“It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things.”
― Nicholas Sparks
Water is life and our survival depends on it. It is more than just a product that we get when we turn open our taps - in your home, or in a public place. Wherever it is, our well-being depends on whether the water we use can be trusted as safe to drink.
When is water ‘safe’ to drink?
To answer this question, let’s understand what experts call water risk. It is the opposite of potable water or water potability.
Water risk is evaluated in water’s potential to cause short-term or long-term health hazards through microbial or chemical contaminants.
It’s not difficult to understand the effects of microbial contamination on our bodies and well-being. It is often immediate and therefore evident.
Annually in India, over one lakh people die of water-borne diseases* like diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid that are preventable. But do we really need to do body counts of sick individuals to arrive at the fact of water contamination?
Lurking beneath the surface of such chilling statistics is chemical contamination that can go unnoticed for years. Groundwater in one-third of India’s 600 districts is not fit for drinking as the concentration of fluoride, iron, salinity and arsenic exceeds the tolerance levels. For example, about 65 million people have been suffering from fluorosis, a crippling disease caused due to a high amount of fluoride, and 5 million are suffering from arsenicosis in one state alone - West Bengal due to the high amount of arsenic in the water they drink.
If your water is free from biological, chemical and other contaminants that have short and long term adverse effect on health, that’s when your water is safe to drink.
Chemical contamination of water is an invisible, chronic health emergency
Chemical contamination is insidious, often cumulative, and so gradual that it is invisible. As invisible as the toxins in the water. The impact of such contamination affects health, income, livelihood and quality of life for millions. It is often irreparable, irreversible and very costly.
- Fluoride causes deformities of the skeletal system
- Arsenic is responsible for arsenicosis and cancer
- Lead poisoning affects intelligence and growth.
The effect of water contamination is often epidemic, not episodic Systematic prevention is the best cure for this emergency. Since water contamination impacts a sizeable population through the system that distributes water, prevention is a costly cross for a government and community to bear. Let’s find out if there are any low-cost solutions...
Prevention through testing is the only way to detect this invisible danger
The recommended low-cost solution is prevention rather than remediation, or cure. The way to prevention is anticipating. By knowing what is in the water that will be consumed by the population. And the way to know this is through rigorous testing.
Though water contamination affects the poor and rich alike, those in the socio-economic upper brackets are better able to remedy their situations through the use of end-point filters and other purifying mechanisms.
What is the low-cost and reliable testing you can do?
Testing helps identify existing water quality status, understand changes over time and seasons, and monitor the efficacy of treatment or purifying systems employed. The Bureau for Indian Standards identifies permissible limits for substances undesirable in excessive amounts in drinking water, toxic substances, radioactive substances, pesticide residue limits, microbiological and permissible smell, taste colour etc for potable water. A heuristic approach to determining what needs to be tested could be to eliminate the most likely suspects first:
1. Microbial: Contaminants that cause diseases
2. Chemical contaminants
3. TDS—total dissolved solvents, for the occurrence of a mixture of invisible dissolved salts like sodium, calcium, magnesium, potassium etc
4. pH for acidity or basicity of water. Steep changes in pH can alert regarding the change in constituents of water from for eg, lapses in treatment, or pollution from a new source etc.
5. Industrial contaminants
To know the best, low-cost and on the go way to test for all the above contamination, click here.
* Deccan Herald https://www.deccanherald.com/content/63740/poor-water-quality-serious-threat.html