water pipes and fittings.

Project Output and Implementation

A look-up-table and decision tree linking the presence/absence of specific hydrocarbons to the most likely source of contamination (product and route). This tool would be used with the UKWIR Toxicity Datasheets by incident managers to minimise the risk and duration of exposure of customers to hydrocarbon contamination.

Related WRc Work

  • The Toxicity Advisory Service run by NCET on behalf of UKWIR.
  • WRc-NSF runs a standard test for permeation of pipes by organic compounds.

WRc's Portfolio Programme
Summary of the £1.5 million per annum research programme

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