Emergency Water 101: Lesson 2
"How to Provide Your Family With Safe Water"
Are you ready for lesson 2? This is one of the most important lessons on Emergency Water 101.com because it covers the basic information you'll need to protect your family in an emergency. We'll introduce the Red Cross and FEMA recommendations for treating water in an emergency, but we'll go further. We'll explain the why behind those recommendations, and teach you how to assess your situation and choose the proper way to treat water.
This is an extremely important lesson. Please focus on the information and share this with your friends and family. We've included the transcript below for your reference.
NEXT: Lesson 3
See my recommendations on how you should ensure the safety of your family's drinking water every day.
Welcome to our second core training video. In our first video we talked about the potential for an emergency situation to disrupt your supply of safe drinking water. We all take safe drinking water for granted. because we live in a society that has such fantastic infrastructure. But in a crisis situation such as a hurricane, earthquake, terrorist attack, or massive power outage, infrastructure could be damaged or destroyed. Roads could become impassable. Chemical trucks, storage tanks, and pipelines could rupture and release chemicals into our environment. And, of course, water and sewage pipes could break. And if this happens, your tap water could quickly become dangerously contaminated. Drinking dangerously contaminated water in an emergency can put your family at serious risk, but you have no choice. You need to drink water!
And that brings us to this video, because now were going to teach you the core information you need in order to provide your family with safe water and emergency. In this video we’re going to start by talking about Red Cross recommendations for treating dangerously contaminated water in an emergency. These recommendations are very good but the Red Cross does not explain why they recommended what they do. You’ll discover that having a deeper level of understanding is essential because in an emergency situation you need to be to adapt to whatever situation you find yourself in. Next, we’re going to show you that there are different types of water emergencies. This is very important because you may have to react differently to different types of emergencies. And finally, I’m going to give you practical insight into what to do and what not to do. This is vital information, so please make sure you're not distracted during this video. Let's get started.
I want to start by talking about the Red Cross and FEMA recommendations for treating water in an emergency. This is an image of the Red Cross pamphlet that I'll be referring to. It’s a very good resource that not many people know about. The recommendations are solid, and scientifically based and everyone should have a copy of this pamphlet printed is.
Here’s what the Red Cross recommends:
If you're in an emergency situation and the safety of your water could be compromised there are three acceptable ways to treat your water. The first method is boiling, which is pretty straightforward. You put a pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil then cool it before you drink. The second recommended treatment method is chlorination, or in other words, just regular bleach. Chlorine is one of the main chemicals that municipalities used to treat water before it goes through the pipes and into your house. An interesting point here is that the Red Cross did not used to specify chlorine, rather they used to say chemical disinfection which included other chemicals like iodine. But now this is what they say specifically:
“Other chemicals, such as iodine or water treatment products (sold in camping or surplus stores) that do not contain 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite as the only active ingredient, are not recommended and should not be used.”
So in other words, they’ve just slammed the door on those other types of chemicals. So if you are going to use chemical disinfection, chlorine is the only chemical that you should use.
The third method that they recommend is distillation. And while most people know what boiling and chlorination are, not many people know what distillation is. So I want to go through this briefly. The easiest way to understand distillation is to look at what’s called the hydrologic cycle, or the water cycle. So here's a question: Where does freshwater in lakes and streams and rivers come from? It comes from rain, which is very pure water. And so where does the rain come from? Rain comes from the ocean, which obviously contains very salty, contaminated water that we just can't drink. The water cycle is the natural process that changes the very contaminated water from the oceans into very pure rainwater. What happens is that the sun provides heat to the ocean and the water changes from a liquid to a vapor, and that’s the key. As soon as water changes from a liquid form into a vapor, it let's go of the contaminants that it’s holding onto to. The pure water vapor rises while the salt and other contaminants stay behind in the ocean. So the pure water vapor rises, condenses into clouds, the clouds move inland, and then we get rain or precipitation.
Now rain is very pure water and is the source of all freshwater on the planet including lakes, and rivers, and streams, and even glaciers, and underground aquifers. A very interesting point here is that what we’re talking about is water’s built-in purification process. Water purifies itself by changing from a liquid to a vapor and then back to liquid. And the process of desolation duplicates this water cycle.
