Let’s imagine the human body as a machine. That machine is working 24/7: blood is moving through its pipes, the joints are the gears that get it moving, a regulation system ensures its adequate temperature, the combusted fuel and gases are excreted as wastes, and meanwhile, there are millions of processes taking place inside the small functioning processors known as cells. These processes all have one thing in common: they can’t function without water. In fact, the human body is around 60% water. That’s a lot.
Water is not only vital for the human body to function properly, but it’s also essential for our everyday life. We never heard of anyone waking up one day and going, “Hey, I’m going to shower today with sand.” We can’t “water” the plant by, say, gas? Our hygiene, drinking, cleaning, gardening, cooking, even the cooling, and heating systems need water. Even though we don’t usually pay conscious thought to it, we simply can’t live without it.
But how much conscious should we be putting into the water we use?
There’s been a lot of debate about which kind of water is safe to drink, and which is just a no-no. We’ve passed by a lot of terminologies: hard water or treated, purified or distilled, mineral or tap water, filtered or sparkling – wait, so isn’t all water the same? No, it’s not.
Lessons Learnt the Hard Way
The less developed countries learned it the hard way. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 2 billion people all over the globe use either unimproved drinking-water sources or improved sources that are faecally-contaminated. Over half a million diarrhoeal deaths in low- and middle-income countries are attributed to inadequate drinking-water, and the vast majority of these deaths occur among children under 5. Which raises an important question.
How does water get contaminated?
This takes us a few steps back to the source of water. While 70% of the earth is covered in water, only 2.5% is suitable for drinking. With two-thirds of the freshwater trapped in glaciers and snowfields, only 0.007% of the earth’s water is accessible for drinking. Accessible fresh water can be found in river, lakes, streams, wells, and springs.
During its journey from the source to our households, water can get contaminated in many ways.
- Way before its collection, surface water of river and lakes may get mixed with acidic rain, stormwater runoff, pesticide usage or industrial waste.
- Underground water that can be utilized from wells, is still water that can be contaminated with pathogens and microbes if the well is not maintained properly. Even more, careless disposals from household waste, industrial chemicals, or septic system leakage can contaminate the water.
- After collection, the chemicals added to the water in the treatments plants can be of concern.
- Even after treatment, the storage of water until it’s distributed can still make room for contamination: whether it’s piping pollution, cross-contamination with sewer lines, pressure problems or just water main breaks.
To put it simply, contaminated water may contain inorganic contaminants, microbial contaminants, pesticides or chemical contaminants. The good thing is that there are adequate regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make sure that public water, or tap water, is safe for drinking. The U.S FDA also establish regulations for bottled water, limiting the percentage of contaminants to approved levels.
Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage (HWTS)
While the EPA and the FDA combined efforts ensure that safe water is available for most US citizens, there many households worldwide that are still suffering from water that is untreated properly. You might have noticed the white spots left on your dishes after washing, or that your hair feels coarse after showering. HWTS systems ensure the quality of water you use in your house, removing the remaining contaminants found in the hard water delivered to you.
There are many options for Household Water Treatment:
- Water Softeners:
Water softening is a treatment method to remove metals such as calcium and magnesium from the hard water. It does so through exchanging those ions with sodium or potassium. While water softeners take care of the hard water issues, the system should be regularly recharged or regenerated. This process also uses a lot of water in its softening process, known as “brine”, which is then disposed into the septic system. Unfortunately, this brine might have a negative effect on the disposed wastewater, which is most commonly used by waste management agencies in irrigation. Before installing a water softener, consult with your water provider to decide if a water softener is essential to your household.
- Reverse Osmosis Systems:
Another commonly used water purification technology is Reverse Osmosis. RO works by pressuring water through a semipermeable member, such that pure water is forced out of one side, and the contaminants are left behind on the other side of the membrane. The contaminated water is disposed down the drain, and the clean water is collected in a tank for storage. RO is one the most popular and effective water treatment plans, you can even set up the system yourself, as shown by BOS here.
The drawback of RO, however, is that the system uses a lot of water. Almost 1 gallon of water is used in order to purify 1.75 gallons of water. That’s why it’s important to keep in mind to use water wisely to minimize the wasted water.
Filters may be the easiest to set up, as they’re directed attached to faucets to give filtered water. Filters are effective in removing chemicals and metals, and can also be used to improve the taste, color or odor of water. There’s quite a variety in the household available filter types, such as activated carbon filters, ceramic filters, carbon block resin or metallic alloy filters.
Other filtration types are available for fast water treatment in case of camping or traveling with no access to purified water. Such methods include sand filtration, cloth filtration, the three pot method, or using a lifestraw.
Disinfection methods are mainly used to kill the pathogens that might have found their way to your water. This might be carried on through Solar Disinfections, also known as the SODIS method, or Chemical Disinfection methods like chlorination, aquatab, or Flocculant/Disinfectant Powder.
Water Storage: Preventing Recontamination
No matter the treatment method you followed to get pure water, the way it’s stored might just get you back to point zero. Following good hygiene practice from all of the family members is important in preventing re-contamination of treated water. The storage system should also be safe, away from intervening objects (or hands). It’s also important to make sure you maintain your system properly, as the build-up of contaminants with extended periods of usage may pose more harm than using the untreated water in the first place.