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Drinking Water Treatment - Avoiding the Risks


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Around 1.8 million people die each year due to water-borne diseases spurring authorities and companies to work together and develop safer and more effective means of distribution. Drinking water treatment can be done in various ways but it is equally important to maintain ecological cleanliness for long term benefits. Here are the different approaches of treatment.

Introduction to Water Treatment

The process used to make water acceptable and safe for consumption is referred to as drinking water treatment. The uses may vary aside from drinking such as medical purposes, industrial processes and the like. The main goal of treatment is to eliminate or remove all present contaminants in the water and continually improve it for future use. Treated water can also be safely discharged into the natural environment without any negative ecological effects through processes like coagulation, settling or slow sand filtration.

The need for clean water continues to rise especially among developing countries. High standards are vital for drinking purposes while factories have lower purification requirements. Household connection and community water point sources may not be very safe for human consumption. Surface waters and open-wells almost always need drinking water treatment.

The Standards

Drinking water treatment requires the right technologies and applications that include both household-scale point-of-use or POU and community-scale designs. There are several approaches to destroy microbial pathogenic agents such as filtration, boiling, chemical disinfection and UV or ultraviolet radiation exposure. Field-based studies have been conducted to determine how POU approaches reduce the possibility of waterborne diseases. POU capabilities regarding disease control depends on the potential to eliminate pathogens as well as social factors like proper usage and cultural application.

The priority of POU proponents is to provide clean and safe drinking water treatment to low-income households on a regular and sustainable basis. Drinking water parameters are generally categorized into chemical or physical and microbiological. Chemical or physical include trace organics, heavy metals, turbidity and TSS or total suspended solids. Microbiological include E. Coli, protozoans, bacteria and viruses. These can affect water properties such as taste, odor and appearance.

What's in Your Water?

Water coming from surface waters such as rivers or lakes is exposed to different external conditions and elements such as acid rain, pesticide runoff, storm water runoff, industrial waste and mud. A number of natural processes can improve and cleanse the water at an extent such as aeration, presence of beneficial microorganisms and minerals and exposure to sunlight. Groundwater such as those in private wells and a number of public water supplies may take longer to contaminate. The natural cleansing processes also take longer. Drinking water contamination can include disease-causing pathogens, agricultural chemicals and hazardous household products.

Contaminants are supposed to be regulated when present in drinking water supplies and pose a risk to public health. The EPA established safety levels and margins that may be adequate for the majority but become dangerous to selected individuals and groups. Scientists use “acceptable daily intake" to assess the risk of non-cancer-causing toxic materials.

Drinking Water Contaminants

Drinking water contamination can stem from four sources namely microbial pathogens, organics, inorganics and radioactive elements. Pathogens are the most common stemming from sewage and animal waste that lead to health problems like hepatitis, salmonella infection and dysentery. Organics include pesticides and volatile organic chemicals which can lead to cancer, birth defects and system damage and disorders. Inorganics include toxic metals and nitrate that can cause poisoning and cancer. Radioactive elements include radon stemming from decayed uranium rock and soil. It can lead to lung cancer.

Peter Patterson is a health researcher and specializes on water purification. He currently is a contributing editor for The Truth About Water Filters, a site that offers consumer guidance on drinking water treatment and much more.


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