Safe Water during Emergencies or Natural Disasters
You can never truly prepare for being caught in an emergency. Whether it’s a natural disaster like bushfires or floods, or simply an emergency at your property where you suddenly find limited access to everyday essentials, there will always be an element of shock and adjustment required.
To mitigate the added stress as much as possible, it helps to have a plan in place for a consistent supply of clean drinking water. After all, these events can leave water sources contaminated and infrastructure systems interrupted, introducing a slew of waterborne diseases, heavy metals, inorganic materials, pesticides, animal waste, and other nasties, making it difficult to meet your daily hydration needs. As such, in these emergencies and natural disasters, it is imperative to understand what safe water means, as there are some serious symptoms of water contamination.
Read on to learn more about how to purify water for drinking during these situations, as well as storing emergency water that you process through a reliable filter.
During Natural Disasters, What are the Symptoms of Contaminated Water?
Contaminated water can cause a string of severe symptoms when ingested, including abdominal cramps, appetite loss, fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, and other gastrointestinal issues. Infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to the effects of contaminated water.
So, how does water get contaminated during a natural disaster?
The answer varies, depending on the types of disaster or emergency itself, including:
Extreme floods often contaminate common drinking water supplies and wells, collecting bacteria, organisms, and other pollutants from the ground, buildings, and surfaces being hit by floodwater.
Frequent contaminants spread during floods include:
Nitrates are highly soluble, seeping below the root zone of plants with excessive rainfall to pollute groundwater, posing a particular risk to homeowners with well water.
Nitrates are especially harmful to pregnant and nursing women, as well as infants, due to the risk of blue baby syndrome – a condition causing the skin and veins to appear blue due to insufficient oxygen supply. Long-term exposure to nitrates in drinking water has also been linked to a higher risk of certain cancers.
Faecal coliform refers to contaminants from the faeces of warm-blooded animals, such as wildlife, pets, and even humans. These elements find their way into common water supplies through runoff water contaminated by animals or agriculture, as well as a failing septic system. This poses a risk of several harmful pathogens that bring on symptoms like gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration and more.
Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a particular species of coliform bacteria that can cause a range of symptoms when ingested, such as cramping, sudden and severe diarrhea, fatigue, and fever. Further complications may include anaemia, urinary tract infections, respiratory & kidney failure, pneumonia, and even death.
As such, if your water supply is contaminated with E. coli, you must switch to bottled water, or water that has passed through a reputable filter or treatment.
Chlorine is a disinfectant commonly used in municipal water supplies and pools. Both the smell and taste is unfavourable, and it can make your skin, hair and even your clothes feel overly dry or itchy. Exposure to large amounts may increase the risk of certain cancers, particularly bladder cancer in men.
Wildfires release a flurry of smoke, debris, and ashes, as well as other contaminants from burning fossil fuels, such as mercury and total dissolved solids (TDS).
Mercury is produced through human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, and can contaminate drinking water after the natural degassing of the earth's crust. Excessive mercury exposure can impact various organs and systems, proving especially dangerous for developing foetuses, who are at a higher risk of permanent neurologic deficits or death.
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)
TDS refers to the amount of inorganic and organic substances dissolved in water. High concentrations of TDS may result in water that has a salty taste, is corrosive, or causes scale formation.
Earthquake disturbances frequently dislodge and burst water supply pipelines, particularly those in older buildings. When pipes incur serious damage, lead can leach into streams, rivers, and other drinking water supplies.
Many leading organisations, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state there is no safe level of lead exposure. Particularly in children, it can cause a wide range of health problems, including:
- Behavioural issues
- Learning difficulties
- Decelerated development
- Hearing issues
- Even death
Pregnant women are also at risk of adverse effects from lead exposure, including premature birth and reduced foetal growth. It is difficult to detect lead in water because it is odourless, colourless, and tasteless, but lead levels in drinking water can be reduced when you filter or treat it properly.
Debris, chemicals, toxins, and sediment often spread throughout the air and water supplies in the aftermath of powerful wind gusts.
Sediment is naturally brought on through weathering or erosion, leaving water cloudy or hazy, as well as impacting the taste and colour. High sediment levels in drinking water increase the risk of developing gastrointestinal diseases.
How to Purify Water for Emergencies
As mentioned above, if you suspect that your water has been contaminated during a natural disaster, you must avoid consumption to prevent the onset of serious symptoms. Instead, learn how to purify water for drinking in these emergencies, primarily to eliminate (or at least minimise) the risk of waterborne diseases and pollutants.
Common methods include:
Boiling water is the most common form of water treatment, as it kills almost all bacteria, chemicals and other contaminants, including those causing waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and dysentery. It is a simple and inexpensive method that doesn’t require specialised equipment, simply bringing a kettle or pot to a rolling boil for approximately 1-3 minutes to neutralise potential pollutants.
It does, however, require a reliable source of heat, such as a stove or fire, which isn’t practical in situations where fuel is scarce. Additionally, boiling does not remove sediment or other physical impurities from the water, which can still leave the water unpleasant to drink.
Disinfection is another method to purify water for drinking during emergencies and natural disasters. Some of the most common options include chlorine dioxide tablets and iodine, with each killing most forms of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa present in the water. Disinfection can also eliminate some chemical contaminants, although it is not effective against all types of pollutants.
Disinfection offers a relatively quick and easy process. Most options are available in portable tablets or drops with clear instructions from the manufacturer, making them a convenient option for those on the move.
Unfortunately, some bacteria and virusescan survive the disinfection process, and some parasites, such as Cryptosporidium, are resistant to chlorine and iodine. Additionally, disinfectants can leave a taste and odour in the water.
Home Filter System
Home filter systems are another option to purify water in an emergency or natural disaster. Through multiple steps, these devices are designed to remove physical impurities and chemical contaminants from drinking water (depending on the type of filter used). This process allows you to purify water without the need for excessive heat or chemicals to do away with contaminants like heavy metals, bacteria and pollutants. An emergency water filter will also remove sediment and other physical impurities, making the water more pleasant to drink.
For example, the zazen Alkaline Water System applies a comprehensive, 10 stage, state-of-the-art filtration process that not only strips harmful elements like chlorine, heavy metals, and inorganic matter, but also reintroduces a selection of essential minerals and electrolytes for optimal cellular hydration.
Where to Find Emergency Water
When disaster strikes, various government agencies or charitable organisations will likely work to provide some form of water relief, usually in the form of distributing clean, bottled drinking water from central, accessible locations. These groups may also erect portable treatment plants throughout the disaster area.
If these services aren’t currently available, you may also find usable water sources at home or in your surroundings, including:
- In your water heater tank
- Liquid found in canned vegetables & fruit
- Uncontaminated rainwater
- Natural springs
- Ponds and lakes
- Rivers, streams and other flowing forms of water
If you would like to know how to store emergency water for or during these situations, be sure that any containers you use:
- Are thoroughly cleaned before water is introduced
- Hold sealable lids to prevent contamination, especially from bugs like mosquitoes who thrive in still-water environments
- Can be stored above ground for reliable access
- Can also be stored in a cool place, out of direct sunlight
To maintain adequate hydration, it is recommended that our daily fluid intake is at least 3L for men and 2.2L for women each day.
For more information on how to purify water for drinking both during an emergency and as part of your everyday diet, please contact us today.
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