We drink, cook and clean with it daily at home and in our businesses we use it in steam generation, industrial component processing, dilution and chemical processing- but the quality of our H20 is something that most of us will not pay much heed to.
After all, the pure stuff that flows from our taps has been treated by regulated utility companies and we pay our bills to ensure that parasites, bugs, viruses, cysts and other unwanted extras aren’t included, right?
The fact is however that problems can and do occur, such as the growth of bacterial colonies in pipework, occasional parasite outbreaks and scale formation on equipment which requires extra energy for pumping, and compromises our finished goods with unattractive streaking.
So let’s take a closer look at what is actually in the contents of our drinking glass. Firstly, the H20 that comes from our tap will have come from either groundwater sources such as deep and artesian wells, and surface sources that include lakes, rivers and reservoirs.
The treatment process
Before we begin to use it in our communities, H20 must go through a rigorous purification and treatment process to remove harmful organisms. This will be done through a series of cleansing and purification processes, with amounts of chemicals such as chlorine, sodium chloride, potassium chloride and citric acid used to neutralise nasties.
But the process isn’t perfect and problems do occur. For example, in the 1980s a high-profile case in Cornwall’s town of Camelford saw 20 tons of aluminium sulphate being accidentally tipped into a water reservoir that served 20,000 local people. Poisonous to humans and animals alike, doctors found that the local residents were affected by a range of long-term health problems, including sustained and progressive brain damage.
Industries such as food manufacturing, healthcare and engineering will use top-quality and certified filtration and treatment products to ensure the cleanliness and safety of their supply, and use specialist suppliers to provide the systems that they require.
These include technologies such as depth filtration, surface filtration, bag filtration, carbon treatment, resin treatment, UV disinfection and reverse osmosis. These solutions provide clients across myriad industries with solutions to treat liquid where contaminants are present at levels of 0.0001 to 1000 microns.
Germs which carry disease can land up in the supply through the stool of infected animals or humans. Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that can cause particularly nasty side effects if accidentally ingested and utilities have to employ purification and testing methods to remove it from the public supply.
However, Cryptosporidium does slip through the purification net, however, and outbreaks do occur, such as the incident in Bristol last year which forced 7,000 residents to boil their water for several days.
Other microorganisms that can be present before treatment include Legionella, E-coli, Salmonella and Pseudomonas, as well as parasites such as Giardia and other contaminants such as algae, mould spores and amoebas. Many of these contaminants will cause health issues and some even may be life-threatening.
Additionally, old and corroded pipes can lead to copper and lead leaching into the supply. Nitrates, pesticides and fertiliser run-off from agriculture pose a risk, as does arsenic from industrial waste and erosion. In fact, nearly 100 contaminants are regulated by legislation because of their potential danger to human and animal life.
However, it’s not all bad news. Some of the ‘extras’ in our domestic supply are actually beneficial – such as fluoride which is beneficial to teeth, along with natural minerals such as magnesium and calcium which form an essential part of our diets in minute doses. However, caution must be exercised.
Magnesium and calcium can create scale formation and excess fluoride can cause a cosmetic condition called dental fluorosis. Some lobby groups also claim that the addition actually causes health problems in some people and this is an ongoing area of controversy.
You can generally rest assured that the H20 that comes from your taps at home is clean and safe to use, however, there are additional measures which are worth considering:
- When a tap has been sitting for a day or two unused, flush out the cold pipes for a few minutes before using it.
- Remember that the level of chlorine and other chemical additions is higher the nearer you are to a chemical treatment plant, and diminishes with geographical distance.
- Use a water filter – something that can be particularly beneficial for those with poor immune systems, pregnant women or small children, as well as for businesses who value quality control as part of their operational processes.
For further information, the WQA has further reading for businesses and consumers alike: www.wqa.org