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Water Purification

WATER PURIFICATION When surface waters began to be used for potable purposes, some mode of arresting suspended matter, whether living or dead, became necessary. In many cases gauze strainers were at first employed, and, as an improvement upon or addition to these, the water was caused to pass through a bed of gravel or sand, which, like the gauze, was regarded merely as a strainer. As such strainers were further improved, by sorting the sand and gravel, and using the fine sand only at the surface, better clarification of the water was obtained; but chemical analysis indicated, or was at the time thought to indicate, that that improvement was practically confined to clarification, as the dissolved impurities in the water were certainly very little changed. Hence such filter beds, as they were even then called, were regarded as a luxury rather than as a necessity, and it was never suspected that, notwithstanding the absence of chemical improvement in the water, changes did take place of a most important kind. Following upon Dr Koch's discovery of a method of isolating bacteria, and of making approximate determinations of their number in any volume of water, a most remarkable diminution in the number of microbes contained in sand-filtered water was observed; and it is now well known that when a properly constructed sand-filter bed is in its best condition, and is worked in the best-known manner, nearly the whole of the microbes existing in the crude water will be arrested. The sand, which is nominally the filter, has interstices about thirty times as wide as the largest dimensions of the larger microbes; and the reason why these, and, still more, why organisms which were individually invisible under any magnifying power, and could only be detected as colonies, were arrested, was not understood. In process of time it became clear, however, that the worse the condition of a filter bed, in the then general acceptation of the term, the better it was as a microbe filter; that is to say, it was not until a fine film of mud and microbes had formed upon the surface of the sand that the best results were obtained.

Even yet medical science has not determined the effect upon the human system of water highly charged with bacteria which are not known to be individually pathogenic. In the case of the bacilli of typhoid and cholera, we know the direct effect; but apart altogether from the presence of such specific poisons, polluted water is undoubtedly injurious. Where, therefore, there is animal pollution of any kind, more especially where there is human pollution, generally indicated by the presence of bacillus coli communis, purification is of supreme importance, and no process has yet been devised which, except at extravagant cost, supersedes for public supplies that of properly -conducted sand filtration. Yet it cannot be too constantly urged that such filtration depends for its comparative perfection upon the surface film; that this surface film is not present when the filter is new, or when its materials have been recently washed; that it may be, and very often is, punctured by the actual working of the filters, or for the purpose of increasing their discharge; and that at the best it must be regarded as an exceedingly thin line of defence, not to be depended upon as a safeguard against highly polluted waters, if a purer source of supply can possibly be found. Such filters are not, and in the nature of things cannot be, worked with the precision and continuity of a laboratory experiment.

In fig. 21 a section is shown of an efficient sand-filter bed. The thickness of sand is 3 ft. 6 in. In the older filters it was usual to support this sand upon small gravel resting upon larger gravel, and so on until the material was sufficiently open to pass the water laterally to underdrains. But a much shallower and certainly not less efficient filter can be constructed by making the under-drains cover the whole bottom. In fig. 21 the sand rests on small gravel of such degree of coarseness that the whole of the grains would be retained on a sieve of J-in. mesh and rejected by a sieve of J-in. mesh in the clear, supported upon a 3-in. thickness of bricks laid close together, and constituting the roof of the underdrains, which are formed by ! CONCRETE, other bricks laid on thin asphalt, upon a concrete FIG. 21. Section of Sand-Filter Bed. floor. In this arrangement the whole of the materials may be readily removed for cleansing. In the best filters an automatic arrangement for the measurement of the supply to each separate filter, and for the regulation of the quantity within certain limits, is adopted, and the resistance at outflow is so arranged that not more than a certain head of pressure, about 2\ ft., can under any circumstances come upon the surface film, while a depth of several feet of water is maintained over the sand. It is essential that during the working of the filter the water should be so supplied that it will not disturb the surface of the sand. When a filter has been emptied, and is being re-charged, the water should be introduced from a neighbouring filter, and should pass upwards in the filter to be charged, until the surface of the sand has been covered. The unfiltered water may then be allowed to flow quietly and to fill the space above the sand to a depth of 2 or 3 ft. It would appear to be impossible with any water that requires filtration to secure that the first filtrate shall be satisfactory if filtration begins immediately after a filter is charged; and if the highest results are to be obtained, either the unfiltered water must be permitted to pass extremely slowly over the surface of the sand without passing through it, or to stand upon the sand until the surface film has formed. With waters giving little or no sediment, which are often the most dangerous, some change, as by the first method, is necessary. It has been proposed, on the other hand, to allow the filter to act slowly until the surface film is formed, and to discard the first effluent. This course can scarcely fail to introduce into the sand many bacteria, which may be washed through when the full working of the filters is begun ; and it should not, therefore, be adopted when the source of the supply is known to be subject to human pollution. The time for the formation of anefficient surface films varies, according to the quality of the raw water, from a few hours to a few days. Judging from the best observations that have been made on a large scale, the highest rate of efficient filtration when the surface film is in good condition is about 4 in. downwards per hour of the water contained above the sand, equivalent to about 50 gallons per day from each square foot of sand. When the surface film has once been formed, and the filter has begun its work, it should continue without interruption until the resistance of that film becomes too great to permit of the necessary quantity of water being passed. That period will vary, according to the condition of the water, from eight or ten days to four weeks. The surface film, together with half an inch to an inch of sand, is then carefully scraped off and stored for subsequent washing and use. This process may be repeated many times until the thickness of the fine sand is reduced to about 18 in., when the filter bed should be restored to its full thickness.

