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Water Quality and Contaminants

Access to safe drinking water is indicated by the number of people using proper sanitary sources. These improved drinking water sources include household connection, public standpipe, borehole condition, protected dug well, protected spring, and rain water collection.

Drink Gateway from AlansKitchen.comSources that don't encourage improved drinking water to the same extent as previously mentioned include: unprotected well, unprotected spring, rivers or ponds, vender-provided water, bottled water (consequential of limitations in quantity, not quality of water), and tanker truck water. Access to sanitary water comes hand in hand with access to improved sanitation facilities for excreta.

These facilities include connection to public sewer, connection to septic system, pour-flush latrine, and ventilated improved pit latrine. Unimproved sanitation facilities are: public or shared latrine, open pit latrine, or bucket latrine.

Throughout most of the world, the most common contamination of raw water sources is from human sewage and in particular human faecal pathogens and parasites.  In 2006, waterborne diseases were estimated to cause 1.8 million deaths each year while about 1.1 billion people lacked proper drinking water.

It is clear that people in the developing world need to have access to good quality water in sufficient quantity, water purification technology and availability and distribution systems for water. In many parts of the world the only sources of water are from small streams often directly contaminated by sewage.

Most water requires some type of treatment before use, even water from deep wells or springs. The extent of treatment depends on the source of the water. Appropriate technology options in water treatment include both community-scale and household-scale point-of-use (POU) designs. A few large urban areas such as Christchurch, New Zealand have access to sufficiently pure water of sufficient volume that no treatment of the raw water is required.

Over the past decade, an increasing number of field-based studies have been undertaken to determine the success of POU measures in reducing waterborne disease. The ability of POU options to reduce disease is a function of both their ability to remove microbial pathogens if properly applied and such social factors as ease of use and cultural appropriateness. Technologies may generate more (or less) health benefit than their lab-based microbial removal performance would suggest.

The current priority of the proponents of POU treatment is to reach large numbers of low-income households on a sustainable basis. Few POU measures have reached significant scale thus far, but efforts to promote and commercially distribute these products to the world's poor have only been under way for a few years.

In emergency situations when conventional treatment systems have been compromised, water borne pathogens may be killed or inactivated by boiling but this requires abundant sources of fuel, and can be very onerous on consumers, especially where it is difficult to store boiled water in sterile conditions and is not a reliable way to kill some encysted parasites such as Cryptosporidium or the bacterium Clostridium.

Other techniques, such as filtration, chemical disinfection, and exposure to ultraviolet radiation (including solar UV) have been demonstrated in an array of randomized control trials to significantly reduce levels of water-borne disease among users in low-income countries, but these suffer from the same problems as boiling methods.

Parameters for drinking water quality typically fall under two categories: chemical/physical and microbiological. Chemical/physical parameters include heavy metals, trace organic compounds, total suspended solids (TSS), and turbidity. Microbiological parameters include Coliform bacteria, E. coli, and specific pathogenic species of bacteria (such as cholera-causing Vibrio cholerae), viruses, and protozoan parasites.

Chemical parameters tend to pose more of a chronic health risk through buildup of heavy metals although some components like nitrates/nitrites and arsenic can have a more immediate impact. Physical parameters affect the aesthetics and taste of the drinking water and may complicate the removal of microbial pathogens.

Originally, fecal contamination was determined with the presence of coliform bacteria, a convenient marker for a class of harmful fecal pathogens. The presence of fecal coliforms (like E. Coli) serves as an indication of contamination by sewage. Additional contaminants include protozoan oocysts such as Cryptosporidium sp., Giardia lamblia, Legionella, and viruses (enteric). Microbial pathogenic parameters are typically of greatest concern because of their immediate health risk.

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