Local health authority (AUSL) quality control
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In Emilia-Romagna, control and monitoring of water for human consumption are regulated by regional regulations 2/1999 and 9/2004 which set out criteria for the organisation of control plans carried out by the Food Hygiene and Nutrition Services of the Public Health Departments of the Local Health Authorities. The laws also provide information on proper management of analytical differences detected in the water.
To ensure compliance with the parameter limits set by the national standard, Legislative Decree 31/2001, checks are performed by local health authorities along the entire mains supply system, from source to tap. Water samples are taken at representative points along the mains supply system. They are then analysed in regional environmental protection labs. The mains water provider, who has the task of supplying water that complies with the cited law, is also obliged to carry out quality control. Moreover, local health authorities verify the checks performed by providers by examining the analytical outcomes of their checks, which must always be made available to them.
The local health authorities perform two types of checks:
- routine checks which, as required by Italian Legislative Decree 31/2001, "aim to provide information, at regular intervals, on the organoleptic and microbiological quality of water supplied for human consumption and information on the effectiveness of purification treatment (especially disinfection) to ascertain whether the water supplied for human consumption is compliant with the parameter values established by this decree”. Routine checks examine 16 parameters such as colour, iron, cloudiness, disinfectants used and microbiological parameters such as Escherichia coli and coliform bacteria;
- verification checks which, as the decree requires, “aim to provide the information needed to ascertain compliance with all the parameter values in the decree". All the parameters set by Legislative Decree 31/2001 are subject to verification checks, unless the relevant local health authority establishes that, for a certain period, a parameter is unlikely to be found in a particular water supply at levels that will result in non-compliance of the corresponding parameter”.
The decree lists 51 chemical-physical and microbiological parameters. Public Health Departments may add further parameters where 'risk situations' arise or where required by the type of water source.
The decree also establishes minimum control frequencies according to daily water volumes; nevertheless, local health authorities can increase sampling frequency according to the complexity and reliability of the specific mains supply. Checks are performed throughout the year and are carried out more frequently than routine checks.
For example, for a water mains supplying about 1,000 cubic metres of water per day to about 5,000 inhabitants, the regulation states there must be at least 4 routine checks per year and 1 verification check per year.
Arera's resolution 917/2017, which introduces the regulation of the technical quality of the water service from 2019 onwards, requires operators to monitor certain performance indicators to which an incentives and rewards system is linked. One of the prerequisites for access to this incentive system is that the operator must carry out a certain number of test samples per year. As far as water quality is concerned, the parameters considered by the incentives system concern the non-drinking ordinances (incidence of the number of non-potability ordinances in relation to the total number of users) and the rate of samples and parameters from non-compliant internal checks.
In the Emilia-Romagna region, the analyses carried out by Hera are about nine times greater than this minimum limit.
Should water intended for human consumption not comply with regulations, the affected local health authority must inform the Water Service Providers who must, in turn, identify the cause(s) and take all necessary measures to restore quality.
Depending on the type of parameter that has exceeded regulations, the local health authority must carry out the required risk assessments and then, if necessary, suggest that the mayor/municipal authorities take precautionary measures to safeguard public health. Since city/town mayors have responsibilities vis-à-vis public health, they canacknowledge such suggestions and issue public health orders that provide citizens with water usage instructions.
The measures that need to be taken will depend on the nature of the problem: simply boiling water before consuming it or, where consumption is deemed harmful, forbidding its use (partially or totally).
Certain inconveniences may, while leaving potability unaffected, change the organoleptic qualities of the water (taste, odour etc.). This happens when the water contains excessive amounts of certain substances (e.g. iron and manganese); while they are not harmful to health, they give the water an unpleasant taste.
If the water contains substances that modify its quality or make it undrinkable, the mayor, local health authority and provider must, in accordance with their individual roles and responsibilities, inform consumers, provide recommendations and take the necessary measures.
In addition to sampling, local health authorities carry out inspections aimed at updating their overall level of understanding of water supply/distribution plants. This is essential to proper quality control planning. In fact, plant inspections offer a useful opportunity for in-depth analysis of any problems identified during sampling. Proper risk assessment following any irregular analytical data must, include analysis of the structural/functional conditions that may have played a role in creating such data.
SUMMARY OF DRINKING WATER CHECKS (2018)
|Romagna Acque (on plants and points of delivery)||355,504|
|Hera Group (in plants and distribution networks)||399,013|
|Local health authorities (on plants and distribution networks)||282,660|
|Total||1,037,177 (2,841 per day)|
DRINKING WATER CHECKS PERFORMED BY ARPAE
Arpae is the reference laboratory for checks performed by local health authorities tasked with testing/monitoring water for human consumption. Controls concern mains water but also surface and aquifer water used for drinking water.
Drinking water analyses carried out by the Arpae lab network use three main analysis hubs: Reggio Emilia, Bologna e Ferrara (sole regional facility for phytopharmaceutical research). Each provincial facility has a reception point where local health authority workers deliver samples. A bar code system is used to identify the data for each sampling point. Delivery to the relative labs is guaranteed within 24 hours of sampling thanks to an efficient courier system connecting all Arpae facilities. All the laboratories of the network are accredited as per UNI CEI EN/ISO IEC 17025:2005. Investment in personnel training and instrumentation are of priority importance; data quality is also ensured by periodic participation in national and international circuits and internally organised comparisons to check on the overall analytical process.
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