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To examine the use of a novel multielectrode slipping surface discharge (SSD) treatment system, capable of pulsed plasma discharge directly in water, in killing micro-organisms.Potable water containing Escherichia coli and somatic coliphages was treated with pulsed electric discharges generated by the SSD. The SSD system was highly efficient in the microbial disinfection of water with a low energy utilization (η ≈ 10–4 kW h l–1).The SSD treatment was effective in the destruction of E. coli and its coliphages through the generation of u.v. radiation, ozone and free radicals.The non-thermal treatment method can be used for the eradication of micro-organisms in a range of contaminated liquids, including milk, negating the use of pasteurization. The method utilizes multipoint electric discharges capable of treating large volumes of liquid under static and flowing regimes.