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Chemical Safety of Drinking Water: Assessing Priorities For Risk Assessment: Assessing Priorities for Risk Management

Terrence Thompson (WHO) ISBN: 978-9241546768 Paperback 103 pages Nov  2007 18.00

This book straightforwardly answers its brief to provide guidance on how to ensure the chemical safety of drinking-water by means of a simple, cost-effective, and practical approach.

The accompanying blurb says “Chemical contaminants of drinking-water are often considered a lower priority than microbial contaminants, because adverse health effects from chemical contaminants are generally associated with long-term exposures, whereas the effects from microbial contaminants are usually immediate.

Nonetheless, chemicals in water supplies can cause very serious problems. The objective of this publication is to help users at national or local level to establish which chemicals in a particular setting should be given priority in developing strategies for risk management and monitoring of chemicals in drinking-water.

The document will be useful to public health authorities, those responsible for setting standards and for surveillance of drinking-water quality, and to water supply agencies responsible for water quality management.

In particular, this publication will be applicable in settings where information on actual drinking-water quality is limited, which is the case in many developing countries and in rural areas of some developed countries.”

The book is pretty short, in terms of readable text. I got through the whole thing in a day, even including reading through all of the tables and appendices.

It is written in plain English, addresses all of the points it should do, and has the simplest and most  pragmatic approach compatible with doing a thorough enough job within the constraints which are likely to apply.

Towards this end, it avoids wherever possible recommending the use of water sampling and analysis, which last item may for many contaminants be beyond the capability of the infrastructure of a developing country.

Instead it advises on ways in which the most likely contaminants at a given location can be identified by means of a structured desk study looking at the possible sources of natural and man-made pollutants in the catchment area, and the associated risk factors.

The advice on risk factors for production of pollutants during the water treatment process itself is also quite comprehensive, whilst being as concise as everything else about the book. 

The approach outlined in the book will allow rapid prioritisation of those chemicals which are likely to be of concern based only on information already to hand or readily easily available.

It will therefore, as the authors claim presumably be invaluable in allowing those responsible for ensuring the chemical safety of drinking water (whether as public health authorities, regulators or water suppliers) to use limited resources to greatest effect, respond to known concerns and identify future issues with chemical contaminants of drinking water.

In short it’s a great little book, which does everything it sets out to. It doesn’t put a foot wrong.

You’d have to really want a copy in your hand to buy it though, when you can download it free of charge as a pdf from the WHO here