So let's look at the most basic water distiller that you can make. So let’s start by putting in a pot of water on the stove and bringing it to a boil. So what you’re doing when you're boiling water is you’re changing water from a liquid to a vapor. So the steam rises and then just disappears into the air. This steam that is leaving is pure water, and so the contaminants stay behind in the boiling water. Now if you have a lid on the pot, and if you lift up the lid, water drips off the lid, right? So what is this water that is dripping off of the lid? Well, the steam came in contact with the cool surface and condensed back into liquid water. Or in other words, the water change from a liquid, to a vapor, and then back to a liquid. This water dripping from the lid is pure distilled water. Now if you were able to somehow capture this water before it dripped back down into the boiling water, you would be producing pure distilled water. The simplest way to do this is simply to invert the lid and tie a high coffee mug or something like that underneath to capture the water. And it is a crude method, but it is a simple method for creating a distiller.
Now let's look at what's happening here. This is the same process as the water cycle. Just like in nature, there’s a heat source that changes the water from a liquid into a vapor, which is called evaporation. The water condenses on the lid and drips down. So distillation is the process of evaporation, condensation, and precipitation. Or in other words, we’re changing water from a liquid, to a steam, and then back into a liquid form. So now you understand what distillation is. This is valuable knowledge because distillation is the single most effective method for purifying water and it produces consistently pure water over time.
Okay, so let's go back to the Red Cross recommendations. Some of the methods that the Red Cross does not include is recommendations are:
• UV, which is ultraviolet light
• And chemicals other than chlorine.
There's a reason that they don't recommend these methods, and we’ll go through these in a few minutes. The Red Cross recommendations are very good, but you need to understand why they make these recommendations. And this is crucial that you understand this information on a deeper level, and you’ll understand why it's so important in a few minutes.
So to get this deeper level of understanding, you need to understand more about water itself so let's delve deeper. The first thing I want you to understand is that water is water. So what do I mean by this? What is the difference between dangerous water in a Third World country, very salty ocean water, water in a landfill, water in a stream that is full of green algae, bottled water, or just pure water? The answer is that the water is the same but the contaminants are different. So water comes in different degrees of cleanliness, and that’s the important thing.
The next point is that wherever you go, water contamination varies, which means that the recipe of contaminants in the water is different everywhere. And if you think about it, this makes sense because every drop of water that falls from the sky takes a different path and comes in contact with different contaminants. Not only will the quality of water change from place to place, but water in the same place can change from moment to moment. This means that you always have to be on guard in an emergency and never take any water source for granted. This leads us to this important point: You don't know whether your water is contaminated or not. You can't tell by sight, smell, or taste. If you are in an emergency, assume that the safety of your water has to compromise and take precautions.
Now this point is key: There are different types of contaminants in water and you can group all contaminants in the five types.
1. First, we have particulates. Particulates are very small things that are floating in the water. They can make the water cloudy, or what's called turbid.
2. The second type is microbiological, which is living organisms. These are bacteria, viruses, parasites such as Giardia or Cryptosporidium, cholera, typhoid, and many more. These can be very dangerous.
3. Third, we have inorganic contaminants which include minerals and metals such as arsenic, fluoride, lead, mercury, copper, and many more. Inorganic contaminants can also be very toxic. Arsenic, for example, has been linked to many forms of cancer and scientists basically say that there is no safe level of arsenic that you can consume. Fluoride can be toxic. Lead is well known to be very toxic.
4. Now fourth, we have radioactive contaminants, and this is actually a subset of inorganic contaminants. And so this includes all uranium, plutonium, radium caesium 137, and many more. These contaminants can be toxic but they are also radioactive, which is just another level of danger.
5. Now the fifth type of contaminant is organic chemicals. And I know this sounds weird because we usually think of the word organic as meaning good and pure, but in this case organic means that it is a carbon-based molecule. And in today's day and age, what that typically means is that as a refined petrochemical. These chemicals can be very dangerous because man, animal, and plants are based on carbon molecules. Our bodies are made up of carbon molecules and so these carbon-based chemicals bind very well with the molecules that make up our bodies. This is why these types of chemicals are used for pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, and that kind of thing. These chemicals can be extremely toxic.
