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What Is the Best Source of Drinking Water
While Traveling?

By Dr. Peter W. Kujtan, B.Sc., M.D., Ph.D.

This article originally appeared on page 14 in the August 7-8, 2004 issue of
The Mississauga News under the feature: Health & Wellness, Doctor's Corner.

In Canada, fresh and reliable drinking water is one of our most valuable and abundant resources. Traveling to many world destinations will prove the point.

Water can contain many types of contaminants. Dissolved pesticides, radiation and chemicals are difficult to see. The smallest of organisms such as Hepatitis A virus, Giardia cysts are also unseen. Bacteria such as certain non-healthy E.Coli. present problems when livestock excrement is left unchecked and allowed to seep into the ground water. Many parasites and protozoa such as Amoebas can also be transmitted in water.

The first rule of travel is to know your source. Find out where the water you are drinking originated from and how it has been treated. Lakes, rivers and shallow wells are considered surface water and require treatment. Bottled water tends to be drinkable because of market pressures. Bottlers in foreign lands may not be regulated, but try to keep water potable for market share reasons. Large tourist resorts also tend to maintain their own purification systems to encourage return business.

Deep wells that hit the natural water table, tap water that has been subjected to the natural filtration process of temperature and seepage through porous sub-soils. This does not guarantee safety but is more desirable. Check color and clarity. Turbid water is tougher to purify. With bottled water take the "whiff" test. Smell it after opening. An odor may be the result of bacterial metabolism and a clue that the water is unpotable. If it tastes bad don't drink it. Much of travelers' diarrhea originates when travelers ingest untreated water unknowingly. This occurs with tooth-brushing, washing food, ice-cubes and eating in second class eateries.

The World Health Organization still maintains that the most effective purification method is boiling. Boiling for 10-20 minutes will destroy virtually all-living contaminants. When boiling is not available, using Tincture of Iodine 2% is an effective alternative, but needs to still stand for 30 minutes, and does have a distinctive taste. Liquid chlorine bleach is another alternative but not a method of choice. Two drops per liter of water is enough but works poorly in cold or acidic conditions.

Portable filtration and purifiers are on the market. They do work and are affordable. The better ones are multi-phasic. They filter the water through a fine ceramic filter, then pass it through an iodination or charcoal process. The advantage is readily available water. If you are in the market for one, ensure that the filter pore diameter is less than 5 microns. Otherwise, it may not trap viruses.

I hope to provide some first-hand feedback on this issue in the next few weeks. I will be working with the magnificent Fedir Danylak and his Barvinok Ensemble as this Award-Winning Canadian Dance Troupe tour Eastern Europe. Stay tuned for some insight and comparison between the state of medicine in Canada and the Ukraine!

Related resources:

The Wetter Water Report. What You Donít Know About Water May Kill You. The Secrets to Longevity and Health by Dr. Patrick Flanagan.

Drinking Water and Health: What You Need to Know from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Bisphenol A from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

NTP Speaks on Bisphenol A from Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction (CERHR), National Toxicology Program (NTP).

Bisphenol A (BPA) Information for Parents from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Water purification from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Truth About Bottled Water by Chris Topher. YouTube video, 12:46 min.

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