Most of us take our water for granted. We are fortunate to have comprehensive systems in place such as municipal water purification facilities to remove all of the unwanted and unsafe substances before it finds its way to our taps.
Guest post by Michelle Evans
But, what if we found ourselves in an environment where clean water wasn’t always a guarantee, such as out in the wilderness, or in a rural area that relies on well water? Or, worse yet, what if our facilities or the commercial piping systems that transported our water failed? How would we ensure our water was clean?
What Makes Water Unsafe To Drink?
Not all substances found in drinking water are dangerous. Some just affect the taste of the water, but don’t cause harm to our bodies. Other substances are much more serious and should be completely removed before water is consumed.
The number one threat to safe drinking water is microorganisms that can cause sickness such as dysentery, typhoid, giardiasis, diarrhea, and much more.
Another important contaminant to be aware of is nitrates such as fertilizers, which can reduce blood’s ability to carry oxygen. This condition is especially harmful to children. Agricultural runoff is more prevalent in rural areas that pull water from individual wells, but urban areas are not free from exposure. Agricultural runoff into local streams and rivers can have a far reaching effect on the quality of water in various municipal areas.
A pollutant commonly found in degrading pipe systems is Heavy Metals which are harmful to humans in large quantities. Drinking water contaminated by heavy metals such as arsenic, copper, and lead can result in damage to vital organs such as the liver and kidneys.
Similar in health effects to heavy metals, organic chemicals found in household products, fertilizers, and pharmaceuticals can easily access groundwater, making it unsafe to drink if high levels are present. Chemicals affect the body’s nervous system, reproductive system, circulatory system, kidneys, and liver’s ability to operate.
Some chemicals such as bleach and fluoride are deliberately added by water treatment facilities. Chlorine is used to kill harmful microorganisms. Fluoride is used to strengthen teeth enamel. Both of these substances in the wrong quantities can be harmful to your health.
How To Keep Your Water Safe
There are several ways to ensure the water you’re drinking in safe. Some are simple. Some are a little more complicated. Follow these steps, and your method for keeping water safe will be foolproof.
1. Test Your Water
Before you can treat your water effectively, you need to know what’s in it that can put your health at risk. Water testing kits are available at home improvement stores and online. Many retailers will provide a testing kit free of charge. The best kits test for a large variety of contaminants such as heavy metals (lead, copper, iron), bacteria, pesticides, nitrates and nitrates, and chemicals such as chlorine.
2. Choose The Purification Method Based On Your Test Results
If your test indicates your water is contaminated with harmful microorganisms, you can employ a few methods for getting rid of them. The easiest way is boiling. Rapidly boil any water you intend to drink or bathe in for at least one minute.
Iodine or Chlorine is another effective way to rid your drinking water of microorganisms. Iodine tablets are commonly used in the wilderness as an easy way to purify water. Bleach is more widely used in municipal water treatment facilities to make water safe to drink
Activated carbon filters that attach to your sink faucet or used in a water pitcher can trap harmful chemicals found in factory discharge, agriculture runoff, PVC pipe leaching, landfill seepage, etc. The activated carbon traps pollutants in the pores of the carbon substrate. Activated carbon filters also remove chlorine and sediment.
Reverse Osmosis (RO) is another effective method for removing chemicals that are commonly used in households that access water from a well. RO filters push water from a more chemical concentrated side to a less chemical concentrated side through a particle capturing screen. RO can remove microorganisms, chemicals, and some metals effectively.
Low levels of heavy metals can be removed through carbon filters or reverse osmosis, depending on the type of metal and the severity of the contamination. Reverse osmosis membranes can quickly become clogged from heavy metal filtration. Other, more industrial methods, use a substance to adhere to the metals and pull them out.
New technology is on the horizon making heavy metal extraction more efficient and cost effective using polymer composites to pull out lead, mercury, and other dangerous metals. These new methods could have clear implications on our ability to more quickly clean up water in municipalities suffering from decrepit water piping systems that seep lead into drinking water.
3. Test Your Water Again
You want to make sure whatever method you’re using to purify your water is doing an adequate job. You may need to combine methods depending on the nature of the contamination. Once you’ve purified your water, and before you begin to drink it, test it to ensure it is completely safe.