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What is the History of Water Filtration?


Water Filtration and Treatment History

The history of water filtration is indelibly tied to the history of water, itself. As human industry has grown and water has become more contaminated, water filtration has emerged over the centuries in response to the growing recognition of the need for pure, clean water to drink and the realization that such water does not occur naturally.

In modern times, concerns over water quality remain supreme. Over the years, scientists have discovered more and more contaminants in fresh water sources, and these same scientists have noted a strong correlation between drinking water contamination and many significant health problems. Water filtration has proven as one of the more viable and prominent of treatment technologies. (www.historyofwaterfilters.com)

Early Methods of Water Treatment

The earliest filtration methods ranged from boiling or placing hot metal instruments in water before drinking it to filtering that water through crude sand or charcoal filters. Centuries later, Hippocrates, the famed father of medicine, designed his own crude water filter to "purify" the water he used for his patients. Later known as the "Hippocratic sleeve," this filter was a cloth bag through which it could be poured after being boiled. The cloth would trap any sentiments that were causing bad taste or smell.

After the middle ages passed, the first record of experimentation in filtering came from Sir Francis Bacon in 1627. Hearing rumors that seawater could be purified and cleansed for drinking purposes, he began experimenting in the desalination of seawater. Sadly, his sand filtration technique did not prove work for desalination, but later scientists would follow his lead and continue to experiment with this technique, followed by implementing the technology in early treatment plants.

A Great Discovery in Water Filtration History

The Renaissance period marked the invention of the microscope, a scientific innovation that greatly affected the history of filters. This greatly advanced study of purity and filter technology. Scientists were now able to view tiny material particles in liquid that had been presumed to be clean.

In middle 19th century London, city officials began to link the spread of cholera to poor drinking water quality. In areas where sand water filters had been installed, the outbreak of cholera had greatly decreased. Using a microscope, the presence of tiny cholera bacteria in the water was confirmed. This resulted in one of the first government mandates regulation of public water and would set a precedent for municipal water systems.

In 1804, the first citywide municipal treatment plant was installed in Paisley, Scotland. This plant would provide a filtered supply to every household within the city limits. The Scottish treatment plant depended upon sand filters.

Chlorine, the EPA and the Clean Water Act

Chlorine was first recognized as a valuable chemical when John Snow used it to purify the cholera contamination in London. Noting the disinfecting nature of chlorine and its ability to curb cholera deaths, government officials in Great Britain began to chlorinate the public drinking supply. This application of chlorine resulted in a sharp decline in deaths from typhoid, as well. After the tremendous success of chlorination in England, the process began in New Jersey and soon spread through the entire United States.

As the 20th century progressed, more and more metropolitan areas in the world found it necessary to install treatment plants. Multiple environmental acts passed through Congress in rapid succession, including the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the passage of the Clean-Water-Act of 1972.

Despite government regulations and incredible advancements in technology, the what was issued from home taps is still quite contaminated. Although municipal treatment plants are intended to provide a clean, healthy supply to all city residents, such plants must work with heavily contamination. City treatment plants are simply unable to provide a pure, chemical-free supply to city residents. Even when it is purified at a municipal treatment plant, it often picks up lead and other chemicals when traveling through a home's plumbing system.

Filter technology and treatment will continue to evolve in the future. The most important future development may well be the complete transformation of filter technology from municipal treatment plants to whole house filters, or a combination of the two systems.


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