Waterborne disease prevention through proper applied knowledge

Feb. 1, 2013

A career in water treatment is certainly a path that is rich with opportunity, profit potential and goodwill toward those in need. From small water …

A career in water treatment is certainly a path that is rich with opportunity, profit potential and goodwill toward those in need. From small water treatment dealer to lawmaker, we are all individuals who are committed to studying the science needed to produce clean, healthy water and spread awareness and resources to areas most in need. On the flip side, we are also privy to all of the microorganisms, heavy metals and other potentially harmful contaminants in the water that we are exposed to each day. For others, ignorance may be bliss some of the time, but surely not all of the time.

For instance, arsenic is a common contaminant that most people know about. When present in source water, municipalities treat this contaminant to acceptable levels for public use. And, while consuming small trace amounts of arsenic over a short period of time may pose no threat at all, some research shows that consuming arsenic even in small amounts over a lifetime can be damaging to health.

The pathogen impact and more information

Consuming pathogens, including bacterium, virus and other microorganisms, however, in water just once has the potential to cause illness. There are plenty of easy to share and understand resources available on common pathogens in water. And, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates certain waterborne disease-causing organisms. These pathogens are: Cryptosporidium; Giardia lamblia; Legionella; and viruses (enteric).

More information about these contaminants and EPA’s Basic Information about Pathogens and Indicators in Drinking Water can be found at: http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/basicinformation/pathogens.cfm.

For EPA’s Drinking Water Pathogens and Their Indicators: A Reference Resource, please visit http://www.epa.gov/enviro/html/icr/gloss_path.html.

Target audience for treatment

Customers receiving water from a municipality can be assured that the water coming into the home or business has been disinfected using such technologies as ultraviolet light (UV) or chemicals, such as chlorine. Although customers using a private well might have to come up with a more comprehensive solution to eliminating pathogens in water, municipally supplied customers are also at risk of consuming these harmful organisms and getting sick.

For example, homes and businesses located farther away from the treatment facility will have less chlorine residual in their water to the faucet compared to homes and businesses near the plant.

Additionally, as we have seen with the popularity of bottled water and water in general, more people are taking water on the go and using multiple sources throughout the day than ever before. So, who is the target audience?

Carl Palmer, president of Seychelle Water Filtration Products, a company that specializes in portable water filtration systems, notes that his research indicates that 75 percent of the water we drink in our lives is away from home. Therefore, even customers with a residential disinfection solution in place can benefit from industry solutions, such as those offered by Palmer’s company.

And, according to Ronald Braun, managing director for VIQUA, millions of people contract waterborne diseases every year. “Harmful microbes can appear in any water system at any time, if the conditions are right,” he adds. “There are thousands of boil water advisories across North America every day and most people never hear about them.” Braun also cites aging infrastructure and water mains that are breaking at alarming rates as ways pathogens can enter the water source to the home for municipally supplied customers.

Water treatment dealers need to spread the word and facts to customers who believe disinfecting water should only be the job of a treatment facility. The message to customers needs to be that bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms can enter water through many ways, including after it leaves the municipal facility, and secondary disinfection at the point-of-use (POU) or point-of-entry (POE) should be considered to preserve health and well-being.

Well water customers

For customers drawing their water from a well, although EPA does not regulate private wells, disinfecting the water is considered, at a minimum, best practices. Some people and dealers, looking for the most cost effective route, will research the Internet and try to implement treatment to a new well or an inactive well. This route comes with risk.

“If it is a new well or a well that hasn’t been active in a few years, you should get a well expert involved,” suggests Pieter de Vries, product development manager for UVDynamics Inc. This expert can implement the correct shock treatment, set up and maintenance needed to care for the customer’s specific well.

According to de Vries, your well customers need to understand that a disinfection solution is not a set it and forget it answer. Instead, the water treatment dealer and the customer need to examine the use of the area, other wells nearby, frequently test the water and take other proactive steps to ensure the quality of the well water.

Further, well owners need to be aware of their surrounding environment and the condition of other wells in the area. “Even if your well is properly maintained, your neighbor’s well might not be and that could affect [your well’s water],” warns de Vries. “Further, two wells even 100 feet apart can be different.” 

Rainwater can also be a serious issue if it is collecting in the ground. And, runoff from extreme weather in general is becoming a serious issue. According to Palmer, interest in emergency preparedness equipment, including water disinfection solutions, is at an all-time high in the U.S. and around the world.

Agricultural and other runoff sources, as well as many factors, also contribute to increasing levels of pathogens in water. “Bacteria levels can be affected by many factors, including natural environmental and manmade. Farm runoff, increasing industrial runoff, water main breaks and infrastructure failures, major weather events, seasonal change, water temperature, acidity or alkalinity of water, excessive nutrients in water (nitrates) and proximity to sanitary landfills can all affect water quality. The best way to minimize risk is to have a POE water treatment system in your home or business that will treat your water for these microbes and give you peace of mind,” states Braun.

Suggested treatment options

For all residential and light commercial customers looking to minimize risk of consuming and being exposed to disease-causing organisms in water, there are several recommended treatment options available. The most common are UV, ozone and chemicals, such as chlorination. Some consider reverse osmosis to be an effective treatment, but experts say that dealers and customers should do a little more research before selecting that route as the only disinfection solution. 

Braun breaks down some of the common options:

  • Chlorination: While probably the most common form of water treatment, many harmful bacteria are chlorine-resistant. Standard chemical disinfection, whether through municipal water treatment or private wells, won’t necessarily protect you against some of the more common disease-causing bacteria, such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium.
  • Reverse osmosis: RO can be effective in removing many bacteria and viruses from water, but not all, since some are small enough that they aren’t caught in the filtration membrane. Bacteria can also buildup on the membrane, and if there’s a rupture, a large dose of potentially harmful bacteria will be dumped into your water. Adding a UV system in conjunction with an RO system would be better water security.
  • Ultraviolet: UV purification is a safe, chemical-free option for water purification that destroys 99.99 percent of bacteria and viruses. As the water passes through the chamber containing the UV lamp, harmful bacteria are exposed to lethal doses of ultraviolet light and rendered harmless.

Additionally, de Vries suggests that customers and dealers know about disinfection by-products, which is when certain disinfectants can react with naturally-occurring materials in the water to form byproducts, which may pose health risks. The effectiveness of the market’s disinfection treatment options and proper installation are well known. Keep customers safe throughout the life of the investment of this technology through complete awareness.

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