The History of Water Filters – The Pure Source of Life
by Gareth Marples
Does it annoy you when you get a glass of "fresh" water from the tap and you smell and taste chlorine and minerals? Don't you want your water to taste clear and fresh? From the beginning of recorded time, people have been searching for the purest drinking water.
The history of water filters, or actually water filtering, began much earlier than most of us would have thought. You may be surprised at how far back it goes, and at the similarity in methods used back then, compared to what we use today. Read on.
Pure drinking water has always been the goal
Water has always been seen as the symbol of power and clarity, of movement and regeneration - indeed, of life itself. That's why people have been seeking methods to improve the taste and odor of drinking water since as early as 4000 B.C. Ancient Sanskrit and Greek writings recommended water treatment methods such as filtering through charcoal, exposing to sunlight, boiling and straining.
Early water treatments were driven by a desire to reduce the visible cloudiness of water, as well as its objectionable taste and appearance. As early as 1500 B.C., the Egyptians reportedly clarified water using the coagulant alum, a chemical that causes suspended particles to settle out of water. During the 1700s, filtration was established as an effective means of removing particles from water, although they had no way of really testing how much. By the early 1800s, slow sand filtration was beginning to be used regularly in Europe, mainly to improve water's taste and odor. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, slow sand filtration was used by water systems in some U.S. cities such as Philadelphia.
Disease-causing microbes were discovered in drinking water
Soon after, scientists leaned that pure odor and taste wasn't the only goal of filtering water - particles in source water could also harbor disease-causing microbes. Most drinking water treatment systems built in the U.S. during the early 1900s were driven by the need to reduce the visible cloudiness, just like their counterparts way back in 4000 B.C., but now their goal was also to remove microbial contaminants which were causing typhoid, dysentery and cholera epidemics.
Disinfectants like chlorine played the largest role in reducing the number of waterborne disease outbreaks in the early 1900s. In 1908, chlorine was used for the first time as a primary disinfectant of drinking water in Jersey City, New Jersey. While the U.S. developed it's systems, Europe was doing the same, using other disinfectants such as ozone. The use of ozone didn't arrive in the U.S. until several decades later.
By the 1960s, standard drinking water treatment techniques in the U.S. included aeration, flocculation and granular-activated carbon absorption for removal of organic contaminants. In the 1970s and 80s, advancements were made in membrane filtration development for reverse osmosis, and also ozonation.
The beginning of modern-day water filters
Water filters as we know them today have an interesting beginning. In 1966, a West German entrepreneur named Heinz Hankammer recognized people's age-old desire to optimize the taste of their water, while also treating it for health reasons. His vision was to optimize normal tap water with a simple process and, as a result, developed a filter for producing completely desalinated water. The filter was called the AquaDeMat - you can still find them being used in automotive repair shops throughout Europe to produce distilled water for car batteries.
I'm sure you've heard of Brita filters. Well, that was the name of Hankammer's daughter, and he affectionately used it to name his company. Hankammer's whole family helped him set up his small business, and the first production was accomplished under a pear tree in the family's garden. Brita is now a household word – the world market leader in freestanding whole house water filters.
More chemicals and diseases required more filtering
As scientific techniques became more sophisticated, and industry pumped more chemicals into our water, more impurities were found in drinking water. Chlorine-resistant pathogens that caused illnesses, like hepatitis, gastroenteritis, Legionnaire's Disease and cryptosporidiosis were discovered. At the same time, other treatment techniques were designed to remove more and more chemicals found in drinking water sources.
According to a 1995 EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) survey, approximately 64% of community ground water and surface water systems disinfect their water with chlorine. Others use another type of disinfectant, such as ozone or chloramine. In more EPA surveys that followed, from 1976-1995, the percentage of small and medium community water systems that treated their water was steadily increasing. For example, in 1976, only 33% of systems serving fewer than 100 people provided treatment. But by 1995, that number had risen to 69%.
We must now filter out all the impurities we've put into our water
Today, U.S. federal law requires all municipalities to add chlorine to their water supplies and to test tap water for 83 possible contaminants. On top of that, there are many herbicides and pesticides, as well as high levels of lead, to be sought and filtered out. That's why water filters are becoming an increasingly popular solution in most households throughout the world.
Water filters are the simplest and most cost-effective way to improve water quality. Using water filters is really the only way to protect our drinking water. And it's the only way to give us water in its purest form - just as they did in 4000 B.C. The history of water filters is a long one, but throughout the years, all people wanted was that "liquid of life" - pure drinking water.
This article on the "The History of the Water Filter" reprinted with permission.