Water purification is the process of removing undesirable chemicals, biological contaminants, suspended solids and gases from contaminated water. The goal is to produce water fit for a specific purpose. Most water is purified for human consumption (drinking water), but water purification may also be designed for a variety of other purposes, including meeting the requirements of medical, pharmacological, chemical and industrial applications. In general the methods used include physical processes such as filtration,sedimentation, and distillation, biological processes such as slow sand filters or biologically active carbon, chemical processes such asflocculation and chlorination and the use of electromagnetic radiation such as ultraviolet light. The purification process of water may reduce the concentration of particulate matter including suspended particles, parasites, bacteria,algae, viruses, fungi; and a range of dissolved and particulate material derived from the surfaces that water may have made contact with after falling as rain.
The standards for drinking water quality are typically set by governments or by international standards. These standards will typically set minimum and maximum concentrations of contaminants for the use that is to be made of the water. It is not possible to tell whether water is of an appropriate quality by visual examination. 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 19th century – must now be tested before determining what kind of treatment, if any, is needed. Chemical and microbiological analysis, while expensive, are the only way to obtain the information necessary for deciding on the appropriate method of purification.
According to a 2007 World Health Organization (WHO) report, 1.1 billion people lack access to an improved drinking water supply, 88 percent of the 4 billion annual cases of diarrheal disease are attributed to unsafe water and inadequate sanitation and hygiene, and 1.8 million people die from diarrheal diseases each year. The WHO estimates that 94 percent of these diarrheal cases are preventable through modifications to the environment, including access to safe water. Simple techniques for treating water at home, such as chlorination, filters, and solar disinfection, and storing it in safe containers could save a huge number of lives each year. Reducing deaths from waterborne diseases is a major public health goal in developing countries.
Sources of water
Further information: Water supply
1. Groundwater: The water emerging from some deep ground water may have fallen as rain many tens, hundreds, or thousands of years ago. Soil and rock layers naturally filter the ground water to a high degree of clarity and often it does not require additional treatment other than adding chlorine or chloramines as secondary disinfectants. Such water may emerge as springs, artesian springs, or may be extracted from boreholes or wells. Deep ground water is generally of very high bacteriological quality (i.e., pathogenic bacteria or the pathogenic protozoa are typically absent), but the water may be rich in dissolved solids, especiallycarbonates and sulfates of calcium and magnesium. Depending on the strata through which the water has flowed, other ions may also be present including chloride, and bicarbonate. There may be a requirement to reduce the iron or manganese content of this water to make it acceptable for drinking, cooking, and laundry use. Primary disinfection may also be required. Where groundwater recharge is practised (a process in which river water is injected into an aquifer to store the water in times of plenty so that it is available in times of drought), the groundwater may require additional treatment depending on applicable state and federal regulations.
2. Upland lakes and reservoirs: Typically located in the headwaters of river systems, upland reservoirs are usually sited above any human habitation and may be surrounded by a protective zone to restrict the opportunities for contamination. Bacteria and pathogen levels are usually low, but some bacteria, protozoa or algae will be present. Where uplands are forested or peaty,humic acids can colour the water. Many upland sources have low pH which require adjustment.
3. Rivers, canals and low land reservoirs: Low land surface waters will have a significant bacterial load and may also contain algae, suspended solids and a variety of dissolved constituents. 4. Atmospheric water generation is a new technology that can provide high quality drinking water by extracting water from the air by cooling the air and thus condensing water vapor. 5. Rainwater harvesting or fog collection which collects water from the atmosphere can be used especially in areas with significant dry seasons and in areas which experience fog even when there is little rain. 6. Desalination of seawater by distillation or reverse osmosis. 7. Surface Water: Freshwater bodies that are open to the atmosphere and are not designated as groundwater are classified in the USA for regulatory and water purification purposes as surface water.
The processes below are the ones commonly used in water purification plants. Some or most may not be used depending on the scale of the plant and quality of the raw (source) water.
1. Pumping and containment – The majority of water must be pumped from its source or directed into pipes or holding tanks. To avoid adding contaminants to the water, this physical infrastructure must be made from appropriate materials and constructed so that accidental contamination does not occur. 2. Screening (see also screen filter) – The first step in purifying surface water is to remove large debris such as sticks, leaves, rubbish and other large particles which may interfere with subsequent purification steps. Most deep groundwater does not need screening before other purification steps. 3. Storage – Water from rivers may also be stored in bankside reservoirs for periods between a few days and many months to allow natural biological purification to take place.
This is especially important if treatment is by slow sand filters. Storage reservoirs also provide a buffer against short periods of drought or to allow water supply to be maintained during transitory pollutionincidents in the source river. 4. Pre-chlorination – In many plants the incoming water was chlorinated to minimize the growth of fouling organisms on the pipe-work and tanks. Because of the potential adverse quality effects (see chlorine below), this has largely been discontinued. Widely varied techniques are available to remove the fine solids, micro-organisms and some dissolved inorganic and organic materials. The choice of method will depend on the quality of the water being treated, the cost of the treatment process and the quality standards expected of the processed water.
