Monday, March 23, 2009

Water Quality Data for Western Corridor

The first interim water quality data for the Queensland Western Corridor Recycled Water Project (WCRWP) were released this month.

The full report and an evaluation of it by the Expert Advisory Panel are available from the website of the Queensland Water Commission.

The interim report presents final water quality data (presumably after the advanced oxidation and lime stabilisation) from the advanced water treatment plant at Bundamba. These cover the three-month period of plant validation and verification from 22 May to 25 August 2008 and all subsequent results during normal operation up to December 2008 (an additional four months).

I recommend that interested people download and read the actual interim report. But for those who may care, my own personal comments and interpretation are as follows:

Scope of the water quality analysis

On the range of chemical and microbial contaminants monitored, I think the report is very comprehensive and by far exceeds any water quality monitoring program that I have seen previously from anywhere in the world.

I’m not sure whether the intention is to sustain this level of monitoring. But if that can be done, it will provide a valuable source of knowledge to improve risk assessment and planning for many future advanced water treatment processes.

My only real disappointment with the way that the data are reported is the failure to include analytical detection limits for measurements that were below the analytical detection limit. To report data simply as ‘not detected’ (ND) provides very little information unless the detection limit is known to the reader. From the way that the data are presented, it is clear in all cases that ‘ND’ means that the concentration was less than the Public Health Regulation Standard, but it would be helpful to have some indication of how much less it may have been.

While I understand that this is a summary report (and it is intended to be highly readable to a wide audience), it would also be helpful to have some additional statistical description of the water quality parameters. In some cases, means and standard deviations may have been determinable (where there were sufficient data). In others, the data may have been well presentable as a cumulative probability distribution or other similar means of description.

It would also be helpful to know the concentrations of the chemical constituents earlier in the treatment process. This would allow an assessment to be made regarding the treatment performance of the various treatment ‘barriers’. Such information is useful to give an indication that the individual treatment processes are doing what they are expected to do and thus to properly validate the ‘multiple barrier’ concept.

Physical characteristics

It is a little difficult to interpret the physical parameters without an explicit description of the water sampling location. However, I presume that the water has undergone final stabilisation, which involves the addition of ‘hardness’ (calcium ions) and alkalinity (bicarbonate ions). This explains the relatively high pH (7.5 – 7.8) and total dissolved solids (110 – 170 mg/L) that would both otherwise be expected to be lower directly after reverse osmosis and advanced oxidation treatment.

The stabilisation process is important since ultrapure water is quite ‘aggressive’ and leads to corrosion of pipes. This has the effect of picking up other (less desirable) dissolved substances along the way.

Inorganic compounds

Sixteen cations and four anions were monitored. Of these, the heavy metal cadmium, was observed to exceed the Public Health Regulation Standard on one occasion at the beginning of the validation process. A concentration of 0.0023 mg/L was recorded, compared to a standard of 0.002 mg/L. The explanation given in the report is that cadmium is found is small quantities in the lime that is used for stabilisation and that imprecise lime dosing led to the presence of the dissolved cadmium. This has now been corrected and no such exceedence was again identified following the validation phase or during the operational phase.

Disinfection byproducts

The advanced water treatment process includes a number of disinfection steps, which normally (almost certainly) lead to some formation of disinfection byproducts. The key disinfection processes that may lead to byproducts include chloramination prior to microfiltration, UV/H2O2 advanced oxidation and final chlorination.

The monitoring program included three types of disinfection byproducts. These were inorganic byproducts (bromate and chlorite), organic byproducts (trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids), and nitrosamines (NDMA and NDEA).

One exceedance of bromate (0.04 mg/L compared to standard of 0.02 mg/L) was reported and this was explained to have been the result of a short-term excessive chlorine dose. Corrective action was undertaken on the chlorine dosing system and no further incidences of bromate exceedance have been observed.

