Summer is here and Lakshmi Krupa tells you simple ways to get potable water at home
It’s that time of year when the realities of the water wars in our dry city come to the fore. As the days heat up, the chorus for clean water gains momentum, even as bore wells run dry and orders for water tankers increase by the hour. Although bubble tops have become ubiquitous, several families continue to rely on other sources such as Corporation or Metro water, hand pumps and wells to meet their needs. The World Water Assessment Programme finds than an individual needs between 20 and 50 litres of water everyday for cooking, cleaning and drinking. WHO/UNICEF finds that 88 per cent of diarrhoeal deaths are due to lack of access to sanitation facilities, inadequate availability of water for hygiene, and unsafe drinking water. Safe drinking water alone can reduce this figure by a whopping 90 per cent. Simple steps at home can reduce health risks and make your water potable.
Experts suggest that apartments and homes in problem areas have their water tested in a laboratory to discover the composition of the water they are dealing with. Naina Shah, Editor, Water Today and Director, Paradigm Environmental Strategies, says, “The first step towards clean water is finding out what needs to be cleaned.” You can test the water for microbial, chemical or radiological aspects and treat the water accordingly. “Do you know that the water you drink is supposed to nourish you with minerals that, in turn, help your hair grow?” Shah asks, adding that people blame their bathing water for hair loss but it’s their drinking water they should get tested.
At the government level, some steps are being taken. Municipal Administration and Water Supply Minister K.P. Munusamy recently announced that an automated water quality monitoring system would be installed at a cost of Rs. 1.8 crore across 50 different locations in the city.
Filtering is possibly the simplest way to remove macro impurities. A membrane (muslin) can be the starting point for clean water. Other methods such as boiling, exposing water to UV radiation from sunlight, or using UV disinfection lamps are also recommended by experts. You can also buy an array of water filters. “The problem is that people buy filters but don’t clean them regularly,” says S. Mohan, Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Madras. “The filters need to be washed and cleaned once in three to four months by professionals.”
Areas such as Valasaravakkam, Mogappair and Medavakkam show high iron content in well water, experts say. This can lead to iron bacteria. Traditionally, people use alum (padigaaram) but it does not make water potable. It can be used for washing and other purposes. However, Mohan warns against over-use, pointing out that alum can’t be used in large quantities even for washing water. Chlorine may also be used to treat high-iron water, says Mohan.
Two ways to purify
Households can filter water at two levels. Point-of-entry products are those used at source, say, the bore well or sump; while point-of-use products are used at the tap just before water is consumed. Says M.V. Praveen, Director, Operations, Morf India: “Point-of-use purifiers are RO (reverse osmosis) and UV (ultra violet) systems that clean up microbial and chemical impurities, while point-of-entry purifiers reduce iron content and prepare water for chemical and microbial cleaning.”
Morf India has partnered with Electrolux for point-of-use purifiers. Morf also manufactures iron removers and water softeners. Typically, households could spend around Rs. 60,000 overall to set up an entire cleaning unit, says Praveen, from removing iron at the sump level to clean water at the tap level.
New and simple
Among chemical cleaning methods (ion exchange, adsorption etc) the most popular are germicidal agents, with chlorination considered the most effective. So far, inorganic chlorine has been used for mass consumption but there’s an innovative new product that also deals with side effects.
Says K.V. Danesh, MD, Shree Biosafe: “Mark Baxter tablets are basically effervescent, organic chlorine tablets, and water treated with this is the equivalent of boiled water.” The tablets come in 7 and 20 gm strengths. “The 7 gm tablet can be used for 1,000 to 5,000 litres of water while the 20 gm one can be used for 11,000 to 20,000 litres of water,” he says. Approved by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and WHO, the tablet is used by the Indian Army and the Pondicherry government among others, says Danesh, with Shree Biosafe the sole Chennai distributor.
Treating water chemically eliminates worms, germs and parasites and a tablet such as this can also delay the formation of algae on water tanks.
Danesh, too, stresses the importance of testing water. “If contamination is high, the amount of chemical interference such as from this tablet must also be high,” he says. If budgets are not a constraint, you can also install your own domestic RO plant. Large luxury apartment complexes these days also opt for central high-end water softeners and purifiers.