ABSTRACT

Contaminated water is a leading cause of approximately 600 million annual cases of foodborne disease globally. Twenty percent of all child mortality in Afghanistan is attributed to diarrheal diseases. There are limited data on water quality and safety in Afghanistan as well as limited laboratory capacity for food and water analyses. The purpose of this study was to conduct a regional water assessment study and, in doing so, train the first class of food technology undergraduate students at Herat University (Herat City, Afghanistan) in basic water quality and safety laboratory techniques. In total, 235 water samples from private wells (n = 128) and municipal water system taps (n = 107) were collected from Herat Province, Afghanistan. Samples were aseptically collected, transferred, and analyzed at the Herat University Food Technology Laboratory for nitrate, nitrite, lead, phosphate, and arsenic concentrations; hardness; total coliforms; and Escherichia coli. We did not detect arsenic in any sample tested (n = 234), and lead levels in samples tested (n = 28) were below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant level (15 μg/L). In contrast, 38 of 232 samples had nitrate (NO3) levels greater than the maximum contaminant level (10 mg/L) and 15 of 232 samples had nitrite (NO2) levels > 0.3 mg/L. On average, well water was harder than municipal water; there were no differences in phosphate (PO4) levels. Furthermore, 93 (43.9%) of 212 samples had detectable coliforms (average CFU/100 mL) and 52 (24.3%) of 214 samples had detectable E. coli (average 28.6 CFU/100 mL). E. coli was detected in 21.4 and 26.7% of municipal and well water samples, respectively. This study indicates a clear need for systematic analyses of Herat City water to develop plans for water quality and safety improvement and management. The students engaged in the research project now have the basic research and analytical skills needed to address water and foodborne disease issues endemic in the area.

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