Three exceedances for bromodichloromethane reflect the difficulties in regularly complying with the relatively stringent standard of 6 ug/L. There are many drinking water supplies throughout the world that would rarely comply with this standard. From what I understand from the interim report, this standard was introduced in July 2008, after the validation period for the advanced water treatment plant had commenced. As a result, plant operations were adjusted in order to comply with the standard and since then, all subsequent results have been in compliance.

While the NDMA results are technically not an exceedance of Public Health Regulation Standard, the maximum concentration was reported to be 10 ng/L, which is precisely equal to the Standard. In this case, it would certainly be helpful to have a more detailed description of the NDMA concentration distribution. For example, was it commonly within 10% of the Standard, or was this a single aberrant outlier? This is important to help understand the likelihood of exceeding the Standard during future operations (as well as for understanding overall long-term exposure).


Eight well-known steroidal hormones were monitored. These included four estrogens (17-alpha-ethynylestradiol, 17-beta-estradiol, estriol and estrone), three androgens (androsterone, etiocholanolone and testosterone) and one progestin (norgestrel).

Many people will be more interested in the results for hormones than I am. In my opinion, the fact that none of the hormones could be detected was inevitable given the source water quality and the nature of the advanced treatment processes.

The issue of risks associated with hormones in advanced water recycling schemes has been severely exaggerated by certain politicians who apparently don’t mind looking foolish for the sake of whipping up a little hysteria.

Nonetheless, the results for the hormones provide a useful illustration of my earlier comment regarding detection limits. The Public Health Regulation Standard for 17-alpha-ethinylestradiol is given as 1.5 ng/L. Depending on the analytical method used, it is quite likely that this value is very close to detection limit. Thus it would be helpful to have an indication of how far below the standard we can be confident of being.

Other organic chemicals

None of the five chemicals presented in this category were reported to have exceeded the Public Health Regulation Standard on any occasion. Those chemicals for which actual numbers (as opposed to ‘ND’) were reported indicate that a very significant gap exists between the standard and actual measured concentrations.

Microbiological water quality

Results for Escheria coli and clostridium perfringens spores indicate excellent disinfection of bacteria across the multiple barrier system. The more difficult micro-organisms to manage are viruses. The non-detection of somatic coliphages is an indication of good control of viruses, but the two exceedances for F-RNA phages do raise the eyebrows.

The interim report describes how these results were further investigated and states:

“On balance, it is concluded that these two detections were the result of the analytical method used and did not indicate the presence of bacteriophages in the purified recycled water.

In line with the findings of the investigations, the following corrective actions have been implemented:
  • duplicate samples are being taken, to provide greater certainty of results;
  • the number and frequency of water quality tests will be increased where an initial positive result is returned; and
  • changes have been made to the sampling and analysis process.

“False” positives will continue to be reported even if duplicate analyses return a negative result. Continuous monitoring, plant shut down controls, and additional water quality testing are part of the ongoing plant operation and form part of the robust risk identification and mitigation practices.

I’d suggest keeping a close eye on this parameter in order to improve our understanding of both the analytical reliability and the nature of its removal/inactivation by the various individual barriers of the advanced treatment processes.

Additional PCR testing for a range of specific viruses (rotavirus, astrovirus, noroviruses, adenovirus, enteroviruses, hepatitis A and reovirus) provides some assurance of the absence of these highly pathogenic organisms.

Herbicides, pesticides and phenols

Thirty five herbicides, pesticides and phenols were monitored, but none of then exceeded the relevant Public Health Regulation Standard. Without reported detection limits, it is difficult to interpret how low expected concentrations may be for most of these contaminants.

I would be interested to compare this result with current water quality in Lake Wivenhoe…

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products

Fifty five pharmaceuticals and personal care products were monitored, but again, none of them exceeded the relevant Public Health Regulation Standard.

