Household Water Storage Management, Hygiene Practices, and Associated Drinking Water Quality in Rural India

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Household drinking water storage is commonly practiced in rural India. Fecal contamination may be introduced at the water source, during collection, storage, or access. Within a trial of a community-level water supply intervention, we conducted five quarterly household-level surveys to collect information about water, sanitation, and hygiene practices in rural India. In a random subsample of households, we tested stored drinking water samples for Escherichia coli, concurrently observing storage and access practices. We conducted 9961 surveys and collected 3296 stored water samples. Stored water samples were frequently contaminated with E. coli (69%), and E. coli levels were the highest during the wet season. Most households contributing two or more drinking water samples had detectable E. coli in some (47%) or all (44%) samples. Predictors of stored water contamination with E. coli included consumption of river water and open defecation; consumption of reverse osmosis-treated water and safe water access practices appeared to be protective. Until households can be reached with on-premises continuous safe water supplies, suboptimal household water storage practices are likely to continue. Improvements to source water quality alone are unlikely to prevent exposure to contaminated drinking water unless attention is also given to improving household water storage, access, and sanitation practices.

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Environmental science & technology