(Please start with the first article in this series.)
In the previous article, we looked at Red Cross and FEMA recommendations for treating dangerously contaminated water in an emergency. In this article, we want to take the first step to understanding WHY they recommend what they do. We need to start with a deeper understanding of water and water contamination…
POINT #1: water is water. So what do I mean by this? What is the difference between highly salty ocean water, stinky pond water, chemically contaminated water in a superfund site, or pure, distilled water? There is NO difference in the water. Water is water. The difference is the contaminants that are in the water. Remove the contaminants, and the water is the same. In fact, water continually recycles throughout our environment and it has a built-in cleaning mechanism called the hydrologic cycle.
POINT #2: you can NOT tell if your water is dangerously contaminated by how it looks, smells or tastes. Even if water looks crystal clear and tastes great, it can contain dangerous contaminants in the water. The fact is, we live in a contaminated world and we have created highly refined, very toxic chemicals that can be dangerous in extremely small quantities.
POINT #3: water contamination is not one-dimensional. There are different categories or types of contaminants that can be in water. These types of contaminants are…
PARTICULATES. Particulates are suspended contaminants that make the water cloudy, or turbid. Particulates can consist of many different substances, and can indicate the presence of biological contaminants.
MICROBIOLOGICAL. Biological contaminants are living organisms including bacteria, parasites, viruses, cysts and more, such as cholera, E. Coli, giardia, worms, etc. These organisms can cause serious illness or death.
HEAVY METALS. Heavy metals, also called inorganic contaminants, include toxins such as arsenic, fluoride, lead, mercury, nitrates and many others. Heavy metals can be very toxic and have been linked to brain damage, birth defects, neurological damage, cancer and other serious health issues.
RADIOACTIVE METALS. Radioactive metals include toxins such as uranium, radium, plutonium, cesium 137 and others. Radioactive toxins can be toxic as well as radioactive and can cause a range of health issues, especially cancer.
PETROCHEMICALS. These contaminants, called organic contaminants (because they are carbon-based) include petrochemicals such as gasoline, solvents, many pesticides and herbicides, pharmaceuticals, etc.
POINT #4: water everywhere has a different recipe of contaminants. I listed the five categories of contaminants above, but within each category there can be tens of thousands of different contaminants. The specific mix of contaminants in water is different everywhere, and it can change from moment to moment. The point is, you don’t know what is in your water.
POINT 5: many contaminants can be harmful to your health, but there is one type of contaminant that is MUCH more dangerous than other contaminants especially in an emergency situation.
In the next article we will look at the most dangerous type of contaminant.