This section discusses various types of water treatment devices which can be used during an emergency to provide a continuing supply of potable(drinkable) water for your family. This water can then be stored in one or more of the systems discussed in the preceding sections.
If water you locate is brackish, first strain the debris through a paper towel, clean cloth or coffee filter. Then treat by one of the methods described below. Before we look at those specific treatment methods, let's examine the various types of contaminants for which we are taking these special precautions.
Unpurified drinking water may contain four things that pose health risks:
- protozoan parasites
- toxic bacteria
- harmful viruses; and
- poisonous chemicals.
The first three categories are pathogens(disease causing) while the fourth is self explanatory.
Protozoa include the well-known Giardia and Cryptosporidium. These two scoundrels have been detected in 90% of U.S. surface waters and are very common in Canada. Protozoa are the largest organisms of the three pathogen categories, ranging in size from 1-16 microns(one micron - 1/1000 of a meter).
They are more resistant to disinfection by iodine or chlorine than either bacteria or virus, but can be effectively filtered with the proper technology. Giardia are relatively large and easy to catch, but "Crypto" is a sneakier, smaller felon, more likely to pass through units which depend upon filtration for parasite removal.
Devices which protect against Crypto must be proven to remove 99.9% of this organism.
The second category is bacteria. Bacteria include commonly-known organisms such as Campylobacter, E. coli, V. cholera, and Salmonella. Bacteria are intermediate-sized organisms, ranging from 0.2 to about 10 microns. They respond well to disinfection, and can be effectively filtered by any filter that is proven to remove 99.9999% of bacteria.
The third category of pathogens is viruses. Commonly known viruses include Rotavirus, Hepatitis A, Norwalk and Polio. Viruses are truly tiny; they range in size between 0.02 and 0.085 microns, which makes them extremely difficult to filter. Viruses respond well to certain types of disinfection and can be effectively inactivated using a process proven to remove or inactivate 99.99% of virus.
The fourth category, poisonous chemicals, may not pose an immediate health threat as do pathogenic micro-organisms(first three categories) but can raise havoc with the body by destroying great numbers of healthy cells, thus reducing the body's immune capabilities and perhaps opening the door to some type of illness or organ malfunction at some later date.
Even simple chemicals such as chlorine, in high levels, from swimming pool water, should be avoided through the use of proper filtration techniques.
The vast majority of pathogens are introduced by animals, but human beings are also carriers. Feces wash into drainages, carrying with them the disease-causing pathogens. Water moving through the drainages spreads pathogens downstream. Waterborne viruses are unique in that they are species-specific; i.e. human fecal matter must be present for there to be a viral threat to humans.This entire scenario is exacerbated during an emergency.
Reactions range from no symptoms at all, to desperate illness, to death for some immune-compromised individuals as we noted in the Milwaukee example earlier. Your reaction will depend on the specific pathogen and on your immune system.
As we noted earlier, immune systems vary from individual to individual, based on genetic make-up and medical history.
If you are exposed to pathogenic micro-organisms, you may be one of the lucky few who experiences few, mild, or no symptoms. For the rest of us, after drinking contaminated drinking water, there will be an incubation period of between a few hours(e.g. Salmonella) and a couple of months(e.g. Hepatitis A or C), during which no symptoms will be evident.
During this time, the pathogen is invading your system and multiplying. When concentrations of the pathogen reach a certain threshold, you enter the "manifestation" period during which you begin to feel symptoms.
That is the tidy medical description. Reality is not so tidy: infection by waterborne pathogens often leaves you looking like a dog's dinner and feeling like you have been hit by a truck.
Fever, cramps, fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, dehydration, and general malaise can either sneak up on you slowly, or slam you all at once. During the manifestation period, being more than 10 seconds away from the nearest bathroom is often a bad idea. (Functional bathrooms may be in short supply during water or utility emergencies). It's easy to see that the best idea is not to take risks where you might be exposed to bad drinking or cooking water.
Some people bounce right back, some are hit so hard they're bed-ridden or even hospitalized, and a very few can't shake the disease at all.
Maintaining an adequate and pure supply of drinking and cooking water will be critically important during any emergency.
