Health and Lifestyle
Testing The Waters
December 3, 2014

Every morning the first two things I do are wash my face then make my way to the kitchen to fix a pot of coffee. Both actions performed with water straight from my faucets. Clean water that I take for granted. Not until recently have I ever eyed that liquid suspiciously as it streamed into the sink. Oh, don’t get me wrong. There have been times when there have been certain local disasters that resulted in public notices warning everyone to boil their water until further notice. But what if authorities had not known? Worse yet, what if they had known but failed to warn the public?

Water is critical for human survival. The average person should consume about three liters daily, and that’s not even taking into account water needs for personal hygiene. In developed countries, people in urban areas are dependent on local authorities to provide clean drinking water. How, then, can the average city dweller test the quality of their own water if they suspect that their municipality could be letting them down?

Local, independent labs can provide a base-line first test or you can access the latest test results of your local municipality. These results can then be used to compare to future tests of your own to determine if any new contaminants are present. But what if a person can’t afford their fees? Test kits are available at do-it-yourself home centers as well as online. Many are affordably priced and test for contaminants such as lead, bacteria, and pesticides.

Although home tests are not as accurate as a laboratory analysis, they work well enough to let you know if you have a problem.  But remember, there is really no guarantee that your drinking water is safe if you are not the one doing the purifying.

Water can be full of all sorts of problematic contaminants. Some are easily detected, even with the naked eye or nose, and some are virtually invisible except when seen with a microscope or revealed with a chemical reaction on a test strip.

Bacteria like streptococci is virtually invisible. Iron can usually be detected because it gives the water a yellowish or orangeish hue and causes a bitterness in taste. Manganese will create blackish or purplish stains on your bathroom sink or toilet bowl. It tastes bitter as well. Sulfur is invisible but smells bad. Lead is perhaps the most insidious contaminant. It is common, invisible and a dangerous neurotoxin.

If you’ve decided not to put your trust in your local authorities, or, you find yourself in the midst of a catastrophe and need to purify your own water, do not despair. It can be done. Of course, the easiest thing to do is to buy a commercial water filter. But, what if you can’t? Then you have to try some homemade water purification methods.

The quickest and easiest thing to do is boil all water. Once it starts roiling and boiling, let it go for about ten minutes. This will kill any bacteria present and should vaporize many chemical contaminants. What boiling won’t do is remove solid waste and metals or minerals.

A solar filtration system is a fairly easy contraption to put together. You will need:

  • A large water container that has a wide bottom surface (a salad bowl, soup pot or small bucket);
  • In the center of the container place a weighted cup, such as a ceramic coffee mug, but not a cup that will float in water.
  • Fill the container with water, avoiding getting any within the cup.
  • Tightly seal the filled container with plastic wrap and place a weighted object (such as a rock) on top of the plastic wrap over the cup.
  • Sit it out in the sun and allow the water to evaporate, getting trapped on the plastic wrap and dripping into the cup, a process that can take days, depending on the size of the water container.

If you live in an area that is prone to hurricanes or other types of disasters which can periodically create problems with local water supplies, it is a good idea to keep water purification tablets on hand. These can be found wherever outdoor supplies and sporting goods are sold. They won’t give the water a very great taste but they are effective at destroying any present bacteria. Simply use them according to label direction.

The tablets are usually iodine or chlorine. Keep in mind that iodine tablets may not be a good alternative for pregnant women, middle-age women or anyone who has a thyroid condition.

There is no reason to become a victim of poor water management by local authorities. You can take control of the purity of your own water even if it comes out of tap. And don’t assume that because it comes out of the tap that it is pristine and harmless.

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