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Household Drinking Water Treatment in Rural China: Microbiological Effectiveness and Socioeconomic Predictors


Across the world, well over one billion people lack access to safe drinking water. There are a variety of low cost household drinking water treatment technologies available, but hitherto none have achieved widespread adoption. Globally, boiling is the most common treatment method.

Over the last few decades, China has achieved historically unprecedented reductions in rural poverty and concomitant expansions of piped drinking water access. However, hundreds of millions of rural Chinese still lack reliable access to safe drinking water. Most households in rural China boil their drinking water, often using biomass or coal for fuel. Though boiling is microbiologically effective, once it cools boiled water is susceptible to recontamination, and the combustion of solid fuels for boiling creates hazardous air pollution.

This research sought to evaluate the microbiological effectiveness of the household water treatment methods used in rural China, and to investigate the socioeconomic predictors associated with water treatment methods and preferences.

To conduct this research, I collaborated with the National Center for Rural Water Supply Technical Guidance, an agency of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and their counterparts in Guangxi Province. In 2013 we collected survey and water quality data from 450 households across 15 villages. Household drinking water samples were analyzed for indicators of fecal contamination and physicochemical analyses were conducted for village drinking water sources. Data collection was repeated in a subset of villages over the 2013-2014 winter to address seasonality, and remote temperature sensors affixed to kettles and pots were used to corroborate household survey responses about boiling frequencies and durations.

As far as I am aware, this was the first research study in China focused on household water treatment, and the first to quantify the advantages of boiling with electric kettles.

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