Okay, so here’s is the next question: In an emergency situation, what is the most dangerous type of contaminant? And the answer is that in an emergency, microbiological contaminants are definitely the most dangerous. Microbiological such as cholera, typhoid, giardia, cryptosporidium's, these can be very, very dangerous. So why is this? Well there's a couple reasons that biologicals are more dangerous. First is the speed at which they can make you extremely ill. So let's go back to the example of arsenic in your water. If you had arsenic in your in your drinking water and you consume that, which you don't want to do but let’s say you did, to it you may get cancer 10 or 20 years down the road. But if you consume biological contaminants, they could lay you out or even kill you tomorrow. Remember in a previous video we talked about the lady that had the stomach bug. A stomach bug in an emergency situation is a very serious thing. That was a biological contaminant that caused her to be sick, and that’s the situation you have to avoid at all costs during an emergency.
Now the second reason that biologicals are more dangerous than other types of contaminants is that they are living organisms. They can grow and multiply extremely quickly. And this is especially true in an emergency when the municipal water supply is not treating the water, and especially if there is sewage mixing with the tap water. As soon as that happens, the biologicals can grow exponentially fast, and they can get out of control very, very quickly. So this is a crucial point and I want you to etch this into your brain: The Red Cross recommends what they do because of their concern over biological contaminants. There is no room for error with biological contaminants. This is vital to understand.
So now that we understand this point, the Red Cross recommendations make total sense. The three recommended methods of boiling, chlorination and distillation, are the most effective and reliable ways to protect against biological contaminants. Boiling is obvious. Whenever there is a bacterial outbreak, cities announce a boil notice, which means that residents are supposed to boil the water before they drink it. Boiling is very effective at killing biological contaminants. Chlorine is also very good at killing biological contaminants, which is why municipal water systems have been using chlorine to treat water for decades. And the most effective way to kill and remove biological contaminants from water is distillation.
So let’s look at distillation a little closer. This is our illustration of a very basic water distiller. You put contaminated water in the pot and bring to a boil which kills the bacteria and viruses. So that pure steam rises. The contaminants are left behind in the boiling water. The steam condenses on the lid, and the pure distilled water drips down. Now I want you to notice something here; I want you to look at the space above the boiling water. So what is that? It’s just space. It’s just air. This is what we call an air gap and it’s a very important thing here. This air gap creates a physical separation between the contaminated water and the pure distilled water. And this air gap is very important because it ensures that the pure water does not come in contact with the raw water.
And this brings us to filters and the reason that they are not included in the Red Cross recommendations. This is a very basic representation of a filter. It’s simply a pipe with water flowing through it and we put a filter in it, and so the water has to flow through the filter. The hope, of course, is that the filter will let the water through but not let the contaminants through. The problem is, this is not what happens. Filters fail. They deteriorate over time and when they fail they let contaminants through. And you know that filters fail over time because this is why you change filters every few months. So why do you change filters? Because the filter deteriorates and as it deteriorates, it lets more and more stuff through. And the problem with filters is that there is a direct connection from the raw contaminated water to the filtered water. So when the filter lets contaminants through the filtered water will be contaminant without your knowledge. And remember what we said: There is no room for error with biological contaminants. These are living organisms so even if a few get through, they can grow and multiply. This is why filters are generally approved only for water that is already safe and are not recommended for dangerous water. Now I do want to point out that there is a way to properly use filters and I'll get to that in a minute.
Okay, now you understand what the Red Cross recommends and you understand why the recommended what they do. Their recommendations are very good and their priorities are right because biologicals can be extremely dangerous, but there is obviously a weakness with the Red Cross recommendations. While we certainly want to protect ourselves against biological contaminants, we also want to protect ourselves against other toxins that could be in the water, and this is especially true in an emergency situation because these toxins could be present in the water in greater amounts than usual. So what we have to do is go beyond the Red Cross recommendations.
