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News

Traditional brass pitchers may hold the secret of safe drinking water

Society For General Microbiology : 06 April, 2005  (Company News)
Where there's brass there may be no muck, say researchers looking at the safety of drinking water kept in traditional pitchers in rural India, and presenting their work at the Society for General Microbiology's 156th Meeting at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh. Transporting and storing water in brass pitchers may be saving lives in rural India, according to researchers from Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne. The scientists looked at the effectiveness of storing contaminated water for over two days in traditional brass, earthenware and modern plastic containers.
Where there's brass there may be no muck, say researchers looking at the safety of drinking water kept in traditional pitchers in rural India, and presenting their work at the Society for General Microbiology's 156th Meeting at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.

Transporting and storing water in brass pitchers may be saving lives in rural India, according to researchers from Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne. The scientists looked at the effectiveness of storing contaminated water for over two days in traditional brass, earthenware and modern plastic containers.

'We discovered that when the water was contaminated with typical faecal bacteria such as Escherichia coli, traditional brass containers were a lot safer, unlike eartherware and plastic pitchers,' says Professor Rob Reed from Northumbria University, who has been working with Puja Tandon and Sanjay Chhibber at Panjab University in Chandigarh, India. 'After 48 hours all the dangerous bacteria in the water were dead, whether we used sterile water deliberately infected with bacteria in our laboratory, or local water from typical sources in the Punjab.'

The scientists discovered that minute traces of copper became dissolved into the water during two days of storage from brass pitchers. The amounts of copper are too small to be toxic to people, but they are sufficient to inactivate the bacteria, effectively disinfecting the stored water. By contrast, modern plastic containers had no protective effect.

'We can see a worrying trend, since plastic containers are cheaper, lighter to carry for long distances, and may also be viewed as more modern,' says Professor Reed. 'There is a widely held view amongst villagers that water kept in traditional brass or copper vessels causes fewer stomach upsets, and we have now found a scientific explanation for their belief.'

Miss Puja Tandon is now trying to develop a new, inexpensive method of testing rural water supplies for harmful bacteria as part of her four-year PhD study.
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