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Emergency Treatment of Drinking Water

Emergency Treatment of Drinking Water

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Published by: RonLayton on Sep 12, 2010
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Technical Notes for EmergenciesTechnical Note
No. 5
Draft revised: 7.1.05
Emergency treatment ofdrinking water
at point-of-use
World Health Organization
This note is about simple treatment of drinking water atpoint-of-use for people in, or just after an emergency.The options suggested are quick short-term measuresto provide a safe survival level supply of drinking waterfrom unsafe polluted water sources. The options shouldbe sustainable until a longer-term safe and cost-effective supply is available to the population.The methods described are suitable for water takenfrom any source but, in general, will only removephysical and microbiological pollution. Pollution bychemicals such as after a spillage of industrial wastewill not normally be removed by these processes andspecialist advice should be taken.In general terms, treatment of water at household levelfollows the processes shown in Figure1. However,depending on the quality of raw water, some processesmay not be necessary.Such cloths remove organisms known as
,which act as intermediate hosts for the guinea-wormlarvae. The cloth must always be used with the samesurface uppermost. The cloth may be cleaned usingsoap and clean water.
Aeration is a treatment process in which water isbrought into close contact with air for the primarypurpose of increasing the oxygen content of the water.With increased oxygen content:
volatile substances such as hydrogen sulphideand methane which affect taste and odour areremoved;
carbon dioxide content of water is reduced; and
dissolved minerals such as iron and manganeseare oxidised so that they form precipitates, whichcan be removed by sedimentation and filtration.The close contact between water and air required foraeration can be achieved in a number of ways. At ahousehold level, rapidly shake a container part-full of
Pouring water through a clean piece of cotton cloth willremove a certain amount of the suspended silt andsolids. It is important that the cloth used is clean, asdirty cloth may introduce additional pollutants.Specifically made monofilament filter cloths may beused in areas where guinea-worm disease is prevalent.
Figure 1. General steps in the water treatmentprocesses undertaken at household level
Raw waterAerator trayAeratedwater
Figure 2. Aerator trays
Technical Notes for Emergencies
Draft revised: 7.1.05
Technical Note
No. 5
water, for about five minutes and then stand the waterfor a further 30 minutes to allow any suspendedparticles to settle to the bottom.On a larger scale, aeration may be achieved byallowing water to trickle through one or more well-ventilated, perforated trays containing small stones, asshown in Figure 2. Again, the water must be collectedin a container and allowed to stand for about 30minutes to settle suspended particles.
Storage and settlement
When water is stored for a day in safe conditions, morethan 50% of most bacteria die. Furthermore, duringstorage, the suspended solids and some of thepathogens will settle to the bottom of the container. Thecontainer used for storage and settlement should havea lid to avoid recontamination, but should have a neckwide enough to facilitate periodic cleaning. Forexample a bucket with a lid could be used for thispurpose.Water should be drawn from the top of the containerwhere it will be cleanest and contain less pathogens.Storage and settlement for at least 48 hours alsoeliminates organisms called the
, which act asintermediate host in the life cycle of bilharziasis(
, a water-based disease prevalent insome countries. Longer periods of storage will leaderto better water quality.A household can maximize the benefit of storage andsettlement by using the three-pot system illustrated inFigure 3.
Filtration is the passage of polluted water through aporous medium (such as sand). The process uses theprinciple of natural cleansing of the soil.
Simple up-flow sand filter
Simple household filters may be put together insideclay, metal or plastic containers. The vessels are filledwith layers of sand and gravel and pipework arrangedto force the water to flow either upwards or downwardsthrough the filter. Figure 4 shows a modified simpleupward rapid flow filter.A filter such as this could be built from a 200 litre drum.It has a filter bed made up coarse sand (of about 0.3mdepth) of grain size between 3 and 4mm diameter, andsupported by gravel covered by a perforated metaltray. The effective filtration rate of such a filter could beas high as 230 litres per hour.Such filters must be dismantled regularly to clean thesand and gravel and remove any settled silt. Thefrequency of cleaning is dependant on the level ofturbidity of the raw water. Furthermore, such filters arenot effective at removing the pathogens. Therefore thewater must be disinfected or stored for 48 hours inorder to make it safe.
Charcoal filters
Charcoal can be quite effective at removing sometastes, odours, and colour. Ordinary charcoal availablelocally could be used, but activated carbon is moreeffective, though rather expensive. An example of sucha filter is the UNICEF upflow sand filter, illustrated inFigure 5. However, if the charcoal is not regularlyrenewed or if the filter is left unused for some time,there is evidence that it can become the breedingground for harmful bacteria.
Ceramic filters
Water may be purified by allowing it to pass through aceramic filter element. These are sometimes calledcandles. In this process, suspended particles are
Drinking water:
Always take from pot 3. This water has been stored for at least two days, and the quality has improved.Periodically this pot will be washed out and may be sterilized by scalding with boiling water.Each day when new water is brought to the house:(a)Slowly pour water stored in Pot 2 into Pot 3, wash out Pot 2.(b)Slowly pour water stored in Pot 1 into Pot 2, wash out Pot 1.(c)Pour water collected from the source (Bucket 4) into Pot 1. You may wish to strain it through a clean cloth.Using a flexible pipe to siphon water from one pot to another disturbs the sediment less than pouring.
Figure 3. The three pot treatment system
Emergency treatment of drinking water
Technical Notes for EmergenciesTechnical Note
No. 5
Draft revised: 7.1.05mechanically filtered from the water. The filtered watermust be boiled or otherwise disinfected. Some filters areimpregnated with silver which acts as a disinfectant andkills bacteria, removing the need for boiling the waterafter filtration. Ceramic filters can be manufacturedlocally, but are also mass-produced. They can be costlybut have a long storage life and so can be purchasedand stored in preparation for future emergencies. Theimpurities held back by the candle surface need to bebrushed off under running water, at regular intervals. Inorder to reduce frequent clogging, the inlet watershould have a low turbidity. Figure 6 shows a variety ofceramic candles.
It is essential that drinking water be free of harmfulorganisms. Storage, sedimentation and filtration ofwater reduce the contents of harmful bacteria but noneof them can guarantee the complete removal of germs.Disinfection is a treatment process that ensures drinkingwater is free from harmful organisms or pathogens. It isrecommended that this be the final treatment stage, asmany of the disinfection processes will be hampered bysuspended solids and organic matter in the water.There are various methods of achieving disinfection athousehold level:
     3     0     0    m    m
WaterCoarseSandPerforatedmetal plateRocksDrainstopper
Figure 4. A simple upflow rapid sand filter
(a) Manufactured unit(b) Candle with jars(c) Using candle with siphon(d) Porous jar
Figure 6. Ceramic filtersFigure 5. The Unicef upflow charcoal filter
Emergency treatment of drinking water
Candle filters

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