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Healthy Living

How to Treat Water

Two-thirds of our body weight is water. It is possible to live without food for three weeks but impossible to live without water for more than three days.

Water borne infection is responsible for 80% of the diseases in India and some other developing countries.

Just check these figures out:

In Uttar Pradesh, after water works sanitation began:

  • The Cholera death rate decreased by 71.4%.

  • The Typhoid fever death rate decreased by 63.6%.

  • The Dysentery death rate decreased by 23.1%.

  • Diarrhoeal diseases decreased by 42.7%.

Unfortunately, even after being treated water gets polluted.

Whenever there is contamination of the drinking water sources, especially when there is waterlogging after rains, there is an outbreak of infection.

1. What is potable water and what are its sources?

Safe and wholesome water is defined as water, which is:

  • Free from disease carrying micro organisms

  • Free from dangerous chemical substances

The three main sources of water are:

  • Rain
  • Surface water - reservoir, stream, tank etc.

  • Ground water - shallow wells, deep wells, springs, etc.

In urban areas and big towns, the corporation or municipality undertakes the treatment of water from surface water sources and supplies it to users.

2. What are the pollutants common in water?

Naturally found water is not pure H2O. It contains natural impurities of various kinds - both dissolved and suspended impurities. These are the impurities derived from atmosphere, catchment area and soil. They can be dissolved substances - hydrogen sulphide, oxygen, ammonia, sodium or suspended impurities such as clay, silt, sand, mud and microscopic plants and animals.

The more hazardous water pollution is caused by human activity like urbanization and industrialization. Sources of pollution resulting from these are:

  • Industrial and trade waste which contain toxic agents ranging from metallic salts to complex synthetic organic chemicals.

  • Sewage which contains decomposable organic matter and disease carrying microbes.

  • Agricultural pollutants like fertilizers and pesticides such as DDT, Aldrin, dioxin.

  • Nuclear wastes.

3. What are the hazards of using polluted water?

These can be classified under two broad groups as biological and chemical.

Biological Hazards

Biological Hazards are caused by the presence of an infective agent or an aquatic host.

The presence of virus, bacteria, worms etc. causes:

  • Cholera
  • Gastric Problems
  • Typhoid
  • Dysentery (both amoebic and bacterial)
  • Round worm infestation
  • Guinea worm infestation
  • Jaundice

Chemical Hazards

The pollutants include various chemicals, such as detergents, solvents, cyanides, heavy metals, mineral and organic acids, nitrogenous substances, bleaching agents, dyes, pigments, sulphides, ammonia, toxic and biocidal organic compounds of great variety. Chemical pollutants may affect our health not only directly but also indirectly by accumulating in aquatic life such as fish that are consumed by humans.

Some of the diseases that can be spread by chemical pollutants are:

  • Skin infections

  • Intestinal disorders (by Polychlorinated biphenyls)

  • Disorders of liver, bone and circulatory system, birth anomalies (by Vinyl chloride)

  • Anaemia, bone marrow damage, leukaemia (by Benzene)

  • Damage to central nervous system (by Phthalates)

  • Carcinogenic problems (by Nitrosamine)

Though pollution seems to be an inevitable consequence of modern industrial technology, the challenge is to determine the level of pollution that permits economic and social development without causing hazards to health.

4. What are the criteria for water quality?

Drinking water should be:

  • Clear, colourless, odourless and tasteless.

  • Free of chemical substances such as chlorides, hardness, free and saline ammonia, albuminoid ammonia, nitrites and nitrates, oxygen, and dissolved oxygen. Toxic substances such as arsenic, cadmium, cyanide, lead, mercury, and selenium etc. indicate chemical contamination of water.

  • Free of bacteria such as E. coli, and faecal streptococcus, clostridium perfringens, which indicate faecal pollution.

5. How can we purify polluted water?

Purification of water is of great importance. Urban Water supply is purified in three stages: storage, filtration and chlorination. Despite this process, water gets polluted when it is piped to users due to various factors specific to India. Therefore, further purification at home becomes necessary.

Boiling and Filtering

This is an easy, time tested and a satisfactory method of purification in households. Water must be brought to a rolling boil for five to ten minutes. It kills bacteria, spores, ova, cysts and sterilizes water. It also removes temporary hardness by driving off carbon di-oxide and precipitating calcium carbonate.

There are some disadvantages in the process. The taste is altered. The precipitates have to be filtered out. It gives no residual protection, meaning, after boiling, if the water is transferred to another container, which is infected, the effects of boiling will be lost.

Chemical Disinfection

This is useful when purifying stored water as in sumps, overhead tanks or well water.

Bleaching Powder

This is chlorinated lime. It is a white powder with a pungent smell. 2.3 grams of bleaching powder is required to disinfect one cubic meter of water.

Bleaching powder is an unstable compound. When it is exposed to air, light or moisture, it quickly loses its chlorine content and becomes ineffective. Highly polluted and turbid water cannot be purified by this method.

Chlorine Solution

If 4 kg of bleaching powder with 25% available chlorine is mixed with 20 litres of water it will give a 5% chlorine solution.

Like bleaching powder this is also unstable and has to be stored in a cool, dark place.

Chlorine tablets

These are available in the market under various trade names, such as halazone tablets. These are expensive but effective for small quantities of water.

Smarter chlorine tablets have been introduced recently. These are about fifteen to twenty times as powerful as the halogen tablets. One pill of 0.5gms is enough to disinfect 20 litres of water.

Potassium Permanganate and Iodine are disinfecting agents too but high costs and side effects are their drawbacks.


Porcelain Candle filters

Water can be filtered with ceramic filters. The main part of a filter is, a candle made from porcelain or infusorial earth. The surface is coated with silver catalyst so that the bacteria coming into contact with it is killed. This method removes the bacteria found commonly in drinking water but is not effective with virus that can slip through the filter.

The candle has to be washed thoroughly once a week as it gets clogged with coagulated bacteria and other impurities.

U-V Filters

These are gaining wide acceptance in urban households. A U-V filter apparatus usually consists of a preliminary filter, which strains out physical impurities. An activated carbon cartridge rids the water of organic impurities like colour, odour, free chlorine etc.

An ultraviolet beam eliminates bacteria and viruses.

As this is done on the line, as the water runs out of the tap, there is less risk of recontamination.

The activated carbon should be changed at intervals depending on the usage and quality of water supply.


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