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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:

10 things you didn't know about water. How unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene puts children at risk by Philippa Lysaght and Leah Selim, UNICEF, June 18, 2019.

Unicef's Water Game Plan from UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund). UNICEF is committed to support water services for the most disadvantaged ... This document presents UNICEF's 'game plan' to contribute to achieve universal safe and sustainable water services for all by 2030, and accelerate access to safely managed drinking water.

5 Common Myths About Water, Explained from Culligan Water. Myth 1: Bottled water is safer than tap water. 2: Tap water cannot contain pesticides. 3: Bottled water doesn't contain microplastics. 4: Drinking sparkling water while eating aids digestion. 5: Drinking water increases water retention.

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

Water purification from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Lazy Man's Guide to Water Filtration vs. Water Purification by Dr. Jonathan Doyle, Waterdrop Filter, Jan. 5, 2021.

Bisphenol A from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Facts About Bisphenol A from WebMD. Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on Dec. 10, 2019. BPA is a chemical that has been used to harden plastics for more than 40 years. It's everywhere. It's in medical devices, compact discs, dental sealants, water bottles, the lining of canned foods and drinks, and many other products. More than 90% of us have BPA in our bodies right now. We get most of it by eating foods that have been in containers made with BPA. It's also possible to pick up BPA through air, dust, and water."

Tips: Find products that are BPA-free.
Choose non-plastic containers for food.
Do not heat plastic that could contain BPA. Never use plastic in the microwave, since heat can cause BPA to leach out.
For the same reason, never pour boiling water into a plastic bottle when making formula.
Throw out any plastic products that are chipped or cracked. They can harbor germs. If they also have BPA, it's more likely to leach into food.
Use fewer canned foods and more fresh or frozen. Many canned foods still contain BPA in their linings.
Avoid plastics with a 3 or a 7 recycle code on the bottom. These plastics might contain BPA.

Bisphenol A (BPA) from Government of Canada. BPA is an industrial chemical used to make a hard, clear plastic known as polycarbonate. It may also be used as an ingredient in some resins, which can act as a lining on the inside of some metal food and drink cans.

"Most Canadians had low to very low exposure levels of BPA that do not pose a health risk."
Safety tips: Check your containers, including older baby bottles to see if they contain BPA:
Look for a 3-sided triangular arrow with a number 7 in the centre.
Next, look for a 'PC' or 'polycarbonate' marking on your container/baby bottle.
These markings mean the container/bottle may contain BPA.
Microwave food safely: Use only glass, or food grade plastic containers that are labelled microwave safe. Only use plastic wrap that is labelled microwave-safe.
Avoid using plastics and containers that are visibly damaged, stained or have an unpleasant smell.
Store food safely: Use only stainless steel, glass, or food-grade plastic containers.

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

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

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