Some of these results would be particularly useful to relate to concentrations prior to individual treatment processes. Some, such as caffeine and salicylic acid can provide a very good indication of reverse osmosis treatment performance and thus it is useful to monitor their removal (even if they are well below Public Health Regulation Standards).


No exceedance of radioactivity was observed.

QWC Expert Advisory Panel comments

The Interim Water Quality Report is preceded by a letter of assessment by the QWC Expert Advisory Panel. The letter states that:

“Based on the testing results in the report, the commissioning of the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project is proceeding well, providing confidence it is capable of consistently producing purified recycled water that is safe to be used to supplement Wivenhoe Dam.

The results indicate that the treatment process barriers are effective in controlling water quality hazards and reliably producing purified recycled water suitable for release into Wivenhoe Dam. No exceedances of the water quality standards have been measured in this testing data after normal operations commenced.”

I agree with this assessment. However, I'd like to see some more raw data, purely for the purpose of trying to draw some further information and insights from it.

I think it is very important not to get carried away with monitoring end-point water quality. In my opinion, much more important information can be gleaned by carefully observing individual treatment processes and ensuring that they are each operating effectively. This is the whole basis of the multiple-barrier treatment philosophy. Without closely monitoring each individual barrier, it is not possible to have confidence that if one barrier fails, then another will provide the necessary redundancy to ensure safety.

I’m not suggesting that suitable multiple-barrier monitoring is not being undertaken, -I presume that it probably is. However, I’d like to raise awareness that this is the type of data that we should really all be interested in, -rather than just long tables of ‘non-detects’… more on that topic soon!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A note from Meredith Jayne

I received the below note from a reader by the name of Meredith Jayne. At the end of her note, Meredith states "Since everyone is entitled to an opinion, I would appreciate my comments being posted on your website".

I am happy to post Meredith’s views here since the person most likely to sue myself for libel in this case is myself.

Its clear that Meredith is opposed to indirect potable water recycling...and I don’t think she likes me very much either! She is, of course, entitled to express both views.

But for the record, I reject the suggestion that I have "vested financial interests in the recycled sewage scheme". Nor have I "been highly paid by the Government to provide data that support their views on recycled sewage". I consider myself to be an independent and ethical researcher with high standards for scientific integrity, openness and transparency.

Meredith's Message...

