with quality standards set by the
Authority for 4 services
average waiting time at branches
and chance to reserve an
appointment with an operator
thousand analyses
Group drinking water, 1,100 per day, of which 63% on the supply network

Quality of drinking water

In 2017, to ensure control of the quality of water supplied, the Group’s laboratories in Emilia-Romagna, Triveneto and Marche performed 398,983 analyses on drinking water, including all the analyses performed for the aqueduct process as a whole. This amounts to an average of almost 1,100 analyses per day. Of these, 63% were carried out on samples collected in the distribution networks.

Quality checks on the water used to produce water for drinking and for human consumption are governed by Italian Legislative Decrees 152/2006 and 31/2001, respectively.

The checks are carried out by the water service manager and the Local Health Authorities at the source sampling points, at the water treatment and accumulation plants, and along the intake and distribution networks.

Hera has developed a Group Control Plan which describes the sampling points and the analysis methods used (parameters and frequencies of the analyses). The Control Plan is developed on the basis of guidelines that focus on the water’s chemical, physical and bacteriological characteristics, so as to fully comply with legal requirements and ensure a top-quality product. In 2017, preliminary checks of radioactivity in drinking water were started (as required by Legislative Decree 28/2016) and analyses of pollutants with a high environmental impact (e.g. glyphosate) were increased. This led to an extension of the type of checks used for risk assessment.

How much water costs

As well as benefiting the environment, drinking tap water instead of mineral water also saves money: considering an average yearly consumption 1000 litres for a household of three people and an average price in Italy of 27 cents per litre for certain retailed mineral waters, yearly spending on mineral water comes to around Euro 270 a year. The cost for the same quantity of mains water, meanwhile, would be Euro 2.08 a year (calculated as the 2017 average of the bills in the nine main cities served by Hera). Italy is third in the world for consumption of bottled water with 201 litres of water consumed per capita in 2014, after Mexico and Thailand (Source: International Bottled Water Association 2016).

Water quality also means controlling the effectiveness of the treatment processes. For example, the water is checked for chlorites and trihalomethanes, which come from, respectively, the use of chlorine dioxide and sodium hypochlorite as disinfectants. The concentration of chlorites and trihalomethanes in the distribution network is kept under constant control in line with the regulatory limits.

Since 2008, the average data recorded for the pH, total hardness, dry solids at 180°, chloride, fluoride, sodium, nitrate, nitrite and ammonium has been published on the Group’s website, listed by individual municipality, and updated every six months. Since 2012, this set of parameters has been extended to include four others: calcium, magnesium, sulphates, and total alkalinity. These 13 parameters are considered to be representative of the quality of the drinking water distributed and can be used to draw comparisons with the quality of bottled water on the market.

Starting from the second half of 2014, the set of parameters was further expanded with 6 additional parameters as required by Arera: conductivity, potassium, arsenic, bicarbonate, residual chlorine and manganese. As such, 19 parameters are subject to publication, one more than the number determined by the regulator.

Since 15 September 2012, the tap water label has been present in Hera’s bills as well as on its website. Customers can find the data on the quality of the water distributed by Hera in their municipality (updated every 6 months), directly on their bill. The communication concerns 165 municipalities in Emilia-Romagna where Hera manages the water distribution service and includes the values of 19 water quality parameters, compared with the regulatory limits (alkalinity from bicarbonates, total alkalinity, ammonium, arsenic, calcium, free chlorine, chloride, conductivity, pH, hardness, fluoride, magnesium, manganese, nitrate, nitrite, potassium, dry residue at 180 °C, sodium, and sulphate). Alongside the data, a message reminds customers that tap water is good, safe and better for the environment, and allows them to save Euro 270 per year. The AcegasApsAmga website includes water quality data for the municipalities served in the Padua and Trieste areas, which are updated constantly.

Since January 2009, all drinking water production plants in Romagna have been served by Romagna Acque – Società delle Fonti, the company set up for this purpose by the local regional administrations of Emilia-Romagna. As a result, the water distributed in the Forlì-Cesena, Ravenna and Rimini areas is in large part purchased wholesale from that company, and Hera’s involvement in quality is limited to managing the network and the supplementary disinfection stations along the distribution networks.

The assessments of the quality of distributed drinking water, as compared to the quality of mineral water, are carried out based on the analytic parameters which are commonly surveyed at the representative sampling points of the water networks: pH, total hardness, dry residue at 180°C, sodium, fluorides, nitrates, nitrite, chlorides, calcium, bicarbonate alkalinity, manganese, potassium, sulphate. The parameters chosen to measure the quality of distributed water refer primarily to the importance of distributing drinking water that contains a suitable amount of mineral salts. The parameters chosen to measure the quality of distributed water refer primarily to the importance of distributing drinking water that contains a suitable amount of mineral salts.

It is confirmed that once again in 2017 the average values for Hera water are comparable with those of commercial mineral waters and that no departures were granted from compliance with the limits set forth in Italian Legislative Decree 31/2001. The only average result found by Hera, higher than that found on the labels of 17 mineral waters on the market, is nitrates in the territories of Modena, Padua and Rimini; the average value found in 2017 in the waters distributed by Hera is in these cases below the regulatory limit of 66-78%.

