When forced to drink water of uncertain purity, use these methods of purification before using the water for drinking, food preparation, or hygiene. In addition to having a bad odor and taste, contaminated water can contain microorganisms that cause diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis and chemicals that are fatal when swallowed.
Before purifying, let any suspended particles settle to the bottom or strain them through layers of clean cloth. The following are four purification methods. The first three - boiling, chlorination, and purification tablets - will kill microbes but will not remove other contaminants such as heavy metals, salts, other chemicals, and radioactive fallout. The final method - distillation - will remove microbes as well as other contaminants, including radioactive fallout.
Boiling is the safest method of purifying water. Bring water to a rolling boil for 10 minutes, keeping in mind that some water will evaporate. Let the water cool before drinking. Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring it back and forth between two containers. This technique will also improve the taste of stored water.
Chlorination uses liquid chlorine bleach to kill microorganisms. Add two drops of liquid bleach containing 5.25% sodium hypochlorite and no soap for each quart of water (four drops if the water is cloudy). Stir and let stand for 30 minutes. If the water does not taste and smell of chlorine at that point, add another dose and let stand another 15 minutes.
Purification tablets release chlorine or iodine. They are inexpensive and available at most sporting goods stores and some drugstores. Follow the package directions. Usually one tablet is enough for one quart of water, double the dose for cloudy water.
Distillation involves boiling water and then collecting the vapor that condenses back to water. Fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to the handle on the pot's lid so that the cup will hang right side up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water). Boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.
There are many ways to purify water. None is perfect. Often the best solution is a combination of methods.
For more information on water purification or other emergency procedures, contact the City of Yuma Fire Department Emergency Management division.
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City of Yuma Fire Department