Water has been in the news a lot: there has been the Toledo, Ohio incident affecting 400,000 residents because toxins of algae from Lake Erie entered into the public water system. At about the same time in northern British Columbia, Canada there was a broken dam from a mining company’s toxic wastewater reservoir spilling toxic wastewater into the Fraser River drinking water system.
Between 60 and 70% of our bodies are made up of water. We need water for a multitude of biochemical reactions that constantly take place within us. We need water to “run the engine”. This includes detoxification of our bodies as water is a large part of our kidney excretions (urine) and still is a significantly percentage of our stools. Water is the basis for our blood circulation.
Having said all this it is important that we insist only drinking pure water. In the following I will describe why this can be a problem and how to solve this problem.
Brief history of water purification
The first sand filter for water purification was developed in Scotland by a private company in 1804.
Based on this success, the Chelsea Waterworks Company in London in 1829 was founded, which was the first public water supply in the world. When a choleraepidemic hit London in 1854, physician Dr. Snow discovered that cholera was confined to those districts in London where water was not purified and he provided the authorities with a dot map depicting the cholera cases in London, which correlated with the water system that used no filtration methods. When the pumps were switched off in this district of London, the cholera epidemic subsided.
Europe adopted the English model in the late 1800’s and added sewage treatment plants in order to separate wastewater from drinking water. The first sewage treatment plant was built in Frankfurt in 1887. This was necessary because of huge epidemics of cholera and typhoid fever that swept through Europe. When separation of sewage and drinking water was achieved, these epidemics stopped.
It is interesting that minimal water standards were introduced in the US only in 1914 and it took until 1940 before water purity was legislated federally.
Toxins in water
Townships have to get the drinking water they pipe into your house from somewhere. Often this is a lake, an artesian well or several artesian wells combined; in the past it was from rivers, but they are now mostly contaminated with sewage and chemicals.
There is the added problem that natural soil compositions vary tremendously throughout a country, so that arsenic is found very high in some parts of the world and the drinking water can be high in arsenic in those places.
Arsenic is contained naturally in soils of some areas, so-called “hot spots“.
It follows from here that some springs can also be contaminated with arsenic and other heavy metals. Heavy metals poison our internal enzyme systems and interfere with the body’s metabolism.
A well is more likely to contain arsenic than a river or lake as a water source. But we do not only concern ourselves with toxins; viruses and bacteria are also a problem.
Bacterial and viral contamination
In Europe, before cities built sewage systems it was not uncommon that excrements from humans and animals found their way into the well that was used for drinking water. We like to think that we are safe now with all of the laws and measures in place, but the various news stories teach us otherwise. Common bacterial contaminants are Salmonella, E.coli (strain O157:H7), Giardia lamblia, Legionella, the parasite Cryptosporidium and others.
In Canada there was a tragic incident in 2000 where thousands of residents of Walkerton, a small town in Ontario were exposed to E.coli (strain O157:H7). This was due to a chlorination unit that was not working, but those who were responsible for water quality maintenance were denying it and were not even properly trained to run the chlorination equipment.
Water testing is at the beginning of any water purification system and intermittent ongoing testing is at the center of monitoring water quality on a permanent basis. Water inspectors need to constantly monitor the water source, the water purification process and the delivery system.
Many people in rural Canadian or US towns depend on well water. The same logic is true for water quality with regard to well water as it is for municipal water; just it is on a smaller scale.
You want to know what your water is like. It is not difficult to find out: take a water sample and have it analyzed at a water company. Depending on the result the water company will advise you what kind of filter you will need.
The first purification stage typically is an activated carbon filter that removes organic compounds, radon and other impurities. Every three or four days the filter automatically backwashes and cleans itself for about 45 minutes. Once a year the activated carbon has to be removed and replaced by a new filter. This type of filter is also useful for people who are on municipal water, but want to remove the halogens (fluoride, bromide, chloride) used to disinfect municipal water.
The second stage is an ultraviolet irradiation device. This disinfects the water just prior to coming to your water tap from any bacteria, viruses or parasites.
It is recommended that you also install a reverse osmosis system under your main kitchen sink. It will provide you with purified drinking water. Water produced by this filter goes through additional activated carbon filters and finally must pass through a porous membrane where only water can pass through, but heavy metals and other impurities will not. During an outbreak of Cryptosporidium in 1996 in Kelowna, BC those who had a reverse osmosis system were safe from this pathogen.
You can brush your teeth with confidence with reverse osmosis water, even if your drinking water is contaminated.
Proper water purification
If you are on municipal water, find out what system the municipality is using to ensure water safety. Usually there is a first step of a slow sand filter, where the raw water is first purified, then it undergoes a water chlorination, bromination or fluoridation process, which is done to remove bacteria and viruses. We know, however from a series of outbreaks of Cryptosporidium gastroenteritis cases in municipalities that only used this two stage purification process, that a third step, namely ultraviolet germicidal irradiation, is also necessary to eradicate this microscopic parasite.
Cryptosporidium was the problem behind a drinking water problem in the summer of 1996 in Kelowna, BC, the town of the interior of BC, Canada where I live. 50,000 residents had to get their drinking water from water trucks that were parked at certain locations of the town (about 40% of the population was affected by this water problem). Kelowna now has a modern ultraviolet irradiation system in place.
Immune system compromised people
People whose immune system is compromised such as AIDS patients or patients who had chemotherapy for cancer are very susceptible to Cryptosporidium and other parasites, bacteria and viruses. For them it is particularly important that the third stage, the ultraviolet irradiation step be part of the municipal water treatment process. If this is missing, have a home unit installed by a water company.
It is interesting to see how in Europe the history of water purification has been tightly linked to the history of cholera and typhoid fever epidemics; the quest for learning from these mistakes of the past has brought new solutions. The mistake in the past had been that in water sources wastewater contaminated the drinking water sources. To our modern thinking this seems unimaginable. But recent events that we read about in the news remind us that we cannot be lax on water purification. It is a reality that the same mistakes from the past are still sporadically made now! Know your water source; know the water quality of the water you brush your teeth with (for instance use only bottled water for this in Mexico). Remember that in many development countries to which you may travel there is no clear separation of drinking water and wastewater and there may not be a three-phase filtration system in place that I described above.
Enjoy drinking your clean, refreshing clean water until I meet you again in another blog.
More information on gastroenteritis (from unclean water): http://nethealthbook.com/digestive-system-and-gastrointestinal-disorders/gastroenteritis-food-poisoning/
Last edited Nov. 8, 2014