Quality comparison between water distributed by Hera and mineral waters on the market
  Mineral waters (min-max) Tap water limits Leg. Dec. 31/2001
Bologna Ferrara Forlì-Cesena Modena Padova Pesaro-Urbino Ravenna Rimini Trieste
pH 5,8-8,0 6,5-9,5 7,4 7,6 7,7 7,5 7,6 7,7 7,9 7,6 7,7
Hardness (°F) 0,7-88 50* 32 23 27 37 27 29 22 28 19
Dry solids at 180°C (mg/l) 22-932 1.500* 408 320 356 557 320 434 334 387 240
Sodium (mg/l) 0,3-67 200 26 22 20 64 4 27 29 30 8
Fluorides (mg/l) 0,03-1 1,5 <0,10 <0,10 <0,10 <0,10 0,06 0,22 <0,10 <0,10 <0,1
Nitrates (mg/l) 1-9 50 8 6 8 17 17 6 5 11 7
Chlorides (mg/l) 0,2-80 250 33 31 25 94 11 34 37 37 14

* Recommended value.
Comparison carried out with the data provided on the labels of 17 widely available mineral waters. The data on drinking water refer to the averages of 14,988 analyses carried out according to the frequency and withdrawal points on the distribution network set forth in the control and monitoring plan for the water cycle.

If even a single parameter is not compliant with regulatory limits, Hera takes immediate action to restore compliance of the water (by washing pipes, checking disinfection, etc.), also based on the instructions of the Local Health Authorities. For hygiene, health and public safety reasons, municipalities may issue orders declaring that the water is not fit for drinking for specific periods of time. In these cases, it may be prohibited to use water for cooking and drinking, or particular precautions will need to be adopted (e.g. boiling in case of microbiological non-compliance), while in general the water can continue to be used for all other purposes.

In 2017, 22 ordinances were issued, affecting a total of approximately 2,500 people:

  • one order concerned an area of the Alto Reno Terme municipality in the Porretta Terme hamlet and affected 100 residents for 7 days;
  • one order concerned an area of the Pennabilli municipality and affected 6 inhabitants for 3 days;
  • 20 ordinances involved municipalities in the province of Pesaro Urbino and impacted on about 2,000 people for an average of 3 days.

All the ordinances were determined by the detection of microbiological contamination indicators, a phenomenon that disappeared with the resumption of disinfection and/or in the other case with network washing and an increase in disinfectant.

In the area served by AcegasApsAmga no orders were issued by mayors regarding the unsuitability of drinking water. As in previous years, the orders almost exclusively affected small municipalities or small areas of more populated municipalities. In almost all cases the unsuitable drinking water orders are related to problems at the disinfection plants of small and very small aqueducts where, due to the low flow rates and to their position, in isolated areas, monitoring and regulation is generally more difficult.

Regarding the presence of cement-asbestos pipes in the water network (see paragraph “Sustainable management of the water resources” for more data) it is noted that asbestos was used in construction and other industrial sectors until the end of the 1980s, and was definitively banned in 1992. While it has been recognised that the inhalation of asbestos fibres causes serious respiratory illnesses, there is no evidence of toxicity linked to the ingestion of asbestos. In fact, current regulations regarding the quality of water for human consumption (Legislative Decree 31/2001) does not set limits regarding the presence of asbestos fibres: in particular, Ministerial Decree of 14 May 1996, annex 3, references a WHO (World Health Organisation) document which states that “… there is no serious evidence that the ingestion of asbestos is hazardous to health”. The WHO reiterated this stance in the 2011 update of its Guidelines on drinking water quality (fourth edition-World Health Organisation 2011). European and Italian legislation is aligned with the position of the WHO and does not set limits for the eventual presence of asbestos in water destined for human consumption. In 2015, the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (Higher Institute of Health) reiterated these positions once again in a communication of its own in which, among other things, it states that: “On the basis of our current knowledge and the conclusions of the international institutions of reference, the water situation must not be regarded as an imminent risk for public health either in terms of eventual fibres ingested or as regards concentrations potentially transferred from the water to the air”.

In the same communication, the Italian National Health Institute indicates, as the only reference limit, (not a parameter value) the one defined by the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) as 7 million fibres/litre for fibres of longer than 10 µm.

In terms of monitoring, Hera carries out regular checks to determine if asbestos fibre is present in the water it distributes and the level of maintenance of the pipes. Every year since 2003, Hera has prepared and applied a specific Asbestos Control Plan which outlines the details of the sampling points that are most representative for the presence of asbestos cement, the frequencies and the analytical parameters to analyse. Over 200 inspections were carried out during 2017 and they confirm that most of the samples (over 80%) contain no asbestos fibres. The EPA limit of 7 million F/L was not exceeded under any circumstances. The average of the values found is more than 400 times lower than the EPA limit referenced above. The water distributed by Hera has aggressiveness levels generally above 12 (non-aggressive with respect to the cement base).

For further details on the quality of tap water distributed by Hera, refer to the appointment with In buone acque, the report entirely dedicated to the quality of tap water that Hera publishes annually since 2009 with the collaboration of local health authorities and Romagna Acque.