Water covers 71% of the earth’s surface and is vital to all known forms of life. More than two billion people still lack access to clean, safe water. Less than 1 percent of the earth’s freshwater is accessible to us. Unsafe water kills more people each year than war and all other forms of violence combined. Meanwhile, our drinkable water sources are finite and without action, the challenges will only increase by 2030, when global demand for freshwater is expected to be one-third greater than it is now.
Municipal water (tapwater) varies greatly in its purity, chemical constitution, pH, and molecular qualities. Bottled waters (filtered, distilled, spring, and others) also vary greatly in their properties. Much debate exists as to the best drinking water and various purification systems.
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The availability of safe drinking water is essential for health and well-being of humans and animals all over the world. Traditionally, microbiological quality of drinking water has attracted the most attention and this is still an ongoing issue in a large part of the world. The provision of safe drinking water, with respect to pathogens since the second half of the nineteenth century, has virtually eliminated the spread of infectious waterborne diseases, such as typhoid fever and cholera in most countries. However, during the last few decades, attention towards chemical contamination in ground and surface water has grown together with the knowledge of these toxic chemical compounds and their detrimental health effects.
Water contaminants are introduced by all kinds of human activities, such as agriculture, shipping, industry, and use of chemicals in households. Some of the chemicals affecting human health are the presence of toxic metals such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, mercury, copper, etc., as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of petrochemicals, chlorinated solvents, pesticides, nitrates and even pharmaceuticals. The toxic chemical fluoride is also intentionally added to water, as is chlorine.
Clearly, the agricultural sector is not only the biggest consumer of global freshwater resources, with farming and livestock production using about 70 percent of the earth’s surface water supplies, but it is also a serious water polluter. Around the world, agriculture is the leading cause of water degradation. In the United States, agricultural pollution is the top source of contamination in rivers and streams, the second-biggest source in wetlands, and the third main source in lakes. It is also a major contributor of contamination to estuaries and groundwater. Pesticides, such as herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, plant growth regulators, bactericides, and defoliants have been a topic of concern for surface water quality for decades. Every time it rains, fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste from farms and livestock operations wash nutrients and pathogens into our waterways. Nutrient pollution, caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in water or air, is the number-one threat to water quality worldwide and can cause algal blooms, a toxic soup of blue-green algae that can be harmful to people and wildlife.
Industry, mining and wastewater are also responsible for contaminating water with heavy metals and hundreds of chemicals. Several toxic industrially solvents are regularly detected in surface waters. Many of these contaminants are poisonous to aquatic life, often reducing an organism’s life span and ability to reproduce and make their way up the food chain as predator eats prey. That is how tuna and other big fish accumulate high quantities of toxins, such as mercury.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set standards for more than 80 contaminants that may occur in drinking water and pose a risk to human health. The contaminants fall into two groups (acute and chronic) according to the health effects that they cause.
Acute effects occur within hours or days of the time that a person consumes a contaminant. People can suffer acute health effects from almost any contaminant if they are exposed to extraordinarily high levels (as in the case of a spill). In drinking water, microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, are the contaminants with the greatest chance of reaching levels high enough to cause acute health effects. Most people’s bodies can fight off these microbial contaminants the way they fight off germs, and these acute contaminants typically do not have permanent effects. Nonetheless, when high enough levels occur, they can make people ill, and can be dangerous or deadly for a person whose immune system is already weakened.
Chronic effects occur after people consume a contaminant at levels over EPA’s safety standards over the course of many years. The drinking water contaminants that can have chronic effects include chemicals (such as disinfection byproducts, solvents and pesticides), radionuclides (such as uranium, radium), and toxic elements (such as arsenic, mercury and lead).
Examples of these chronic effects include cancer, liver or kidney problems, or reproductive difficulties.
The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, as amended, includes requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set standards for only 83 specific contaminants. The limited selection is based on the potential for causing adverse health effects and for known or potential occurrence in drinking water.
The following water treatment technologies are effective in reducing arsenic from drinking water:
1. Activated alumina filters
4. Reverse Osmosis
6. Iron Oxide Filters