As I began learning about water storage, I realized that there was little way of being able to carry as much water as I would need in a 72-hour kit. Can you imagine carrying 3 gallons of water? How about your child? Water is heavy! I was in Alabama at the time. One of the things that I could not help but notice was how much water there was EVERYWHERE! You notice things like that after living in the desert for a good part of your life. With water everywhere, it didn’t seem that water storage would be as necessary as it was in Las Vegas. But what I learned as I studied about water was that even if it is in plentiful supply, it has to be purified.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 90% of the world’s water is contaminated in some way. There are a variety of microscopic organisms that can contaminate our water and can cause potentially serious, if not fatal, illnesses. Right now we depend on the filters that our cities have set up. They add chlorine and other chemicals to kill off the bacteria and organisms that are in our water. They filter out what they can. Unfortunately because all of our water goes to one place to be filtered, we are exposed to anything that has gone into our water supply including waste, medications, and cleaning chemicals. Much of it is filtered out, but often we depend on further filters in our homes. Some we add to our faucets or refrigerators. Others we buy and keep separately in containers such as water filter containers like Brita.
So, in an emergency what do we do to purify our water so that it is safe to drink and use in our food? There are many different options and types of water filtration and purification.
There are different types of contamination. Biologically contaminated water is water that contains microorganisms such as Giardia (a common microorganism that, if not killed, leads to intestinal disorders), bacteria, or viruses that can lead to infections. Toxic water sources contain chemical contamination from pesticide runoffs, mine tailings, and so on. Boiling, filtering, or chemically treating water can remove or kill microorganisms, but it will not remove chemical toxins. This is also the case when using a solar still. Do not even mess with water that contains pesticides, mine tailings, or any other toxic substance.
Boiling is the most certain way of killing all microorganisms. According to the Wilderness Medical Society, water temperatures above 160° F kill all pathogens within 30 minutes and above 185° F within a few minutes. So in the time it takes for the water to reach the boiling point, all pathogens will be killed, even at high altitude. To be extra safe, let the water boil rapidly for one minute, especially at higher altitudes since water boils at a lower temperature. Keep in mind with boiling, you must have a good heat source. You also lose important minerals that your body needs.
There are two types of chemical treatment: those using iodine and those using chlorine. There are a variety of products on the market, so follow the directions on the bottle. Many of the tablets have an expiration date and become ineffective after that point. Also, once the bottle has been opened, the tablets must be used within a certain period. When in doubt, buy a new bottle. Remember that chemical purification methods may only be partially effective, depending on the water temperature.
When using chemical treatment procedures, there are some important things to remember:
o Cloudy water often requires higher concentrations of chemical to disinfect.
- If the water is cloudy or filled with large particles, strain it, using a cloth, before treatment. Large particles, if swallowed, may be purified only "on the outside."
- Add the chemical to the water and swish it around to aid in dissolving. Splash some of the water with the chemical onto the lid and the threads of the water bottle so that all water areas are treated.
- The water should sit for at least 30 minutes after adding the chemical to allow purification to occur. If using tablets, let the water sit for 30 minutes after the tablet has dissolved.
- The colder the water, the less effective the chemical is as a purifying agent. Research has shown that at 50° F only 90 percent of Giardia cysts was inactivated after 30 minutes of exposure. If the water temperature is below 40° F double the treatment time before drinking. It is best if water is at least 60° F before treating. You can place the water in the sun to warm it before treating.
- Chemically treated water can be made to taste better by pouring it back and forth between containers, after it has been adequately treated. Other methods include adding a pinch of salt per quart or adding flavorings (e.g., lemonade mix, etc.) after the chemical treatment period.
Iodine is light sensitive and must always be stored in a dark bottle. It works best if the water is over 68° F. Iodine has been shown to be more effect than chlorine-based treatments in inactivating Giardia cysts. Be aware that some people are allergic to iodine and cannot use it as a form of water purification. Persons with thyroid problems or on lithium, women over fifty, and pregnant women should consult their physician prior to using iodine for purification. Also, some people who are allergic to shellfish are also allergic to iodine. If someone cannot use iodine, use either a chlorine-based product or a non-iodine-based filter, such as the PUR Hiker Microfilter, MSR WaterWorks, or the Katadyn Water Filter.
Chlorine can be used for persons with iodine allergies or restrictions. Remember that water temperature, sediment level, and contact time are all elements in killing microorganisms in the water. Halazone is an example of a chlorine tablet product.
Bleach is often recommended as one of the best ways to treat water if you are unable to boil your water. Do not use bleach with other things in it such as scents, boosters, etc… You just want regular bleach. Bleach breaks down fairly quickly. It has a 6 month shelf life.
1. Add two drops of bleach per quart or liter of water.
2. Stir it well.
3. Let the mixture stand for a half hour before drinking.
If the water is cloudy with suspended particles:
1. Filter the water as best you can.
2. Double the amount of bleach you add to the water.
Instead of storing bleach, you can store calcium hypochlorite. It has a longer shelf life than bleach. 1 lb disinfects 10,000 gallons of water and is enough for a family of 4 for 6-7 years.
To make a stock of chlorine solution (do not drink this!):
1. Dissolve 1 heaping teaspoon (about one-quarter of an ounce) of high-test (78%) granular calcium hypochlorite for each two gallons (eight liters) of water.
To disinfect water do this or follow instructions for bleach:
1. Add one part of the chlorine solution to 100 parts water to be treated.
2. Let the mixture sit for at least one-half hour before drinking.
There are a number of devices on the market that filter out microorganisms as well. A water filter pumps water through a microscopic filter that is rated for a certain-size organism. The standard size rating is the micron (the period at the end of this sentence is about 600 microns). Filter the cleanest water you can find. Dirty water or water with large suspended particles will clog your filter more quickly. Prefilter the water either through a prefilter on the pump or strain it through a bandanna. If you must filter dirty water, let it stand overnight for particles to settle out.
You can find water filter pumps for filtering large quantities of water. These are great to have for your large storage containers. You can also use them in lakes, pools, etc… There are also water filter bottles. These are perfect for 72 hour kits as they are light to carry, but filters all of the bad things out of your water making it safe to drink. The prices of these range from $10 - $200 each. You want something that says it removes virus and bacteria up to 6 logs (99.9999%) and removes/reduces organics and inorganics such as DDT, PCBs, THMs, Lead, Copper, Mercury, arsenic, and Chromium 6, as well as pathogens such as Guardia, Cryptosporidium, and E-Coli Bacteria. When purchasing check out the cost of replacement filters. Read instructions carefully on how to store these as well. In certain climates, they dry out or wear out sooner.
One of the coolest items I saw when learning about water purification was ultraviolet rays. Yep. The sun’s rays help purify water. But if you don’t want to sit the water in the sun forever, there are cool pens that you can buy that you press a button and a UV light comes on and you agitate the water with it as you stir. They are pricey, but effective. You don’t have to worry about pumping, chemicals, test strips, filters, and there is no aftertaste. It sterilizes clear water by destroying 99.99% of protozoa (including Giardia and Cryptosporidium), bacteria and even viruses. It protects you from risks that cause botulism, cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. It purifies 16 fl. Oz. of water in less than a minute or 32 fl. Oz in 1 ½ minutes. It is small and fits into most containers. It turns off once the treatment is complete. It can be used up to 8,000 times. It will not cause any damage to you.
Water purification is something that everyone needs to know about. Often boil alerts are put out after major disasters. I read on one news article about people asking how on earth they were going to boil water if they had no electricity or heat source. If they had known about water purification, they would have been more prepared. They would have had many different options of what to do.