Implementation of quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) for public drinking water supplies: Systematic review

Christopher E. L. Owens, Mark L. Angles, Peter T. Cox, Paul M. Byleveld, Nicholas J. Osborne, Md Bayzidur Rahman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


In the more than 15 years since its introduction, quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) has become a widely used technique for assessing population health risk posed by waterborne pathogens. However, the variation in approaches taken for QMRA in relation to drinking water supply is not well understood. This systematic review identifies, categorises, and critically synthesises peer-reviewed and academic case studies of QMRA implementation for existing distributed public drinking water supplies. Thirty-nine English-language, peer-reviewed and academic studies published from 2003 to 2019 were identified. Key findings were synthesised in narrative form. The overall designs of the included studies varied widely, as did the assumptions used in risk calculation, especially in relation to pathogen dose. There was also substantial variation in the degree to which the use of location-specific data weighed with the use of assumptions when performing risk calculation. In general, the included studies’ complexity did not appear to be associated with greater result certainty. Factors relating to pathogen dose were commonly influential on risk estimates whereas dose-response parameters tended to be of low relative influence. In two of the included studies, use of the ‘susceptible fraction’ factor was inconsistent with recognised guidance and potentially led to the underestimation of risk. While approaches and assumptions used in QMRA need not be standardised, improvement in the reporting of QMRA results and uncertainties would be beneficial. It is recommended that future authors consider the water supply QMRA reporting checklist developed for the current review. Consideration of the broad types of uncertainty relevant to QMRA is also recommended. Policy-makers should consider emergent discussion on acute microbial health-based targets when setting normative guidelines. The continued representation of QMRA case studies within peer-reviewed and academic literature would also enhance future implementation. Further research is needed on the optimisation of QMRA resourcing given the application context.
Original languageEnglish
Article number115614
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Distributed water supply
  • Drinking water
  • Quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA)
  • Systematic review


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