Khan, (Chief sewer sipper and propaganda minister.) Something stinks in Queensland and it's not just the sewerage. Government and corporate greed is driving the water crises. The Government is hooked on using waste to raise revenue and is just using the public drinking water supplies as cash cows (and a cheap means of disposal), failing for decades to invest in new water infrastructure and failing to maintain existing infrastructure. Government greed counts more to making profit from the sale and production of recycled sewage than the safety and health of the consuming public. The assets of the people are being exploited by the Government. Health concerns are not a priority of this greedy Government, profiteering is. After the name change and marketing was put in place the next step in the sewerage shenanigans was to hire industry friendly scientists. The Government hired their own 'independant experts'to defend and promote their recycled sewage product who were bought in various ways to manipulate and shape science. The Government set out to build a body of science around the notion that hazardous highly toxic, industrial and hospital diseased wastes are rendered harmless by simply passing the material through a sieve. The public is too smart too believe that nonsense. The Government and their propaganda hit men have used every opportunity to discredit emminent scientists and dismiss information associated with consuming recycled sewage. Because it is clear and odorless recycled sewage is being fraudently marketed as a safe user friendly product without revealing that it is full of highly toxic chemicals and diseases. The Government routinely runs massive multi million dollar advertising campaigns, complete with graphic images to warn smokers of the dangers, yet strangely enough the public has not received any warnings or informtion on the same, (plus many more) cancer causing agents being discharged to the sewerage system--our new drinking source. What was once viewed as a nuisance and a liability is now being recast as a valuable resource. The Government has decided on recycled sewage as they just love a good project that will splash lots of tax-payer money around. The arrogant, lying, self serving, contemptuous Bligh Government and their science-for-hire know-it-alls as well as their spin doctor friends in the media have insisted that recycled sewage is 'safe'to drink and is not a threat to human health, with no supporting evidence to back their absurd claims they have continually given the public their assurances in regards to it's so called 'safety'. We were once told that asbestos was safe, too, with no threat to human health. Australia now has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world. The Government also once recognised that working with recycled sewage was an occupational health hazard, then approved it's use for drinking purposes. If they all believed in the so called 'safety'of their recycled sewage product so much why did the Bligh Government find it necessary to introduce a new law that absolves themslves as well as the water service providers and operators in the event of any health problems arising from consuming recycled sewage? They cannot be sued, do not have to pay compensation and therefore are not accountable to the people. The onus is on the public. This is just another demonstration of utter contempt that this greedy, self serving Government has for the people they are being paid well to represent. The claims that recycled sewage is done all over the world is absolute rubbish. The announcement of the introduction of the Governments bizzare recycled sewage experiment made major world news headlines, a good indication no other country in the world deliberately adds recycled sewage to their drinking water supplies, One of the many lawyer firms representing the Government has said that recycled sewage is a new product and that the effects on humans and the environment of it's long term use is not fully known. The act further recognises the need to offer some form of protection from the potentially huge liability that water industry players could be subjected to through the use of recycled sewage. Does'nt sound too safe, now does it Khan? If it was so safe there would not be the need to introduce a new law that protects the Government, water service providers and operators from law suits. The Government and the cash strapped water researchers as well as their spin doctor friends in the the media have gone to great lengths to promote recycled sewage and to conceal information on the tens of thousands of highly toxic chemicals which are being allowed to be routinely dumped into the sewerage. No information on the drug resistant diseases or the health risks or consequences of drinking from a highly contaminated source. Since recycled sewage is an extremely high risk area the public is entitled to all relevant information that has the potential to cause serious illness and death. The Government has no right to withhold that vital information. The Government has ignored public health concerns while the so called 'yuck factor' has been exploited for all it's worth. We all know the (shonky) polls have been designed to elicit answers favourable to the governments cause. It is a well known fact that the vast majority of the public is strongly opposed to being poisoned. Get off your soap box Khan and stop grandstanding. You have no doubt been highly paid by the Government to provide data that support their views on recycled sewage. I am considering becoming a researcher too. All I need to do is plagiarise and falsify data, just like you Khan. You can stop the pretence now. I think most people would be well aware that you and Paul Greenfield to name a few have vested financial interests in the recycled sewage scheme. By the way Khan, for your information Bligh did in fact say that the public will be drinking 100 percent recycled sewage. That information was contained in reports tabled in parliament. The media news sources as we all know, especially the trashy tabloid, the Courier mail work only in the best interests of the Government and are being handsomely paid to support the Governments views on recycled sewage. They will not publish anything negative they view as having the potential to de-rail the Governments bizzare recycled sewage scheme. Since everyone is entitled to an opinion , I would appreciate my comments being posted on your website.

Meredith Jayne.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fluorescence for monitoring recycled water

Four years ago I had an idea for a potential new application for monitoring recycled water systems. The idea was to use fluorescence spectroscopy to try to distinguish different ‘types’ of waters such as drinking water, secondary treated municipal sewage, reverse-osmosis treated water, etc. I had two main applications in mind:

1. to be able to detect ‘cross connections’ in dual reticulation (purple pipe) non-potable water recycling systems with the adjacent potable water supply.

2. to allow real-time ‘on line’ monitoring of reverse osmosis treatment performance with increased sensitivity compared to current techniques.

