Responsible for more than 40% of diseases all over the world, water contamination and waterborne diseases are a huge problem. We see on television and hear in the news about how bad the water supply is in third world countries, but do we really understand the significance of having clean, treated water? Protecting us from cholera, typhoid and even contaminants like iron, calcium and magnesium, commercial water treatment helps give us clean water right out of the tap.
Potable water is defined as being odour-free, safe and disease-free. Ground water, surface water from a reservoir or stream and rainwater are all common sources, but these aren’t always guaranteed to be without contaminants and bacteria. In most urban centres it’s the job of the local council to ensure water is potable and safe for use.
Industrialization commonly causes contamination of water sources from discharge of toxic waste and other pollutants. Water that is naturally sourced can also contain foreign contaminants from soils, clays and heavy metals. Without a proper water treatment system of facilities to ensure that these impurities are removed, waterborne diseases can spread through contaminants quickly and easily.
For individuals trying to treat water in their own household, boiling and filtering is generally enough to get the job done. Water that has been boiled between five and ten minutes should be free from all bacteria as well as calcium and carbon dioxide. Other chemical impurities may find their way through the boiling process and are sometimes difficult to remove without a filter.
Obviously, boiling and filtering on a scale large enough for public consumption is impractical, so instead, commercial water methods often threaten this water with commercial chemicals. Bleaching powder can purify water with only 2.3 grams needed for every 1000 litres, while phosphate water treatment works to remove nitrogen contaminants commonly found in groundwater from leachate and by reacting with dissolved metals without affecting taste or odour.
While no single treatment is one hundred percent effective, with a range of chemicals and different filtering methods in place, we can purify water so that it is completely potable and free from diseases and contaminants. Understanding the effects of untreated water can really help us appreciate what it takes to keep our supply clean and us healthy. It’s more than just a tank and a tap, creating a usable water source to meet mass demand takes a lot of work and research on the latest and most effective treatment methods.