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Opinions of Monday, 3 October 2011

Columnist: Anim-Mensah, Alexander

Purified Drinking Water - What You Need To Know

Water is considered as life, but that cannot be the case if the quality is compromised. It is worth to know what one is consuming, thus ensuring the benefits derived is indeed helping to keep a life. This piece is to serve an educational purpose on what could turn out to be an “unknown bought fatality” from consuming poor or bad quality water under the pretext of buying quality purified or treated drinking water. Some observations have prompted me to point out some risks that lie in consuming some waters that may need better or further treatment.

People usually are of the view that once water tastes good, it’s from a bore hole or packaged, etc, then it is always good quality drinking water. Water is more complicated than usually known and depending on its use; the definition of good or bad water is relative. While most of us might not be balancing our diets, cannot afford nor have access to proper medical/health care, etc we should at least promise ourselves better drinking water. Note that about 70% of the human body is made up of water and water with some specific characteristics is necessary for the body’s proper functioning. Water covers about 70% of the earth’s surface, however, the amount of fresh water is limited and dwindling every day.

In Ghana, I tasted some of the locally packaged drinking water both bottled and sachet, and detected differences in the taste. In addition, I observed the numerous water packaging labels and how it changed over short distances. It appeared that water purification and packaging are among the best businesses of the day. While it is a good business venture, have people sat down to ask themselves about which of these water products sold on the market are very safe for human consumption as well as their worth? The following questions came to mind……do people think all these waters are the same? What are some of the water sources for some of these small purification/treatment businesses - boreholes, river, wells, municipal, etc? Do some of these businesses really understand water? Is water quantity related to quality? Are the treatment processes hygienic enough? Is purified water treatment and packaging a low capital intensive venture in Ghana? Are some really treating the water, and to what levels? How resourceful and ready are some businesses in treating extremely poor quality water for drinking? What bodies are ensuring that all these small local water companies abide by some set of specifications, rules or laws? Are these companies monitored regularly for quality? Is extremely pure quality water good for drinking? Could poor water be a silent killer? Are there simple tests one can perform on these packaged waters to determine which ones are good? How does one know he/she is buying good quality drink water?
Answering some of the above questions – Are all waters the same?
No! All waters are not the same….water varies from place to place and some will require more treatment than the other to achieve the minimum safe drinking quality as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO). You will be surprised to know the difference in properties of water from a borehole about 100 meters apart; one safe and the other being extremely unsafe for drinking.
How does one ensure he/she is drinking quality water?
There are sets of test that need to be performed on water to determine the type of contaminants and their levels. These tests can be classified into physical, chemical, and biological. Physical include appearance, color, particles suspended (turbidity), etc. Chemical test is for determining the types of metals (including heavy metals), salts, toxics (including pesticides, herbicides, petroleum,) and gases, while the biological test is for microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, etc in the water.
Is water quantity related to quality?
Abundance of water from a borehole, well, river, etc does not necessary mean the water is of good quality for consumption. You will require some testing to establish the quality of the water. However, water quality depends on the local geology, ecosystem as well as human influence including landfill leaching, sewage dispersion, industrial pollution, etc.

Is purified water treatment and bottling a low capital intensive venture in Ghana?
Depending on the water source and anticipated water quality required, the purification or treatment processes could be relatively capital intensive; both initial and operating costs. Some bad water will require removing everything from the source water and afterwards adding your own mineral supplements, or would require blending to achieve safe quality - this may be expensive.
Is there any simple test and treatment one can perform on water for protection?
Oftentimes unsophisticated tests which include appearance, smell and taste are used, which in some cases might not be enough. Cloudy water can be allowed to sit to settle and decanted or filtered using a clean cloth. For extremely pure water; the time it takes to form ice in a refrigerator (not the freezer) could be helpful for comparing with water with good ionic balance. The extremely pure water which has low or no ionic content takes a shorter time to form ice compared with water with good ionic balance. Boiling is known to kill microorganisms as well as remove gases, however water if boiled for a long time may lead to concentration of dangerous ions (heavy metals). Boiling is advisable for emergency situations and recommended to boil for very short times while minimizing lot of vapour loss.
Is extremely pure water good for drinking?
While poor or bad quality water may be bad for drinking, so is extremely pure water. Extremely pure water has low or no ionic content and could be acidic. Good ionic content is required to balance the water acidity as well as ions to aid the body’s proper functioning. Acidic water may be bad for your bones, some internal organs and the general well being of your body. However, intermittent use of acidic water may be good to treat some infections in the body.
Could poor water be a silent killer?
Definitely Yes! Analogously, good engine oil prolongs an engine’s life, so does good quality drinking water make you healthier with prolonged life. Poor water quality could make you sick and shorten your life span unknowingly. It could be contributory to some of our unexplained ill-health and death.
Also, it is important to note that some of our illnesses may originate from acid-base imbalance in the body. Therefore, it is recommended the body maintains an alkaline to acid ratio of about 4 to 1 i.e. 80% to 20%, respectively to develop strong resistance against diseases. A drop in this ratio to about 3 to 1 can put your health in danger. The body can function properly and maintain health only in the presence of enough alkaline reserves as well as the proper alkaline to acid ratio in all the body tissue and the blood. For optimum health and maximum disease resistance it is important that one’s diet be slightly over alkaline. This can be aided by consuming quality water which has the required alkalinity to neutralize acidity in the body.
Though, food types categorized into acidic, alkaline or neutral play a role; more alkaline will be required to balance acid foods. Since 70% of the body is water, alkalinity derived from water could be beneficial. On the contrary, too much alkalinity in the body above the proper ratio could be unsafe (Alkalosis). It appears that some untreated water, undertreated water and overtreated water e.g. distilled water and some Reverse Osmosis (RO) water without the added required ions could be unsafe for drinking hence proper measures need to be in place for people to drink the right quality water. To be safe, consume water from reliable sources- confirming reliability could involve checking the packaging label, calling the company to ask how the water is purified or treated and/or visiting the company if possible to witness their processes. In addition, educating yourself about water, food types (i.e. acidic, neutral or alkaline) and associated health issues is necessary. Testing one’s urine for acidity or alkalinity will be helpful to make a decision on water and food selection. While I cannot be detailed here your responses, questions and what you want to know will prompt another article.

Alex. Anim-Mensah, PhD
Cincinnati, OH, USA
alexraymonda@yahoo.com