Identification and characterisation of unpleasant taste/odour chemicals in raw water for informed risk management

2021-2025

PhD project to advance knowledge of taste and odour (T&O) in drinking water by detecting unpleasant biogenic compounds beyond  geosmin and MIB. This project will apply advanced chemical-sensory methods to identify and characterise new and unusual T&O compounds. A risk indicator database of biogenic T&O in source water will be developed to inform future risk management and decision-making by water utilities.

The water industry is currently focused on measuring geosmin and MIB, which release an earthy-musty smell. However, microbes that live in source water or within water distribution pipes are known to produce more than 100 unpleasant compounds, with T&O descriptors ranging from mouldy to rancid. Many T&O compounds remain undetected and untreated, leading to consumer complaints. Since consumers associate bad T&O with unsafe water, utilities are obliged to take action in response to low complaint volumes. Therefore, there is an urgent need to apply the chemical-sensory methods to detect unknown VOCs in water..

Focused Research Questions:

1. Can we identify new and unusual T&O compounds in source water?
2. How can we improve chemical-sensory methods to routinely detect and measure these T&O compounds?
3. Which biogenic T&O compounds, in addition to geosmin and MIB, are common in Australian source waters?
4. How do concentrations and mixtures of different T&O compounds affect our perception of drinking water quality?

Researchers:

Johnson Wong
Bojan Tamburic
Richard Stuetz

Partners:

University of New South Wales | WaterNSW | Sydney Water | Melbourne Water | Hunter Water | WaterRA

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