You are on page 1of 7

Types of Impurities in Water

What makes water dirty, what types of impurities in water, and how to make dirty water drinkable. What are the causes of water pollution and Water Borne Diseases? We answer these questions of Water Contamination here. Contaminated Water is mainly due to three reasons as explained below. 1. Dirt or Suspended Solids : These are the solids which are insoluble like dust, fine sand, clay, rust, etc. They remain suspended in the water and cause cloudiness or discoloration. 'Total Suspended Solids' or 'TSS' is the technical term used to measure how much of it is there in the water. 'Turbidity' is another technical term used as a measure of the amount of Suspended Solids in the water. A simple filter usually called a sediment filter, with pore size of 20 microns or lower can remove almost all of the suspended matter in water. 2. Germs or Microorganisms : Bacteria, Germs, Pathogens, Microbes, Viruses, Parasites and their eggs (cysts) are collectively known as microorganisms. These minute living organisms, Germs and Viruses cause Water Borne Diseases. Water tanks can sometimes be a breeding ground for microbes. In the usual test for microorganisms, only one group of bacteria known as Coliform or e-coli is tested for, this is because it is the most common species, and the first microorganism to infect water. Ultrafiltration which has a pore size of about 0.01 micron is able to filter out even the smallest microorganisms, Germs and viruses. 3. Dissolved Solids : These are salts and other chemicals that dissolve in the water and cannot be removed by simple filtration. 'Total Dissolved Solids' or 'TDS' is the technical term used to give a measure of the amount of dissolved matter in the water and is usually expressed as 'ppm' which stands for 'parts per million' or as 'milligrams per liter' (mg/L). For convenience, usually the electrical conductivity of the water is measured and converted by using a multiplication factor to give an approximation of the TDS in water. To remove the dissolved solids in water it has to be distilled or special filters called Reverse Osmosis has to be used.

Drinking Water Impurities
The introduction above gave the basics of the different types of impurities of water that can get into the water, we will now go into a little more details about each of the contaminants or water impurity which cause problems in water.

Suspended Solids:

Viruses. Recently a new type of very minute one celled parasite known as Cryptosporidium of the protozoa family. provided sufficient UV radiation falls on it. Fortunately most of the microbes can be removed by disinfection with Chlorine. Some rivers or streams. Dissolved Solids: Some salts dissolved in water are not toxic in small quantities. but it is a good idea to check. These Cryptosporidium Cysts are so small that it can only be certain to be filtered out by Ultrafiltration and RO. . has been identified in water as being the cause of several outbreaks of gastroenteritis. The microbial cysts (oocysts) or eggs of this parasite known as 'Cryptosporidium oocysts' in water is what spreads the parasite. especially in water from wells and surface waters. Cholera and Typhoid outbreaks has become very rare. is being used by us daily to flavour food. etc. etc. This is usually because of sand or clay particles being so small that they do not settle down but stay suspended in the water. Dysentery. After Chlorine became widely used as a disinfectant for public water supplies from early 1900s. UV is effective in deactivating it. rusty. Now in the US and in Europe. but there is an upper limit to these dissolved solids in our drinking water. parasites and their eggs called 'Cysts'.Water with suspended solids looks cloudy. The Cryptosporidium parasite itself in water is killed by Chlorine and other disinfectants but the Cryptosporidium eggs or Cysts or Oocysts are very resistant to many chemical disinfectants. If this water is passed through a filter it becomes clear. Microbes are responsible for waterborne diseases like Cholera. Municipal water treatment facilities are installing high power UV treatment systems to make sure that their drinking water facilities are capable to remove the threat of Cryptosporidium Cysts. including chlorine. but the water may be safe to use after passing through a filter and then disinfected with UV. Typhoid. UV inactivates the cysts and prevents its multiplication and spreading. muddy. may not be toxic in small quantities. These microbes can be classified as Bacteria. The World Health Organization or WHO and most of the governments around the world has set an upper limit for dissolved non toxic salts in water to 500 ppm (parts per million) or 500 milligrams per liter of water. dissolved in the water. Most of our Public supplied water is safe with regards to TDS. For example Sodium Chloride or the common salt. but that does not mean that we can drink sea water which contain a high percentage of sodium chloride or salt. So the individual salts. but there is a limit which can be tolerated by our bodies. during the monsoon season become muddy. Microorganisms: Microorganisms or microbes are minute living things which can be present in the water. Protozoa.

