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Personal Water Purifiers
written by Mike Roux

Whether you are drinking from a spring in Yellowstone or from any untreated fresh water source, you need to know you are safe from water-borne pathogens.
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There are a number of options available from the personal water purification market.

Last summer my son took a five day wilderness canoe trip in the Canadian boundary waters.  He was told to have a cup on a string, tied to his canoe, and when he got thirsty just dip water out of the lake and drink it.  A hundred years ago I may have agreed.  But I got him a small water purifier for that adventure, so as to save him many embarrassing trips to shore and sprints into the woods.

     

Whether you are drinking from a spring in Yellowstone or from any untreated fresh water source, you need to know you are safe from water-borne pathogens.  Personal water purification systems eliminate your need to carry or locate safe water.

     

Many modern water purifiers offer the advanced technology of an EPA-registered microbial purification cartridge.  The result is a personal hydration system that provides complete anti-microbial protection against the three water-borne pathogens: protozoa (including cysts), bacteria, and viruses. 

     

Typical protozoa include Giardia lambia and Cryptosporidium.  Bacteria is often the cause of infectious diseases such as typhoid, dysentery and cholera.  Viruses are the smallest agents of disease that the purifiers nullify and they typically include hepatitis A and E, Norwalk virus, rotavirus, echovirus, and poloivirus.

     

You actually have somewhat of a choice in water treatment; filters vs purifiers.  Filters remove microorganisms like giardia and other protozoa.  Some water filters come with "microfilters," that filter out smaller bacteria.  But no filter or microfilter is small enough to remove viruses.  They are a fraction of the size of even the smallest bacteria and they are responsible for some of the worst diseases contracted from contaminated water.

     

 Some water filters come with "microfilters," that filter out smaller bacteria.

Purifiers eliminate all types of these microorganisms.  They usually combine microfiltration, to remove cysts whose protective shells resist treatment, with disinfection to devitalize bacteria and viruses.  Unlike filters, water purifiers must be registered with the EPA to prove their effectiveness.

     

The goal of all water purification is to remove all of the above mentioned contaminants.  Sounds simple, but as you travel throughout the country you will find that every location has its own water problems and water quality issues.

     

There are a number of options available from the personal water purification market.  For example, backpackers, hikers, skiers and campers may have to carry large amounts of water that they get from known, safe water sources to the point of use.  Such outdoor enthusiasts cannot be sure that water in the area of use is not contaminated with troublesome biological agents, organics, metals or iron.  Removing this material at the point of use is much handier than transporting the water in from a known clean source.

     

These people want portable water purifiers that work reliably in the field.  Small activated carbon filters are available to partially "purify" water at the source.  However, such devices eventually saturate and must be replaced at a significant cost to the user.  They are also not particularly effective with regard to biological agents or heavy metals.

       

Small units are of special interest to backpackers and hikers.

Small, highly portable, lightweight, regeneratable, battery powered cells are ideal for use in this application.  In terms of size, these units are no larger than typical bathroom scales in terms of volume, weight and bulk.  Laboratory tests have proven that 1.2-volt potential is enough to clean surprisingly large amount of water.

     

These units will easily handle the drinking water needs of an individual or small group.  Units are made to fit into recreational vehicles and could be powered from the battery storage on the vehicle. 

     

Small units that are usable for an individual are of special interest to backpackers and hikers. These personal water purifiers are reliable and do not often have to be replaced.  You may, however, want to replace certain parts each spring if your purifier has set idle for several months, over the winter.

     

Some of these small systems are very convenient.  The come without all of the cumbersome tubes and hoses and do not have be unpacked or pumped.  Referred to as "scoop and suck" purifiers, they eliminate virtually all water-borne pathogens.  Other units have a hose that connects directly to popular commercial water bottles and both filter and purify at the same time.

     

Some of the filtration units combine carbon filters with ceramic ones.  This two-stage filter removes bacteria and protozoa.  It is also effective in removing chemicals such as iodine, chlorine and some pesticides and insecticides. 

     

The most commonly seen system in the field are the original "pump-type" filtering systems.  Being able to put only about one gallon per minute through these pumps makes them impractical for more than personal use.  Keep in mind that these filter units only eliminate a portion of the possible contaminates that might be in any unclean water source.  However, a few of the pump systems have a biocide pretreatment canister that can be attached that does get them all.

 

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