By Mark Nelson President Nelson Water:

With more than 30 years’ experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Mark Nelson is a Class 1 Drinking-Water Operator and a CBWA (Canadian Bottled Water Association) Certified Plant Operator. As founder and president of Nelson Water in Ottawa, Mark focuses on dealing with challenging water treatment system designs for problem water. He also heads the largest water bottling plant in the city of Ottawa with a delivery network throughout the Valley. 

In Canada, hurricanes are less common compared to many other countries, but severe weather can still cause flooding and water main breaks that can interrupt and compromise the quality of your water supply. During an emergency, the authorities will often recommend that people drink bottled or sterilized water to avoid ingesting microorganisms and other contaminants that could be present in the water. Let’s take a closer look at how to sterilize water and use it to stay healthy until the regular water supply has been restored.

Why You Should Sterilize Drinking Water

Any water sourced from a stream, river or lake and some groundwater could contain pathogens that can cause disease. Waterborne infections are responsible for many illnesses globally, and they can lead to severe health complications and in extreme cases even fatalities.

Most waterborne infections are spread when human or animal waste containing pathogens finds its way into our drinking water. These pathogens could be bacteria, viruses, parasites, and cysts. Some common pathogens that you may have heard of could include: Giardia, Salmonella and Cryptosporidium.

The pathogens in drinking water can be removed by disinfection, and this process will kill them. Water can be disinfected by using heat, adding chemicals, using filtration and using ultraviolet (UV) light. In some home water treatment systems one or more of these methods may be used to create a more comprehensive water cleaning solution.

When the Disinfection Process Fails

Normally, the drinking water supplier will disinfect the water supply to make it safe to drink. But, you may need to drink bottled water or disinfect your own water if your community has been issued a “boil water” notice. A “boil water” notice can happen for three main reasons:

  • Because the supplier cannot provide water that’s received an adequate level of treatment.
  • A natural disaster has disrupted and/or contaminated the water supply.
  • Testing has discovered the presence of fecal coliform or E. Coli bacteria that’s a clear indicator of human or animal waste contamination.

It may also be necessary to disinfect your drinking water for one or more of the following three reasons:

  • Your water is sourced from your own water supply.
  • Someone in your household has a weak immune system.
  • If you’re travelling in an area where the water quality is poor.

The Best Basic Disinfection Method

One of the easiest and most basic ways to disinfect water is boiling. This method is particularly good for dealing with parasites, such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium. If you have anyone in your home with a weaker immune system, such as a child, an elderly relative or a person with an existing illness, it’s essential to provide clean drinking water.

Many of us don’t have a supply of bottled drinking water stored for an emergency, but it may be possible to boil your water. The water must be boiled for at least one minute, but if your elevation is over 2,000 metres, it should be boiled for at least two minutes. Once the water has cooled, you can store it in a clean food grade container and cover it to avoid exposure to contaminants.

8 Steps to Disinfect Water with Bleach

A basic household bleach that contains chlorine can be used to kill most pathogens. Here are eight steps that you need to follow if you need to disinfect your drinking water with bleach:

  • Don’t use a bleach that’s scented, colour safe, has added cleaners or that doesn’t contain chlorine.
  • The bleach will work best if it’s added to warmer water at about 20˚C (68˚F).
  • Add two drops of household bleach (approximately 5.25% chlorine) to every litre of water.
  • Let the water stand for half an hour and cover it before drinking. There should be a slight noticeable chlorine odor and if there isn’t you can add two more drops of bleach and allow the to water stand for another quarter of an hour.
  • If your water looks cloudy or you cannot warm the water up, double the added bleach amounts and let the water stand for one or two hours before you drink it.
  • Once you’ve treated the water, the longer it stands, the better the disinfection process will be.
  • If you want to reduce the chlorine taste, you can let the water stand without covering it for a couple of hours, or you can pour it from one clean container to another a few times to move the water around.
  • If you have a commercial chlorine tablet, it’s essential to follow the directions carefully.

If the water is polluted with chemicals or heavily contaminated boiling or adding bleach will not make the water safe to drink. A different potable water source must be found and in an emergency that water should be boiled or treated with bleach instead. If the water looks murky or cloudy, this can be reduced by pouring the water through a coffee filter or a clean cloth first.

6 Steps to Disinfect Water with Iodine

Iodine can be used to disinfect drinking water, but only for shorter periods of time. If iodine is used for an extended period of time, it could cause health issues such as iodine sensitivity and thyroid problems. Pregnant women and children are very sensitive to iodine, and it shouldn’t be used to disinfect water for these groups. Here are six steps that you can take to disinfect drinking water with iodine:

  • Iodine will work better if it’s added to water at around 20˚C (68˚F)
  • Mix six drops of iodine into one litre of clear untreated water.
  • The water should stand for at least half an hour before it’s safe to drink.
  • If the untreated water is cold, it must be left to stand for several hours before you can drink it.
  • If the water is cloudy, mix ten drops of iodine into each litre of water.
  • If you’re using iodine tablets always follow the directions carefully.

Some Final Thoughts

A jug style water filter isn’t designed to remove pathogens, and it cannot be relied on to provide clean drinking water in an emergency. If you’ve been issued with a “boil notice” don’t forget to wash food and cook with disinfected water too.

If you are interested in clean water, you should speak to a water treatment professional. A specialist technician can test your water supply and recommend treatment options best suited to the characteristics of your water.