Drinking Water Quality and Health

Drinking Water Quality and Health

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Three Medical Doctors wrote the book, The Water We Drink: Water Quality and Its Effects on Health. Their names are Joshua I. Barzilay, M.D., Winkler G. Weinberg, M.D., and J. William Eley, M.D. In order to put the issue of drinking water quality and its effects on health into perspective, the book is divided into three parts. It first reviews the history of water, disease, and sanitation. The next section deals with health issues. At the conclusion of the book are chapters regarding bottled water and methods of purification. The intent of the book is to educate consumers.

In the ancient world there was an awareness of the need for sanitation and for water that was safe for consumption. Efforts at keeping water pure, maintaining access to waters of high quality, and providing sewage disposal were widely practiced. With the diminish of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the middle ages, these practices were largely forgotten, and infectious illnesses became common. Only with the ascendancy of the scientific method and discoveries in the last one hundred years has the connection between water quality, sanitation, and health once again been discovered.

The discovery that diseases were infectious and transmissible through water
served as a reason to the development of methods of water purification. In 1887 the first water filtration system was established in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Sand was the
filtering medium. Within a short time the incidence of typhoid fever dropped enormously.

In 1974 Congress enacted the Safe Drinking Water Act. It set up government oversight, through the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, of surface and ground-water sources. “The EPA set up two types of regulations: (1) mandatory, enforceable maximum contaminant levels (MCLs), to be set as close to the recommended health-based goals and (2) non-mandatory, health-based maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs).” The chemicals and contaminants to be regulated were: microbiological contaminants, metals and inorganic chemicals, volatile organic chemicals, organic compounds, and radionuclides.

Despite the accomplishments, water-borne diseases remain an issue of concern. “From 1971 to 1988 there were 564 infectious outbreaks in the United States involving nearly 140,000 people.” Bacteria are microorganisms that are of the kingdom Prokaryotae. When certain bacteria appear in places where they do not normally reside, they can cause illness.

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Protozoa are one-celled parasites that are members of the kingdom Protista. They are more resistant than bacteria to the disinfectants that are used to treat water. Viruses are the smallest infectious organisms known to man. They pass through filters and vary in size. Small round structured viruses (SRSVs) are most common among school age or older. Rotaviruses are the most common among small children. Despite all the known infectious agents that may be present in drinking water and its sources, the drinking water in the United States is of very high purity and safety.

Bottled water is found everywhere from office buildings to national parks. The average consumption of bottled water has tripled since 1984 to present. There are a variety of bottled waters. Artesian water comes from a well that taps into an aquifer. Mineral water contains 250 parts per million of dissolved solids. Spring water is obtained from an underground formation which water flows naturally to the surface. Distilled water is produced by distillation.

Some water is purified. There are several ways to obtain purified water. Many homes have personal water purifiers connected to their faucets. One way is mechanical filtration. Water is passed through a filter that only allows water to pass through and traps small particles. A second way is Reverse osmosis. In this process, water is passed through a semipermeable membrane, and is generally used in combination with carbon.

This book contains information about the history of water, disease, and sanition. It also discusses heath issues and touches on bottle water and purification. We can see clearly that the contaminants that have polluted drinking water have been a reflection of society and its mores. The most important lesson to be learned from this is that the maintenance of high-quality drinking water is a process that changes with the changes that occur in science, society and knowledge.
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