Pure water has a pH close to 7 (neither alkaline nor acidic). Sea water can have pH values that range from 7.5 to 8.4 (moderately alkaline). Fresh water can have widely ranging pH values depending on the geology of the drainage basin or aquifer and the influence of contaminant inputs (acid rain). If the water is acidic (lower than 7), lime, soda ash, or sodium hydroxide can be added to raise the pH during water purification processes. Lime addition increases the calcium ion concentration, thus raising the water hardness. For highly acidic waters, forced draft degasifiers can be an effective way to raise the pH, by stripping dissolved carbon dioxide from the water.
Making the water alkaline helps coagulation and flocculation processes work effectively and also helps to minimize the risk of lead being dissolved from lead pipes and from lead solder in pipe fittings. Sufficient alkalinity also reduces the corrosiveness of water to iron pipes. Acid ( carbonic acid, hydrochloric acid or sulfuric acid) may be added to alkaline waters in some circumstances to lower the pH. Alkaline water (above pH 7.0) does not necessarily mean that lead or copper from the plumbing system will not be dissolved into the water. The ability of water to precipitate calcium carbonate to protect metal surfaces and reduce the likelihood of toxic metals being dissolved in water is a function of pH, mineral content, temperature, alkalinity and calcium concentration. 
Coagulation and flocculation
See also: particle aggregation
One of the first steps in a conventional water purification process is the addition of chemicals to assist in the removal of particles suspended in water. Particles can be inorganic such as clay and silt or organic such as algae, bacteria, viruses, protozoa and natural organic matter. Inorganic and organic particles contribute to the turbidity and colour of water. The addition of inorganic coagulants such as aluminum sulfate (or alum) or iron (III) salts such as iron(III) chloride cause several simultaneous chemical and physical interactions on and among the particles. Within seconds, negative charges on the particles are neutralized by inorganic coagulants. Also within seconds, metal hydroxide precipitates of the aluminum and iron (III) ions begin to form. These precipitates combine into larger particles under natural processes such as Brownian motion and through induced mixing which is sometimes referred to as flocculation. The term most often used for the amorphous metal hydroxides is “floc.” Large, amorphous aluminum and iron (III) hydroxides adsorb and enmesh particles in suspension and facilitate the removal of particles by subsequent processes of sedimentation and filtration. :8.2-8.3
Aluminum hydroxides are formed within a fairly narrow range, typically: 5.5 to about 7.7. Iron (III) hydroxides can form over a larger pH range including pH levels lower than are effective for alum, typically: 5.0 to 8.5.:679 In the literature, there is much debate and confusion over the usage of the terms coagulation and flocculation—where does coagulation end and flocculation begin? In water purification plants, there is usually a high energy, rapid mix unit process (detention time in seconds) where the coagulant chemicals are added followed by flocculation basins (detention times range from 15 to 45 minutes) where low energy inputs turn large paddles or other gentle mixing devices to enhance the formation of floc. In fact, coagulation and flocculation processes are ongoing once the metal salt coagulants are added.:74-5
Organic polymers were developed in the 1960s as aids to coagulants and, in some cases, as replacements for the inorganic metal salt coagulants. Synthetic organic polymers are high molecular weight compounds that carry negative, positive or neutral charges. When organic polymers are added to water with particulates, the high molecular weight compounds adsorb onto particle surfaces and through interparticle bridging coalesce with other particles to form floc. PolyDADMAC is a popular cationic (positively charged) organic polymer used in water purification plants.:667-8
Waters exiting the flocculation basin may enter the sedimentation basin, also called a clarifier or settling basin. It is a large tank with low water velocities, allowing floc to settle to the bottom. The sedimentation basin is best located close to the flocculation basin so the transit between the two processes does not permit settlement or floc break up. Sedimentation basins may be rectangular, where water flows from end to end, or circular where flow is from the centre outward. Sedimentation basin outflow is typically over a weir so only a thin top layer of water—that furthest from the sludge—exits. In 1904, Allen Hazen showed that the efficiency of a sedimentation process was a function of the particle settling velocity, the flow through the tank and the surface area of tank.
Sedimentation tanks are typically designed within a range of overflow rates of 0.5 to 1.0 gallons per minute per square foot (or 1.25 to 2.5 meters per hour). In general, sedimentation basin efficiency is not a function of detention time or depth of the basin. Although, basin depth must be sufficient so that water currents do not disturb the sludge and settled particle interactions are promoted. As particle concentrations in the settled water increase near the sludge surface on the bottom of the tank, settling velocities can increase due to collisions and agglomeration of particles.
Typical detention times for sedimentation vary from 1.5 to 4 hours and basin depths vary from 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 meters).:9.39-9.40:790-1:140-2, 171 Inclined flat plates or tubes can be added to traditional sedimentation basins to improve particle removal performance. Inclined plates and tubes drastically increase the surface area available for particles to be removed in concert with Hazen’s original theory. The amount of ground surface area occupied by a sedimentation basin with inclined plates or tubes can be far smaller than a conventional sedimentation basin.
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