Military canteen water quality

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Results of a study of canteen water quality within two military units (infantry and armoured corps of the Israel Defense Forces) have been published in the Journal of Water and Health. The authors concluded that, in order to diminish the illness risk among combat soldiers, sanitary field conditions must be improved.

The records of the IDF medical corps reveal an average annual number of 45,000 incidents concerning gastrointestinal disorders. In sporadic cases of gastrointestinal illness, no investigations are conducted to determine the cause and source. When two or more individuals of the same unit (squad, platoon, company and battalion) report on gastrointestinal symptoms, the medical authorities have to initiate an epidemiological investigation. Details of a study initiated to determine canteen water quality in the IDF, and examine the association between water quality and enteric diseases in two military units (infantry and armoured corps), have been published in the Journal of Water and Health.

In order to obtain information on the microbial status of water within soldiers' canteens, the study included: a sanitary investigation to identify potential microbial contaminants in canteen water and their source; laboratory tests of canteen water samples; results of a questionnaire to obtain details of place and time of canteen filling, time of the most recent canteen use and any enteric symptoms (diarrhoea, stomach aches, vomiting and nausea) experienced by the participants; and statistical analysis of canteen water quality and gastrointestinal symptoms.

Microbial results of water sampled from soldiers' canteens indicate that the quality of water was below the Israel Ministry of Health standards for drinking water quality. Enumeration of the selected microbial indicators and statistical analysis revealed that canteen water of armoured corps was significantly more contaminated compared to infantry. The authors acknowledge that, since the cohort of both units is highly similar (age, training stage, nutrition and activities), the difference may be based on several other possible factors such as: supply sources, diversity in military equipment, canteen usage frequency and discipline.

Water quality at the source was found to be far better than that of the canteen water, indicating that the possible cause of high concentrations of bacteria in canteen water was secondary contamination e.g. derived from soldiers' use of the canteen (dirty hands with lubrication materials such as grease and oils that may enhance bacterial regrowth, more often used by armoured corps) and environmental factors (dust and sand produced in larger quantities during tanks training). Another important aspect was the water retention time. The results clearly demonstrated that numbers of experimental indicators increased significantly with time from filling (from times greater than one day and longer), worsening canteen water quality.

To conclude, the authors state that the risk of illness of combat soldiers can be reduced by regular disinfection of canteens, refilling every day, allocating and maintaining a verified sanitary source and regular testing of source water.

Source: Benjamin Gavrieli, Israel Potasman and Robert H. Armon, 2010. The quality of drinking water stored in canteens of field soldiers as a potential source of enteric diseases.

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