Water covers 71% of the surface of the earth, and yet only about 2.5% of the total water of the earth is freshwater. Though it is a very important resource for our planet, according to the United Nations, by 2025, 1.8 billion human beings will be living in areas of water scarcity. Drinkable water has been, and will continue to be, a major issue for many people on the planet, and so being able to use water purification methods is a very important skill. As humanity's population steadily increases towards about 10 billion, water purification technology may be one of the most important industries of this and possibly the next century.
Waterborne disease like giardiasis (commonly known as "beaver feaver"), hepatitis, typhoid fever, pontiac fever, legionnaire's disease, cholera, amebiasis or viral gastroenteritis can leak into water supplies. Small bugs and larvae also can exist in freshwater, as well as other microorganisms. Besides biological contaminants, there are also a variety of chemicals that are carried away by water. Water can carry acidity, sediments, lead, iron, sodium, pesticides, or sometimes even radiation. H2O's chemical qualities, which helped enable life to form in the first place, now enables it to carry a variety of unneeded items into the home.
Water purification basically involves removing these biological, chemical and solid contaminants from drinking water. Water purification methods can involve chlorination, filtration, pasteurization, ultraviolet radiation (UV), distillation, or, in emergencies, even simply boiling. Usually a combination of procedures is used in bringing water to the home. Billions of dollars are spent creating America's safe water. However, some states report a great deal of problems with drinking water, so a secondary system is sometimes required. The Safe Water Drinking Act (1974) enforces health standards for the United States, and requires public notifications of potential contaminants. All homeowners should pay attention to community notifications and follow instructions regarding how to treat contaminated water.
For more effective home water purification for the tap, filtration systems are often used, which usually involve either Point of Use (POU) or Point of Entry (POE) filters. Filters range in pore size and efficiency. Pores are usually between .001 of a milometer (a micron), or .001 of a micron (a nanometer). They can also range in material (carbon, iron, or a mechanical filter). They handle a great deal of issues; however distillation systems, UV treatment systems, and water softeners are also often used for home water purification. Each type of system involves targeting specific types of contaminants. For instance, if your issue is water hardness, you may want to employ a water softener, and if your water has an odd odor, you may want to remove it using a carbon filter.
In emergency situations, water purification and conservation is essential. Generally it is recommended to collect and store one gallon of water per person per day. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) insists on using safe sources of water first, but if you have no other sources of stored or reliably clean water, treat water by boiling (allowing for five minutes of rolling bubbles), chlorinating (using 8 drops of unscented household bleach per gallon of water), distilling (by collecting water vapors after boiling), or using a combination of methods. Don't drink cloudy, dirty water, otherwise an emergency situation can get incredibly worse very quickly.
In a survival situation, largely the same rules apply, however, sometimes individuals are on the run, don't have a pot for boiling, or have difficulty in making a fire. Often tablets, iodine drops, or bleach is used to chemically clean freshwater (it is usually recommended to pack these items before hiking or camping trips). Water should be taken from a moving or fast-moving source like a stream. If water continues to be muddy or foul-smelling, make-shift water filtration can be used, or the water can be left alone to stand so that silt drifts to the bottom.
Drinking water needs to be purified in order to avoid ingesting bacteria, viruses, bugs, sediment, or a variety of metals and chemicals. Use water purification techniques to remove these sickness-causing contaminants from tap water in the home, in emergency situations, or in survival mode. Use the following links as resources:
- Water on Tap b What You Need to Know
- Food & Water b Water Contaminants and Purification Guide
- The Story of Drinking Water
- Survival Guide b Water Purification
- The Backpacker's Field Manual b Guide to Water Purification
- Home Water Treatment Systems
- Understanding Home Water Treatment Systems
- A Guide To Drinking Water Treatment Technologies for Household Use
- Emergency Water Purification
- Emergency Preparedness b Managing Water
- Desalination and Water Purification Technology Roadmap Report
Written By: Lynn Taylor