Most people hear the word desalination and they quickly jump to conclusions about its meaning. It’s easy to assume that desalination solely refers to a process that removes the salt from seawater. The truth is, the primary method used today, called Reverse Osmosis (RO) is capable of much more. RO is also extremely effective at filtering other contaminants from the water we drink, including harmful chemicals, heavy metals, bacteria, and suspended solids to name a few. RO isn’t just for saltwater, and thank goodness!
No matter where it comes from the water we drink each day usually has to be treated first. This is because the water we drink has lived a whole life of its own through the natural water cycle before it comes to us in our home or workplace. Along the way it can pick up all kinds of minerals, salts, and contaminants as it flows through the ground.
Some of these are actually necessities in our diet, such as calcium, magnesium and iron to name a few. However, the water may also pick up harmful naturally occurring heavy metals such as arsenic, or even chemicals that have leaked into the ground over time like petroleum products. The worst culprits range from the toxic byproducts of industry to improper waste disposal, On top of that, our drinking water supply is often exposed to pesticide-runoff, leaky underground tanks, industrial chemicals, and bacteria of all kinds.
Knowing this, it’s easy to understand why we need water treatment technology like RO n for more than just seawater. Let’s take a look at the various constituents that often end up in our water.
1) Naturally occurring minerals
First, we’ve got minerals. Minerals are naturally occurring in the soil and rocks on Earth’s crust. When rainwater falls and runs over rock and down through the ground it slowly dissolves the minerals as it flows over them. When the water is then pumped out of a well for instance, you end up with these minerals in the water. Often, groundwater is relatively clean, having been naturally filtered by the ground itself, and the minerals it contains are essential to our health. But depending on what the composition of the soil and bedrock, you can also end up with too much of those minerals. Removing excess minerals from domestic water is known as water softening, but this usually refers to less harmful minerals like calcium and magnesium.
2) Heavy Metals
While mercury may be a naturally occurring element, just like calcium and magnesium that doesn’t mean it is safe for consumption. Mercury often enters our water supply as the byproduct of mining and industrial practices as mercury is often present in deposits of coal. Mercury is known to be poisonous to humans, so contamination of this substance in our drinking water is extremely dangerous.
If you’ve heard of the Flint Water Crisis, a recent case where toxic levels of lead were found in a Michigan town’s water supply, then you know that lead in our drinking water is a dangerous affair. Lead is another naturally occurring metal found in small amounts in the Earth’s crust. Like mercury, lead is known to be toxic to humans. Lead poisoning occurs when lead builds up in the human body, which can easily happen from drinking contaminated water over time. It is a serious and sometimes fatal condition.
3) Harsh Industrial chemicals
A variety of harsh chemicals are deployed in today’s industrial and agricultural practices. Many of them are harmful to humans and, unfortunately, they consistently enter our waterways in the form of runoff pollution. Runoff pollution occurs when water in the form of rain, snow, or irrigation carries chemical pollutants off farm fields or industrial sites and into rivers, streams, and our underground aquifers. Thankfully, reverse osmosis can usually remove these chemicals as long as the chemical doesn’t attack the membranes themselves!
Some of the most alarming chemicals sometimes found in freshwater supplies are PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls. PCBs are used in industry for things like machinery, electronics, oil, and insulation. They were banned in places like the United States beginning in 1979, but still exist today in landfills and abandoned or repurposed industrial areas. PCBs are known as a probable carcinogen in humans, and we often rely on water treatment like desalination to effectively remove them from drinking water with commonly found concentrations.
Pesticides and herbicides
Chemical pesticides and herbicides are routinely used in modern farming to control weeds, insects, and fungi. You may have heard of commonly used herbicides like Glysophate, the main ingredient of Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer, and pesticides like DDT (Dichloro-Dyphenyl-Trichloroethane.) The dangers of pesticides like DDT were first exposed by environmentalists in the 1960s and the routine use of them remains controversial. The chemical is frequently used in South America, Asia, and Africa today, and although DDT has been outlawed in the United States, traces of it still remain in waterways today. Regardless of where you are, these chemicals are not something you want frequenting your drinking water. They are known to have toxic effects on aquatic life, birds, and humans that are exposed to them.
4) Organic matter
Last but not least, prior to filtration, freshwater often has traces of bacteria from human and animal fecal matter. We can all certainly agree that nothing screams “YUCK!” more than the thought of fecal matter in your drinking water. Yet this remains an unsettling reality for much of our water supply, highlighting the importance of proper water treatment.
Fecal runoff from factory farms contaminates immeasurable amounts of water each year with bacteria like Salmonella and E Coli. For example, just last year the Scientific American reported that researchers found that 40% of water samples in the state of North Carolina exceeded state and federal safety guidelines for fecal coliform—the harmful bacteria from animal feces. Animals aren’t the only ones to blame, though. Leaky or improperly maintained septic tanks are often another culprit of polluted groundwater that can contaminate the water we drink.
Reverse Osmosis can help!
Since water picks up all kinds of suspended solids, chemicals, and bacteria throughout the water cycle, untreated freshwater poses numerous public health concerns. Modern day RO physically separates the dissolved solids at the molecular level, allowing only the water molecules to cross the membrane. Larger molecules and certainly bacteria and other biological contaminates don’t stand a chance at getting through.
For this reason, water treated with RO is often safer than most natural freshwater sources, and certainly needed for more than just seawater. From removing pesticides like DDT to minerals like lead, we can always count on RO to properly remove the contaminates that inevitably enter our drinking water, ensuring the water we drink is as clean and safe as possible.
If your organization or municipality is ready for an industrial RO system, contact ISI Water today.