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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



Water is the blue gold of the 21st century. Yet, as aureate as it is, it often lacks the purity of its metallic counterpart. Water, in many instances, is contaminated. Often, tap water does not meet the necessary quality criteria and, as such, threatens the health of millions of Europeans. HiWATE, a European research initiative, is set to change that.


Consumer concern regarding the quality of drinking water has recently risen, and this concern has caused an increase in the consumption of expensive bottled water. In order to help improve water quality and security, the HiWATE project will use a wide and innovative combination of disciplines, beyond those traditionally deployed.

Water contamination is evident over a wide geographical area, and given subterranean sources of pollution, not always immediately evident. This presents a multifaceted problem. HiWATE provides an integrated approach that cross-cuts several research areas including environmental science, chemistry, microbiology, engineering, exposure assessment, statistics, reproductive and cancer epidemiology, and health-risk assessment and policy. Research also includes the area of gene-environment interaction, identifying potentially genetically susceptible populations.

The overall aim is to investigate potential human health risks, like cancer and reproductive effects such as congenital anomalies associated with longterm exposure to low levels of disinfectants and disinfectant by-products (DBPs), which occur in water. The project will comprise risk and benefit analyses, including quantitative assessments of the microbial contamination risk of drinking water versus chemical risk, and will compare alternative treatment options.

Microbial contamination and the presence of some DBPs have led to adverse health impacts, and risks should be reduced as far as reasonably possible. However, a balance between risks and benefits of water treatment solutions needs to be found. The research scope covered by the HiWATE project is particularly broad and covers, among others, the identification of causal agents, including contaminants such as DBPs, and mechanisms of environmental and food-linked hazards. Other research goals include the characterisation of DBP mixtures in water, understanding of exposure pathways and an estimation of the health effects of cumulative, low-dose and combined exposures.


The project's aim is to strengthen the scientific evidence to support decisionmakers and consumers. In particular, it will seek to address the lack of adequate exposure data, knowledge on exposureresponse relationships in European populations, and sound health risk assessment, which often inhibits the possibilities for better and effective prevention.

HiWATE is expected to bring a considerable improvement in the quality of life, particularly as it highlights associations between particular DBPs and adverse reproductive outcomes and/or cancer. This should indeed lead to measures to reduce DBP levels, and therefore the number of resulting health problems.

List of Partners

  • Imperial College London (UK)
  • University of the Aegean (Greece)
  • National Public Health Institute (Finland)
  • Vytautas Magnus University (Lithuania)
  • University of Crete (Greece)
  • Université de Rennes (France)
  • Municipal Institute of Medical Research Foundation (Spain)
  • Centre for Genomic Regulation (Spain)
  • University of Modena and Reggio (Italy)
  • Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche 'Mario Negri' (Italy)
  • Swedish Institute for Infectious Disease Control (Sweden)
  • Hylobates Consulting (Italy)
  • ICON Ltd (UK)
  • Scarab (Sweden)
Full title:
Health impacts of long-term exposure to disinfection by-products in drinking water
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Imperial College London,
EC Scientific Officer:
Laurence Moreau,
EU contribution:
€ 3.5M
Specific Targeted Research Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top