Contaminants Found In Water
During an emergency or disaster, it often happens that there is no electric power. Most water delivery systems are dependent on electricity, so once there is no power, there is no water. Unless you have a copious supply of emergency water on hand in your home, you will quickly have to do something to provide water for your family. While it is true that there is often a water source available, you should never use ‘found water’ for drinking unless it has been purified. There are a number of very dangerous organisms that can be found in even the clearest water that will have to be removed before the water can be used safely.
Regardless of how clear and clean the water in a stream or lake may look, it could easily be harboring a whole range of microorganisms that can cause illness. E coli bacteria are well known for the gastrointestinal trouble they can cause, and these will be impossible to detect visually. Cryptosporidium and giardia are other nasty organisms that can make you and your family very ill. Besides these, there can also be viruses like hepatitis present in the water. Many water sources are adjacent to town, cities, or other human habitations, and this presents the possibility for any of these to leach into nearby water. Animals can also spread organic pollutants when they defecate near the water.
There can also be chemical pollutants in the water that can cause long term problems as well as short term ones. Heavy metals are often present in untreated water and pesticides and fertilizers can also make their way into the water system.
What You Can Do
When presented with questionable water for drinking, the first thing that can be done is to boil it. You should bring the water to a rapid boil and let it boil for at least 5 minutes. This will kill any organic contaminants in it. Bear in mind, however, that boiling will serve to concentrate any chemical pollutants that might be found in the water. Questionable water can also be treated with bleach to purify it (this is similar to the chlorination that is carried on at water treatment plants). You will need about 8 drops per gallon to treat clear water, and 16 drops if the water is cloudy. After introducing the bleach, stir or shake the bottle to distribute the bleach, and let it stand for half an hour. At the end of that time, smell the water – you should be able to detect a faint odor of bleach. If you are unable to smell the bleach, add another 4 drops and repeat the above. Be sure that you use regular household bleach – do not use scented bleach.
Water purification tablets are another solution to treating water. These are generally available either as chlorine or iodine tablets. The iodine tablets will kill cysts that the chlorine tablets will not be able to.
A counter top water filter designed for removing both organic and inorganic pollutants is also a good idea. These come in a variety of sizes and can provide safe water during an emergency. Camp water filters also work well at a time like this. When investing in a water filter, be sure to check the specifications before purchase.