A new study of water from “holy springs” in Austria shows that the water has more harmful properties than helpful ones.
After testing water from 21 springs and 18 fonts in Austria, researchers at the Institute of Hygiene and Applied Immunology at the Medical University of Vienna found that the samples contained up to 62 million bacteria per milliliter of water. None of the water is drinkable.
The water, which is used in baptism ceremonies and other church-related activities, was full of bacteria found in fecal matter such as E. coli, enterococci and Campylobacter. The water also contained nitrates. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ingesting too many nitrates can cause serious illness, especially in infants younger than 6 months.
“We need to warn people against drinking from these sources,” said Dr. Alexander Kirschner, a microbiologist at the Medical University of Vienna. “This may represent a problem that has hitherto been underestimated, especially in hospitals, since there are a lot of people with weakened immune systems there.”
Previous studies have shown that adding a moderate amount of salt to infected holy water can help disinfect it and make it safer to ingest or use. However, Kirschner said that adding salt is not a foolproof way of sanitizing the water and believes that churches should put up signs warning their congregants about the dangers of ingesting the water, ABC News reported.
This is the study’s abstract:
“Use of holy springs and holy water is inherent in religious activities. Holy spring water is also used extensively for personal drinking water, although not assessed according to drinking water standards. Holy water in churches and chapels may cause infections via wetting of lips and sprinkling on persons. Our aim was to assess the microbiological and chemical water quality of holy springs and holy water in churches and hospital chapels. Of the holy springs investigated, only 14% met the microbiological and chemical requirements of national drinking water regulations. Considering results from sanitary inspections of the water catchments, no spring was assessed as a reliable drinking water source. All holy water samples from churches and hospital chapels showed extremely high concentrations of HPC; fecal indicators, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus occurred only in the most frequently visited churches. We conclude that it is highly necessary to include holy springs in programs for assessment and management of water quality. Public awareness has to be raised to perceive holy springs as potential sources of illness. Holy water can be another source of infection, especially in hospital chapels and frequently visited churches. Recommendations are made for proper water quality management of both water types.”