The electric grid has just gone down in your entire state. Without electricity, the water treatment facilities stop working and the state issues a “Boil Alert” telling everyone to boil their water before drinking.
You boil your tap water and are safe, right?
Well what if the same event that caused the grid to go down also caused mass amounts of chemicals from a nearby factory to leak into the ground?
Or what if the tap water isn’t even running anymore and you’ve got to drink flood water from outside?
Would boiling work in these emergencies?
There are so many different types of emergencies that could occur – and the way to treat water is different in each of these emergencies.
In the graphic at the bottom, there are 6 questions to help you choose the right emergency water treatment method so you will be prepared for all types of disasters.
Know the Threats in Your Water!
Before you can choose a water treatment method for emergencies, you need to know the types of threats which may be in the water. These can be broken down into 6 main types:
Bacteria can get into our water when water treatment systems stop working, through runoff, or from flooding conditions. They are usually about 1-10 microns long and 0.2 microns wide. E. coli is the most well-known bacterial threat in water.
Parasites and Protozoa
These include Giardia, cryptosporidium, as well as many others. They tend to be much larger than bacteria, starting at 2 microns in size. These threats can be found in backcountry water, flood water, and water with sewage contamination.
Viruses, such as Hepatitis A, rotavirus, and Norwalk, are very tiny. They start at 0.0004 to 0.1 microns and therefore can’t be removed by traditional water filters.
The good news is that viruses usually aren’t found in backcountry waters. Viruses also have very short lifespans in water, and exposure to UV light (including from sunlight) will kill them. So, shallow flood water in a sunny area probably doesn’t pose a huge risk for viral infection. You can also use a UV water treatment method like this one.
Don’t let the term “organic” confuse you. Organic simply means that the chemicals contain carbon. This group contains some of the most dangerous chemicals, such as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) like benzene, solvents, and refrigerants. The best way to remove these organic chemicals is activated carbon filters. However, even this method isn’t 100% effective.
You probably don’t need to worry too much about organic chemicals in a disaster scenario. However, they can be a serious issue if flooding occurs and your water source is contaminated by runoff from crops (laden with pesticides and herbicides), runoff from industrial waste, or major oil spills.
I’m not saying that VOCs aren’t a risk – but in a SHTF situation, you’d be at a more immediate risk of getting diarrhea from viruses or parasites than you would of getting liver damage or cancer from VOCs.
This group includes heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, fluoride, and chlorine. The good news is that most of these toxic heavy metals are large in size and can be removed with filtering. Even your standard home water filter should do the job (though some are obviously a lot better than others).
Like with the organic chemicals, there isn’t as immediate threat with inorganic chemicals as there is with bacteria, viruses, and parasites. If your sole source of drinking water is contaminated by industrial or agricultural waste though, then you’ll definitely want to filter these out.
The earthquake in Japan which caused damage to a nuclear plant made a lot of people rethink the risk of radiation poisoning. Ways that you can reduce levels of radium in water include: activated carbon filtering, ion exchange, reverse osmosis, and nanofiltration.
But let’s be honest here: if your area gets hit by a nuclear disaster, you better get out! Rely on your stored drinking water (which should be okay so long as it is sealed) until you get far away from the site of contamination.
Guidelines for Choosing an Emergency Water Treatment System
Not sure about what each of these water treatment methods are? Read: The 9 Methods of Disaster Water Purification and their Pros/Cons.