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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Water Purification

Falling Water FallsImage by dbarronoss via Flickr
Water Purification

Water is essential to life and all living things contain it. On an average, people lose 2-3 liters of water every day and can only survive for approximately three days without water.
The concern for the wilderness traveler comes from the quality of the water available in the backcountry. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that 90% of the world’s water supply is contaminated in some form. After drinking contaminated water, there is an increased risk of illness and can result in potential fluid loss due to diarrhea and vomiting. The answer - Purify Your Water.

There are three types of waterborne pathogens to eliminate from your water supply: viruses, bacteria, and parasites (such as protozoa, amoebas, tapeworms, and flatworms).

3 Methods of Water Purification.

1. Boiling - Boiling is considered the safest and most complete method of purification, eliminating all forms of pathogens. All that is required is to bring the water to a boil. If you feel the need or the water source is highly questionable, let the water boil for one minute to be extra safe.

2. Chemical Treatment - Chemical treatments such as iodine have been shown to be effective against viruses, bacteria, and the protozoa Giardia (considered the most common cause of water borne illness in the backcountry), but are ineffective against the protozoa Cryptosporidium ("crypto"). When using a chemical treatment you should follow the directions on the bottle, but when in doubt, allow the chemical to dissolve and sit for one hour before consumption.

It should be stated that iodine treatments do have an undesirable taste and can be neutralized by adding vitamin C or a drink mix containing vitamin C, after the treatment protocol has been followed, not before.

For people allergic to iodine, there are chlorine treatments available. If you’re a women over fifty, pregnant, have thyroid problems, or taking prescription drugs you should consult your physician before use.

3. Filtration - Although filter’s can be expensive, they are considered quick and easy to use. Filtration is considered very effective against protozoa like Giardia and Cryptosporidium. To be effective against bacteria, filters must remove particles down to at least four-tenths of a micron. The problem with filtration is that by it’s self, it is ineffective against viruses. In North America, viruses are usually not a concern, but in third world countries, viruses like Hepatitis A and B are of great concern. To address the problem with viruses, you can either chemically treat the water before filtering or buy a model, which includes an iodine chamber that the water passes through. Different models even come with a charcoal element to clear the taste, which ever features you want, be sure to find one that is lightweight, easy to use, and clean. Also, be careful not to drop the filter, a crack can eliminating its effectiveness.

Method Pro’s and Con’s

Boiling
Pro’s - Effective against all pathogens
Con’s - Slow, requires fuel, and inconvenient.











Chemical
Pro’s - Effective against bacteria, viruses and Giardia. Can be combined with filtration.
Con’s - Ineffective against Cryptosporidium. Slow and tastes bad.











Filtration
Pro’s - Effective against parasites and bacteria (depending on filter size). Quick and easy to use.
Con’s - Ineffective against viruses. Expensive and may break or clog.










See you on the trail,
--Greg

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