METHODS FOR EFFECTIVE WATER TREATMENT DURING AN EMERGENCY
Although some sources indicate shorter times, we recommend bringing water to a rolling boil and maintain for a minimum of 10 minutes. For every 1000 feet above sea level, add one minute of boiling to the initial 10 minutes. If the water pot is covered, it will shorten the time to reach a boil. Although this method is recognized as the safest treatment under survival or emergency conditions, it is impractical for all but a limited amount of water. IODINE/CHLORINE(CHLOROX) TREATMENT - when properly performed, it is effective against almost all pathogens, including viruses- affects taste of water
- kills all pathogens, including viruses
- no special equipment required
- requires fuel(electricity assumed not available)
- time consuming
- impractical for all but a limited amount of water
- temperature sensitive
- not recommended for long term use
- dosage: using ordinary 2 percent tincture of iodine from the medicine chest, 3 drops per quart of CLEAR water, or 6 drops to each quart of cloudy water, and stir thoroughly, allow water to stand for at least 30 minutes before using or filtering for additional protection.
The addition of iodine or chlorine is another option for rendering contaminated water drinkable. Some experts discuss the use of chlorine in the form of bleach,which must contain(and be so marked) 5.25% sodium hypo chlorite without soap or phosphates. However, in addition to its immediate poisonous effects, bleach can kill micro-organisms that a natural and vital part of your digestive system. Iodine is preferable to bleach when one has a choice in the matter.
If you choose to use bleach to purify water,
the recommended dosages are 8 drops(1/8 tsp or .5ml) for 1 gallon of CLEAR water; 18 drops(1/4 tsp/1.25 ml) for CLOUDY water.When storing water in 55 gallon drums or inflatable bags, use 55 ml or a stingy, 1/4 cup per 55 gallons of capacity.
Remember, these doses above are for treated city water which has(or should) have a chlorine demand of zero. Water obtained from other sources(lake, stream, etc.) will need more. GET A TEST KIT for free chlorine so guess work is gone. Target your treatment at 3-5 parts per million(ppm) free chorine for city water and 5 ppm for field water.
For use during an emergency, it is recommended that for drinking and cooking, this water be further filtered(see section below) to remove any residual bacteria as well as chlorine prior to use .Bleach loses it strength with time: products which have been on the shelf for one year will be only 50% as effective. In that case the amount used will have to be doubled.
Use a magic marker to indicate date of purchase. Use an eyedropper for dosage, mix well and allow water to stand at least 30 minutes before filtering(for chlorine removal) and usage.Back to iodine for a moment, as it is the preferred process for virus control. Iodine crystals or tablets are inexpensive, lightweight, compact and effective at destroying viruses and most bacteria.
Iodine in tincture or tablet form has difficulty in dealing with the protozoa we noted before(Cryptosporidium and Giardia) because these rascals have a hard, egg-shell shield around them and even straight clorox will not affect them. Iodine thus needs to be combined with a special filtration process(described below) in order to remove all three types of pathogens we listed earlier.
There are limitations to iodine. It takes time to work, its effectiveness is dependent on the pH(acidity/alkalinity) of the water, temperature(cold water reduces its effectiveness) as well as the amount of dirt and/or silt in the untreated water. Taste is also objectionable, but can be removed when used in combination with the filters described below.Also of concern are the possible health risks associated with its use.
Although iodine is considered an essential nutrient, long term ingestion is not recommended. Limitations of a few days to a couple of weeks is suggested, with individuals having weak immune systems on the short side of that limit. Pregnant women and individuals with thyroid problems should consult a physician before using iodine in this situation.
STABILIZED OXYGEN One final chemical process which might be considered is called "Stabilized Oxygen". A wide variety of manufacturers are producing oxygen-enriched "concentrates" which, when added to water are intended to increase oxygen levels in the body but also act as a mechanism for killing bacteria. some of the products on the market include Aerox, Genesis 1000, Dynamo 2, Aerobic 07, Aquagen and others.
Some reports indicate that these products are quite effective in treating water, without the possible side effects of iodine or chlorine/clorox. That issue is one which is still evolving. My viewpoints on these types of products are mixed and I am not making a recommendation for or against any of the above manufacturers. But, I feel that the verdict on oxygen-enriched concentrates is yet to be rendered for situations as might be encountered in a full scale water emergency.
What IS known is that excessive amounts of oxygen may dramatically reduce expected body cell lifetimes as well as damage DNA. If you use and feel confident with these product, we encourage you to proceed as you see fit.
Our personal view is that when the rubber meets the road---real hard---one should rely on tried and tested methodologies which have proven that they can keep individuals alive and well during the most horrendous water conditions. Oxygen-enriched concentrates may have some intrinsic advantages for day-to-day health enhancement but in our opinion have not met trial by fire yet.