Water purification is the process of removing contaminants from a raw water source. The goal is to produce water for a specific purpose with a treatment profile designed to limit the inclusion of specific materials; most water is purified for human consumption (drinking water). Water purification may also be designed for a variety of other purposes, including to meet the requirements of medical, pharmacology, chemical and industrial applications. Methods include, but are not limited to: ultraviolet light, filtration, water softening, reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration, deionization and powdered activated carbon treatment.
Water purification may remove: particulate sand; suspended particles of organic material; parasites, Giardia; Cryptosporidium; bacteria; algae; viruses; fungi; minerals such as calcium, silica, and magnesium; and toxic metals like lead, copper, and chromium. Some purification may be elective in the purification process, including smell (hydrogen sulfide remediation), taste (mineral extraction), and appearance (iron encapsulation).
Governments usually dictate the standards for drinking water quality. These standards will require minimum / maximum set points of contaminants and the inclusion of control elements that produce drinking water. Quality standards in many countries require specific amounts of disinfectant (such as chlorine) in the water after it leaves the water treatment plant (WTP), to reduce the risk of re-contamination while the water is in the distribution system.
It is not possible to tell whether water is safe to drink just by looking at it. Simple procedures such as boiling or the use of a household activated carbon filter are not sufficient for treating all the possible contaminants that may be present in water from an unknown source. Even natural spring water - considered safe for all practical purposes in the 1800s - must now be tested before determining what kind of treatment, if any, is needed. Chemical analysis, while expensive, is the only way to obtain the information necessary for deciding on method of purification.
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