The first step in doing this is by having the proper priorities. Your first priority in an emergency is to protect yourself from biological contaminants. Your second priority is to protect yourself against all other contaminants, as long as priority number two does not interfere with priority number one. In other words, we want to keep the Red Cross recommendations as our foundation and we want to build on this foundation. So let me show you an example of what I'm talking about. Now that you understand the process of distillation, you have a better understanding of what happens when you boil a pot of water on the stove. When you boil water on the stove, the steam, which is pure water, is leaving. This means that the boiling water still in the pot is actually getting more concentrated with contaminants. So if you boil half of the water away, you have just doubled the concentration of chemicals that are in the boiling water. And this is something that you have experience with, because what happens if you boil all of the water away? if you boil a pot of water dry, you will see a layer of stuff stuck to the bottom of the pot, right? So what is this stuff? This is the contaminants that were in the water, but now the water is gone and so the contaminants are what is left behind.
So now with this perspective let's go back and look at how boiling works on the different types of contaminants. Particulates. What’s going to happen with these? Particulates are actually going to stay behind in the boiling water, right? So boiling actually concentrates particulates in your water. Boiling kills biological contaminants but it does not remove them. When bacteria die, they can create toxins called endotoxins which can be dangerous, and these are left behind in the boiling water. Boiling actually concentrates inorganic, radioactive metals, and most organic chemicals.
This is very important information because you need to understand a key point: There are different types of water emergencies, and the right way to treat water in one type of emergency may be the exact wrong way to treat water for another type of emergency. So let's look at an example. In January 2014 there was a chemical spill in West Virginia. Over 10,000 gallons of a dangerous organic chemical that is used to clean coal leaked into the Elk River. The Elk River is the source of drinking water for more than 300,000 people. So these people were told not to drink, consume, touch, bathe or brush their teeth with their tap water. So this is the water emergency and one of the Red Cross recommendations is to boil water. Now, with what you’ve learned from this class, let me ask you, “If you were in this situation should you boil this water before you drink it? And I hope your answer is a very strong, “NO!” The last thing that you should do in this situation is boil your water before you consume it. As you know, the pure water would've left as steam, so the chemical would have stayed behind in the boiling water and would have actually become concentrated. So boiling this water would've actually made the problem worse.
This is an important point so I want to give you another example. In August 2014, Toledo, Ohio, had a water emergency in which there was a blue-green algae bloom in Lake Erie, and Lake Erie is their source for tap water. Again, people were told not to drink, bathe, or even touch the water. So let me ask you, in this situation, this is a water emergency, should you boil the water before you drink it? And this is actually a trick question, because it sounds like a biological contamination issue, right? So were talking about algae, and boiling is a very effective way to kill biologicals including algae. But here's the thing; in this situation the real danger does not come from the algae, but the danger comes from a toxin the algae creates called microcystin, which is very dangerous for your liver and kidneys. So in other words, the algae make a chemical and this chemical stays behind in the boiling water. So if you boil the water, yes, your killing the algae, but you're actually making the water more dangerous because you’re concentrating the microcystin in the water.
Let’s go through one more example. In August 2014, the town of Flint Michigan changes water supply from the Detroit water to the Flint River, and they did this in order to save money. It was subsequently discovered that this process was not handled properly, and the water turned out to be more corrosive which put high amounts of lead into the tap water. As we said earlier, lead is an inorganic contaminant that is very dangerous especially to children because it can cause permanent damage to developing brains. So this is another water emergency. So should you boil the water before you drinking it? I hope this is obvious by now. The answer is no. If you boil the water, the lead would stay behind in the boiling water and make the problem worse.
So you see now that it is very important to understand that there are different types of water emergencies. And from a practical perspective, this means that you may need to treat water differently for the different types of emergencies. I emphasize this because this is something that the vast number of people don't understand, but now you do!
So what about chlorine? While chlorine doesn’t concentrate the contaminants, it doesn’t remove them either. Chlorine can kill biological contaminants, but it does nothing to remove particulates, inorganic, radioactive, or organic contaminants. So if you chlorinate the water and think everything's okay, you may be putting your family at risk. That being said, I don't want you to dismiss the process of either boiling or chlorination, because they are very important processes that can save your life in an emergency. I will explain further how to use these processes in an effective way.