So during 2005-2006 I made a lot of phone calls and sent a lot of emails to water companies. I managed to secure the support of eight major Australian water companies with a keen interest in (potable and/or non-potable recycled water). These were:

Gold Coast Water (QLD)
City West Water Ltd. (Vic)
Melbourne Water (Vic)
South East Water Ltd. (Vic)
Sydney Olympic Park Authority (NSW)
Sydney Water Corporation (NSW)
Water Corporation (WA)
Yarra Valley Water Ltd. (Vic)

This strong industry support gave me the bargaining power to be able to apply for an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Projects Grant. To do this, I recruited a few co-researchers to build a strong research team. These were Prof Richard Stuetz (UNSW), Dr Michael Storey (Sydney Water) and Prof Andy Baker (University of Birmingham). I went all the way to Birmingham to meet Andy and ask him to participate since he is the world expert on fluorescence analysis of freshwater samples.

Our first application was in 2006, but this was not successful so we had another shot at it in 2007. On the second application we were awarded the grant for a three year research project which began at the end of 2007.

In addition to the necessary equipment and consumables, the grant allowed us to hire a full time post-doctoral researcher as well as a second part-time researcher. It also included two PhD scholarships. The full-time post-doc, Rita Henderson came from Cranfield University in the UK and now manages the project on a day-to-day basis. The part-time researcher is Dr Kate Murphy (from UNSW). The PhD scholarships have been awarded to Adam Hambly (from University of Sydney) and Sachin Singh (from University of South Pacific).

During the last year, Rita, Adam and Sachin have been undertaking intensive research with water samples collected from some of the above listed water companies. This work is on-going and no results have yet been published (apart from a few conference papers).

However, the first major paper from the project was recently published (Henderson, et al., 2009). This is a review of previous literature assessing, as best as we could, the question of whether fluorescence has the potential to be used as a monitoring tool for recycled water. It presents what we consider to be the evidence for why it does, as well as highlighting some of the areas that require further investigation. You can read the abstract of the paper by clicking on the image below.

I’m really keen on this project (and really proud of the team we have assembled and the progress made so far), so I hope to be able to report some exciting updates during the next two years.


Henderson, R. K., Baker, A., Hambly, A., Murphy, K. R., Stuetz, R. M. and Khan, S. J. (2009) Fluorescence as a potential monitoring tool for recycled water systems: a review. Water Research. Vol 43, Issue 4, Pages 863-881. (available here).

Gold Coast Water also have a short description of this project on their website.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Matt Laffan

My cousin, my playmate, my childhood, my best friend, my confidante, my co-conspirator, my accomplice, my flatmate, my teacher, my inspiration, my awe, my idol.

I just can’t say how much I’m gonna miss ya.

Richard Matthew Laffan
11 September, 1970 - 1 March, 2009.

Matt Laffan
Matt's website

News and Obits:
ABC Radio News, 2 March 2009
The Australian 2, March 2009
The International Herald Tribune, 2 March 2009
Accessibility.Com, 2 March 2009
The Sydney Morning Herald, 3 March 2009
The Daily Telegraph, 3 March 2009
HeavensGame.Com, 3 March 2009
Intenational Rugby News, 3 March 2009
USA Today

Some blogs:
The Chipolata
Pure and Applied
Cafe Grendel
Dreams in Colour

Some history:
Coffs Harbour Advocate, 31 October 2008
Enough Rope, 15 March 2004
Australian Story Reunion, 21 June 2004
Australian Story, 26 April 2001

Oh, and the water recycling connection? Matt’s policy from his run for Sydney Lord Mayor in 2004, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Matt Laffan, independent Laffan, a lawyer with the NSW Department of Public Prosecutions, would convene a meeting to develop a planning strategy for the city for the next decade. He would establish council-funded precinct committees with a diverse membership.

Laffan wants a new land-rating system to provide landowners with incentives if they achieve environmental sustainability. He would also push for recycled water for every home. Sydney Harbour foreshore land should be protected. Street lighting would be improved, council patrols of parks and retail areas increased and the graffiti program upgraded.

He has also pledged a major focus on public transport development. Laffan will direct preferences to the Democrats followed by the Greens.