Green Sand filtration. Aeration (the addition of air to the water).Ordinary filtration cannot get rid or reduce the dissolved solids in our water. chlorination. Hard water is not harmful to health as long as the TDS is within the limits. Hard water can be µsoftened¶ by replacing the Calcium and Magnesium with Sodium in an Ion Exchange Water Softener. Iron and manganese occur naturally and most ground water has some amount of dissolved iron and manganese. We have a dedicated page on hard water. Nanofiltration and Reverse Osmosis RO are good treatments to make hard water soft. Distillation of the water is one method to get rid of the dissolved solids. Some of the common problems with dissolved solids in water are discussed below. and dosing hydrogen peroxide or Potassium permanganate are some of the remedies to get rid of Iron. Hard Water: Hardness in water is caused by dissolved salts of Calcium and Magnesium. Water Softners. The other most common way to get rid of dissolved solids is by a water purification process Reverse Osmosis or RO which is described in detail in a separate page on our site. . treating the hard water with Sodium Carbonate or washing soda. Iron: Iron causes a rusty or metallic taste in water and it can also stain clothes. reduces many of its problems. RO will remove dissolved Iron and Manganese. For washing clothes. but this requires a lot of electricity or fuel and is not practical for domestic use.

For example. Water with a pH of less than 6. the acidity of a sample with a pH of 4 is ten times greater than that of a sample with a pH of 5. Water with a pH of more than 8. like in fizzy drinks. a difference of one pH unit represents a tenfold. would mean that the acidity is one hundred times greater. Because the pH scale is logarithmic.5.5 and 8. The allowable limit for pH in drinking water as per Indian and International Drinking Water Standards is between 6.5 could indicate that the water is hard. The initials pH stand for "Potential of Hydrogen". The pH of pure water is neutral or 7.5 is acidic and corrosive to metals and could have a sour taste. pH values below 7 indicate that the substance is acidic and pH values above 7 indicate that it is basic. calculated from the number of hydrogen ions present. say from 5 to 3.PH: PH is a value that determines if a substance is acid. or ten times change. neutral or basic. A difference of 2 units. Carbon Dioxide when it dissolves in water produces an acid and lowers the pH. It is measured on a scale from 0 to 14. On the right is a graphical representation of the pH values of some common items. on which 7 means the substance is neutral. Organic Chemicals : . and so on.

Toxic Chemical Impurities in Water Arsenic: It is very unlikely that the Public water supplies being piped to your homes will have Arsenic in it.a billion is a thousand times smaller than a million or 10 lakhs).01 mg/L (10 ppb or parts per billion . or suspected of causing Cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that the maximum level of arsenic in drinking water should not exceed 0. Activated Carbon filters are very effective in getting rid of such impurities in water which normally occurs in minute quantities. Chlorine which is used to keep water free of bacteria. If Arsenic contaminated water is drunk continuously. Many parts of India have Arsenic problem. So in effect they recommend that it should be zero. What this means is that the body continues to absorb arsenic without getting rid of any arsenic. The best choice will be Reverse Osmosis or RO. Arsenic can be removed by oxidation with chlorine (Sodium Hypochlorite) or potassium permanganate or coagulation with ferric chloride and then filtering it. People who use well or bore well water have to be extremely careful. etc. Exposure to arsenic can cause severe damage to health. then in a few months or years you become very sick. Trihalomethanes (THMs) and other "Disinfection by-products" (DBPs) or "Chlorination Disinfection by-products" (CBPs). They must have their water tested in a good laboratory. . soils.Organic chemicals in water makes the water smell or taste bad and also gives it some discoloration. petroleum products and other various toxic chemicals. which are all environmental pollutants and many considered 'carcinogenic'. These impurities of water can vary from pesticides. Trimethohalanes (TMHs). Arsenic is odorless and tasteless. Activated alumina and ion exchange resins are also effective. meaning that even very minute amount of arsenic in the water is accumulated in the body over time. so there is no way of knowing if your water is contaminated. so it is highly recommended to test your well and bore well waters once every 6 months. causes another problem by reacting with some organic material in the water to form harmful chemicals like Chloroform. Haloacetic Acids (HAA). Arsenic poisoning is cumulative. and waters that come in contact with these rocks and soils become contaminated. Arsenic occurs naturally in rocks.