A lately discovered effect of sand filtration is a matter of great importance in connexion with the subject of aqueducts. A brown slimy sediment, having the appearance of coffee grounds when placed in clear water, nas been long observed in pipes conveying surface waters from mountain moorlands. The deposit grows on the sides of the pipes and accumulates at the bottom, and causes most serious obstruction to the flow of water. The chemists and bacteriologists do not appear to have finally determined the true nature and origin of this growth, but it is found in the impounded waters, and passes into the pipes, where it rapidly increases. It is checked even by fine copper wire-gauze strainers, and where the water passes through sand-filter beds in the course of an aqueduct, the growth, though very great between the reservoir and the filter beds, is almost absent between the filter beds and the town. Even the growth of the well-known nodular incrustations in iron pipes is much reduced by sand filtration. From these facts it is clear that, other things being the same, the best position for the strainers and filter beds is as close as possible to the reservoir.

Some surface waters dissolve lead when bright, but cease to do so when the lead becomes tarnished. More rarely 'the action is continuous, and the water after being passed through lead cisterns and pipes produces lead poisoning so called " plumbism." The liability to this appears to be entirely removed by efficient sand filtration.

Sand filtration, even when working in the best possible manner, falls short of the perfection necessary to preve_nt the passage of bacteria which may multiply after the filter is passed. Small, however, as the micro-organisms are, they are larger than the capillary passages in some materials through which water under pressure may be caused to percolate. It is therefore natural that attempts should have been made to construct filters which, while permitting the slow percolation of water, should preclude the passage of bacteria or their spores. In the laboratory of Pasteur probaoly the first filter which successfully accomplished this object, was produced. In this apparatus, known as the Pasteur-Chamber land filter, the filtering medium is biscuit porcelain. It was followed by the Berkefield filter, constructed of baked infusorial earth. Both these filters arrest the organisms by purely mechanical action, and if the joints are water-tight and they receive proper attention and frequent sterilization, they both give satisfactory results on a small scale for domestic purposes. The cost, however to say nothing of the uncertainty where large volumes of water are concerned, much exceeds the cost of obtaining initially safe water. Moreover, if a natural water is so liable to pathogenic pollution as to demand filtration of this kind, it ought at once to be discarded for an initially pure supply; not necessarily pure in an apparent or even in a chemical sense, for water may be visibly coloured, or may contain considerable proportions both of organic and inorganic impurity, and yet be tasteless and free from pathogenic pollution.

There are several materials now in use possessing remarkable power to decolourize clarify, chemically punfy and oxidize water; but they are too costly for use in connexion with public water supplies unless a rate of filtration is adopted quite inconsistent with the formation of a surface film capable of arresting micro-organisms. This fact does not render them less useful when applied to the arts in which they are successfully employed.

Attempts have been made, by adding certain coagulants to the water to be filtered, to increase the power of sand and other granular materials to arrest bacteria when passing through them at much higher velocities than are possible for successful filtration by means of the surface film upon sand. The effect is to produce between the sand or other grains a glutinous substance which does the work performed by the mud and microbes upon the surface of the sand filter. Elsewhere centrifugal force, acting somewhat after its manner in the cream separator, has been called in aid.

The sedimentation tank forms a. very important Srdimea- help to filtration. In the case of river waters liable to turbidity the water should always be passed through such tanks before being placed in the filters.

They form, moreover, additional safeguards against organic impurity. Sedimentation tanks on a sufficient scale may effect the purification of the water to almost any desired extent. This -is shown to be the case by the purity of some lake waters; but the first cost of the works and the subsequent removal of the sediment are in some cases a serious matter, and any approach to the comparatively perfect action of lakes is out of the question. By the use of such tanks, however, when the condition of the water demands it, and by passing the effluent water through sand filters when in good condition, the number of microbes is found to be reduced by as much as 97 or even 99%. This, when attained, is undoubtedly a most important reduction in the chance of pathogenic bacteria passing into the filtered water; but much more must be done than has hitherto in most places been done to ensure the constancy of such a condition before it can be assumed to represent the degree of safety attained. No public supply should be open to any such doubt as ought to, or may, deter people from drinking the water without previous domestic filtration or boiling.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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