Now distillation is a different story. While distillation incorporates boiling, it takes it much further. Distillation is the only one of the three methods that actually purifies the water because it captures the pure steam that comes off of the boiling water. So yes, distillation is very effective at removing particulates because they stay behind in the boiling water. Distillation is the most effective way to kill and remove biological contaminants, and is very effective at removing inorganic, radioactive, and organic contaminants. And distillation is also a very effective way to remove salt from ocean water, because salt is an inorganic contaminant. And that makes sense because this is how the hydrologic cycle works, and that's how we get fresh water on this planet.
So let's look at the different processes and let’s rate them. There's no question that distillation is the best process because it provides the highest level of protection against biological contaminants while also providing excellent protection against other possible contaminants. Distillation can turn ocean water into pure water, and it has an air gap the puts a physical separation between the contaminated water and the distilled water. Distillation also provides long-term protection and produces the same quality water basically forever. The quality of the water that distillation produces does not deteriorate over time like filters do. There is no perfect water treatment process, including distillation, but distillation is at the top of the list. It gives us a good way to compare other options, because it is important to have other options. You may not be used to able to use distillation all the time, so you need to know how to use other treatment methods in the most effective way.
The next best method is boiling, but you know boiling has some serious weaknesses. It kills biologicals but it concentrates other contaminants, so you must remove as many of the other contaminants as possible prior to boiling. So what you want to do is use the best filter that is available to you, maybe even a combination of filters. Maybe you have a reverse osmosis system or a carbon filter, or even a very finely woven fabric that you can use as a filter. But remember—and this is a very important point—you are not going to drink the water that comes out of the filter until you then boil it. The solution is not as good as distillation and it will become less effective over time because filters become less effective over time, but it’s definitely a more complete solution than just boiling alone.
Now let’s look at chlorination, which I ranked third. Chlorination is not as good as distillation or boiling because there are some biological contaminants that are resistant to chlorine such as giardia or cryptosporidium. Also, the effectiveness of chlorine depends on carefully following the instructions that the Red Cross provides. Just as with boiling the water, you want to pre-filter the water as thoroughly as possible before you chlorinate it. The goal is to have a complete water treatment solution, while keeping the Red Cross recommendations as the foundation of anything that you do. In other words, you want to do everything possible to clean the water and then you want to follow it up with one of the Red Cross recommended methods. The Red Cross recommended method should always be the last step in the process. Distillation is the only process that is a complete solution in and of itself.
So let me summarize what you've learned so far:
1. First, you understand how vital water is and how water can become dangerously contaminated in an instant and put your family's safety at risk. Remember the picture of the lady with the stomach bug. That is the situation you want to avoid at all costs.
2. I told you the Red Cross and FEMA recommendations for treating water in an emergency.
3. And now you understand why they recommend what they do. You understand that there are different types of contaminants, and there is one type of contaminant—biological—that is more dangerous than the others in an emergency.
4. You also understand that there are different types of water emergencies and that this may affect the way that you should treat the water.
5. Finally, you understand what the proper priorities are and what water treatment methods are the best. You understand that you should not rely on filters alone, but you know that filters can play an important role in pretreating water before you use one of the Red Cross recommended methods.
I want to make one final comment. It's important that you understand that there’s a shocking lack of knowledge about water in our society. Most people know nothing about water, and unfortunately this often includes people who should know better. This lack of knowledge about water doesn't hurt us much in daily life because our infrastructure’s so good. But when emergency strikes and the infrastructure fails, not knowing your stuff about water can be very dangerous. So here's what I want you to understand; if an emergency strikes, the vast majority of people are not going to understand the threat to their safety, nor will they have any clue about what to do and what not to do. By completing the first two sessions of our basic training, you understand more than the vast majority of people. If disaster struck tonight and disrupted your drinking water supply, you would know the basics of how to take care of your family, and you’d be better able to help others. This is important stuff, so please share Emergency Water 101.com with those you care about so they can be ready, too.
Our next video is crucial because we start putting the pieces together. We’ll go through some real-life examples of different types of water emergencies. I want you to be able to correctly assess and respond to your circumstances in an emergency so you can keep your family safe.
I'll see you on the next video.
Questions? Leave a comment.