Drinking water quality in Austria: pollution from heavy metals and nitrate is falling - hygienic deficiencies at a high level

Current data on drinking water quality from the AQA "WasserChecks" published on the occasion of World Water Day

Vienna (OTS) - For 15 years, thousands of households have used the opportunity to have their drinking water analyzed by independent laboratories using the AQA "WasserCheck" - also available in all post offices. The current statistics show that limit values for lead and nickel are being exceeded, but the picture is less than satisfactory with regard to bacterial contamination. The all-clear cannot be given.

Very high water quality that often does not reach the consumer

Around 5,500 water suppliers in Austria supply around 90% of the population with excellent water quality. From the house connection onwards, house installations (pipes, fittings, storage tanks, softening systems, etc.) and damage or improperly carried out renovation work have a negative impact on the water quality. As a result, the high quality with which the water is fed from the water supplier into the house pipe network does not arrive at the tap in this form. Heavy metals such as lead, nickel or copper can get into drinking water and cause limit values to be exceeded again and again.

In private systems (e.g. wells) that are not connected to the public drinking water network (after all, this affects around every tenth household), the water quality is primarily affected by nitrate and hygiene. 

Less lead, less nickel

The last 2,000 AQA water samples analyzed show that 6.1% of households across Austria have exceeded their limit values for lead. If you only use samples in which the first surge of water was analyzed, this value doubles. The front runner is Vienna, where 11.1% of all submitted samples had a lead content above the limit value (in the first surge it was 16.9%). Lead exposure mainly results from lead lines and fittings in the households themselves. Lead is toxic and can damage the nervous system, kidneys or impairment of the blood count in humans.

The good news: In the last 15 years, the number of limit values exceeded across Austria - including Vienna - has more than halved for lead!   

A similar development can be seen with nickel: where it is not the building fabric that matters, but the fittings. The exceedance of the limit values for nickel is evenly distributed across Austria. This was exceeded in 5.3% of the water samples (15.6% in the first surge). In the last few years the excess of nickel has decreased by approx. 1/3.  

Nitrate pollution drops slightly

Increased nitrate levels can be found almost exclusively in the area of domestic wells and private supplies. Through mainly agricultural fertilization, nitrate gets into the groundwater and, without appropriate treatment, also into private house wells. For every 10th house well, the current statistics of the AQA WasserChecks show a nitrate load. Nitrate hotspots are house wells in Burgenland, Vienna and Lower Austria. Here, too, there is a positive development: Nitrate pollution in the domestic well area has fallen by an average of 16% over the past few years.

Blei - Nickel - Nitrat Grenzwertüberschreitungen im Vergleich

Land of hardship

Water hardness - a combination of calcium and magnesium - plays an important role in the daily use of water. High water hardness is poison for washing machines, coffee machines, water pipes and the like. However, it is beneficial for health due to the high mineral content.

Austria generally has to struggle with water that is too hard. On average, over 40% of the analyzed AQA water samples are over 14 degrees of hardness and are therefore considered hard / very hard.

But water that is too soft is also bad: If the hardness is less than 3 degrees, the water does not form a protective layer and heavy metals can be released from the pipes even more strongly. According to the AQA WasserChecks, a full 10% of households are below 3 degrees of water hardness. "Very often incorrectly set water softening systems are responsible for this," says DI Bruck from AQA. We therefore recommend a minimum water hardness of over 9 degrees of hardness, ”continues Bruck. "That saves operating costs and achieves the desired protection of the devices."

Hygienic meltdown

House well: According to the evaluations of the AQA WasserChecks, more than every second domestic well in Austria can be classified as "conditionally fit for consumption". And every third house well as "not fit for human consumption". This is due to germs that are not allowed to be found in drinking water, as they represent indications of pathogens. Structural defects or the quality of the well water are often responsible for this. "In general, we recommend having the water from domestic wells examined for bacteriological parameters once a year in order to be able to act accordingly if necessary or to adjust the water use accordingly“DI Bruck appeals to home well owners. 

Public water supply: Households connected to the public water supply network receive bacteriologically perfect water. Nevertheless, the evaluated water analyzes show that the so-called "hospital germ" - Pseudomonas aeruginosa could be detected in more than every 10th water. This is particularly resistant to disinfection measures and can cause serious infections. Usually the problem is homemade: If you clean the faucet at the outlet (aerator), e.g. with an old cleaning sponge, germs can penetrate the pipe and settle there via biofilms. But also work on the pipe after water damage, for example, can bring bacteria into the pipe network.   Nachweise hygienischer Parameter

Water test as the first step

Together with AQA, Swiss Post has now been offering the option of buying a water test in its branches for 15 years. The water sample is taken by the customers themselves and sent to a qualified laboratory for analysis. One test is aimed at the chemical / physical quality values and another test at hygiene. The WasserChecks are available in all post offices. "Water is our most important food - and true to our motto If it's really important, it's better to do it by post we are proud to offer our customers a high-quality opportunity to have the most important food examined through our branch network“Says Stefan Nemeth, Head of Branch Network at Österreichische Post AG.