Chromium also exists in another very rare form known as 'Hexavalent Chromium' or 'Chromium-6'. The maximum contaminant level for mercury set by BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards). The famous movie "Erin Brockovich" starring Julia Roberts.Hexavalent Chromium-6 is poisonous and should be guarded against especially by people using well water. Activated Carbon filters and RO can remove Mercury from water. usually contains Mercury and it should not be disposed or thrown on the ground or anywhere near your water supply. CFL bulbs.1 ppm (parts per million). Batteries. RO is effective in removing all heavy metal contaminants. fluorescent or tube lights. Hexavalent Chromium 6: Chromium is actually a micro nutrient required by our body in minute quantity. Mercury causes kidney damage and also many other ill effects. The Environment Protection Agency of USA ± EPA has set the Maximum Contaminant Level ± MCL of Chromium at 0. Lead : Like mercury. discharge their water without proper treatment. but the simplest one is to use an RO unit. and is harmful to health in the same way as mercury. because it is a highly toxic chemical. etc. There are several methods of getting rid of Hexavalent Chromium-6 from water. is about Hexavalent Chromium-6 and its poisonous effect on some rural people. Lead is also a heavy metal. is so set. is due to the leakage or seepage of fertilizers or farm and animal wastes into the ground water sources. Hexavalent Chromium-6 is usually introduced into ground water when chemical industries using Chromium. Nitrites and Ammonia gets into our water sources. causing the µblue baby syndrome¶ due to the infant¶s blood not being able to carry enough Oxygen from their lungs to their body. Adults may also be affected . Nitrates in water are especially dangerous to infants under 6 months. Nitrates in Water: The most common way Nitrates. This form of Chromium is the safe trivalent or 'Chromium-3'. Some of the older pipes and fittings contain lead. This very small negligible limit for mercury. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency of USA) and other well known standards is in parts per billion or ppb.Mercury: Mercury is a heavy metal and its compounds are sometimes found in the natural deposits of certain areas of India. WHO (World Health Organization).

by nitrates and nitrites in water due to the formation of chemicals called nitrosamine in the digestive per million. Activated Carbon filters are very good for the removal of radon from water supplies and it is the most common way to reduce Radon in the water. their MCLs or Maximum Contaminant Levels. Many toothpaste manufacturers add it in the toothpaste to protect the teeth against cavities. The EPA has set a maximum limit for Nitrates in water as 10 mg per Liter or ppm measured as NO3 or Nitrate. is beneficial to health. and how they harm your health is available from the EPA site or from a Copy on our site . In some countries fluorides are added to drinking water as a health supplement for the protection of teeth and bones. Fluoride in water in very small quantities. A full list of all water contaminants. The EPA has set a maximum limit of Fluorides in water as 4 mg per Liter or ppm. Fluorides occur in many water sources naturally. The only way to be certain is to get the ground or well water tested. but any excess is not good for health. RO is the best purifying method for removal of Nitrates and Nitrites in water. Radon is naturally occurring and ground waters in some areas of India may be contaminated with it. about 1 to 1. RADON: Certain minerals are radioactive and people who drink water containing it over many years may have an increased risk of getting cancer.5 mg per Liter or ppm . Excess fluorides in water can have harmful effects ranging from discoloration or pitting of teeth to bone and skeletal damage. Fluorides in water: Fluorides are chemicals that contain the element fluorine. Treatment Technique (TT) to remove them.