Today’s next bit from my book will cover the dangers associated with water, both natural and from humans.
Copyright ©2010 Noel Napolitan
In order to understand how to make water drinkable, we should understand what things make water unsuitable for drinking. Most surface water (rivers, lakes, streams, reservoirs) contains some types of microorganisms (protozoa, bacteria, viruses) and/or pollutants (chemicals, foul odors, sewage, spilt fuel).
Microorganisms are living microscopic cells that, when consumed, can cause diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis. Some microorganisms can even cause death for those with weak immune systems, like children, elderly, and those who are sick.
Protozoa (the largest of all microorganisms) include such parasites as Giaridia Lamblia and cryptosporidium. Both of these organisms have caused numerous deaths in recent years in the US, mostly occurring in the young, the elderly, the sick and those with compromised immune systems. Neither disease is likely to be fatal to a healthy adult, even if untreated. Outside of the US and other developed countries, protozoa are responsible for many cases of amoebic dysentery, but this has not been a problem in the US, due to better treatment of waste water. This would most likely change during and after a survival situation. Tests have found Giardia and/or Crypto in up to 5% of vertical wells and 26% of springs in the US.
Bacteria (medium-size microorganisms) include E. coli, Vibrio Cholerae, campylobacter, and salmonella, all of which are found in human and animal waste. The most common occurrences are in preparing and processing food at home and in the food industry (especially associated with not washing hands after using the bathroom). Bacteria are smaller than protozoa and are responsible for many diseases such as typhoid fever, cholera, diarrhea, and dysentery. Contamination of water supplies by bacteria is blamed for the cholera epidemics which devastate undeveloped countries from time to time. Even in the US, E. coli is frequently found to contaminate water supplies. Fortunately E. coli is relatively harmless as pathogens go, and the problem isn’t so much with E. coli found, but the fear that other bacteria may have contaminated the water as well. Never the less, dehydration from diarrhea caused by E. coli has resulted in fatalities.
Pollutants generally fall into two categories: man-made and natural. They include water contaminants such as minerals (salts) and heavy metals. Man-made pollutants are introduced into water sources by manufacturing plants, poor waste and disposal management, air pollution, and so on. Water can be contaminated by a number of organic compounds such as chloroform, gasoline, pesticides, and herbicides. These contaminants must be identified in a lab test. These pollutants can cause water to taste foul, and they can cause physical ailments or death.
It is unlikely ground water will suddenly become contaminated unless a quantity of chemicals is allowed to enter a well or penetrating the aquifer. Surface water may show great swings in chemical levels due to differences in rainfall, seasonal crop cultivation, and industrial effluent levels.
Heavy metals are only a problem in certain areas of the country. The best way to identify their presence is by a lab test of the water or by speaking with your county health department. Unless you are down stream of mining tailings or a factory, the problem will probably affect an entire county or region. Heavy metals are unlikely to be present in sufficient levels to cause problems with short-term use.
Lastly, since most people know that they can go around three days without it at most (beyond that, you'll quickly turn to dust) the important question here is what will happen when the water runs out or is not drinkable. The answer is that people will do anything to get water, because to not have it means death. There will be more danger in the cities than in the country side simply because water is harder to find in the cities.
During the first day after the crisis, most people won't realize what's going on. They will figure it’s a temporary problem and that their local authorities will fix the issue within a few hours. As those hours become the next day, they will begin to get worried. By this time, more and more people will realize the water isn't getting fixed. People will begin to search for water and the first place they’re going to go is where they always go for drinkables: the grocery store, the local Wal-Mart, the local convenience store. The shelves will empty very quickly.
After about a week, you'll see people leaving the cities in huge masses. They’ll be leaving the city in search of water. Some will go to relatives or friend’s homes in the country where they think the problem doesn’t exist or where they might find a pond or stream to drink from. Others will stay in the cities and go on looting missions, stopping at every house they see and asking whoever is there if they have any water to “donate”, usually with a gun in their hand.
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