For those who enjoy hiking and camping, there is little that compares to stumbling across a beautiful view of the water. Whether it’s a crystal-clear river or stream, a sprawling lake or bustling waterfall, it’s often the preferred place to take a break and enjoy the scenery. Avid backcountry hikers and those who enjoy extended remote camping trips however, often rely on these natural bodies of water to supply their drinking water along the way. And even though the water may look pristine, there are typically thousands of microbes in every drop.
Many of these microbes are harmless but there are several that can cause serious health issues; E.coli, fecal coliforms, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium to name just a few. Ingesting some of these miniscule critters can result in everything from nausea and digestive issues, to fever and serious viral infections, so it’s important to understand the available water sources and carefully disinfect all water before it’s consumed.
Water purification tablets have become a popular choice for on-the-go disinfection thanks to their portability and simplicity: just filter cloudy/turbid water through a filter or cloth, drop a tablet in 1-2 litres of water, wait 30 minutes and it’s safe to rehydrate. They work by releasing free chlorine into the water to quickly kill most pathogens, similar to how many municipal water treatment plants disinfect drinking water before releasing it into the distribution system.
We decided to run a trial by snagging a few of our colleague’s Aquatabs – a popular choice for several large health organizations and defence forces – and putting them to the test with our QGA test method which measures the total microbiological population. The test quantifies ATP (adenosine triphosphate), a molecule found in all living and active cells and estimates the size of the microbial population based on the amount of ATP present.
Water was collected from the Saint John River in New Brunswick and tested three times before treatment and three times at 30 minutes and 1 hour after the tablets were added. To provide some perspective on the results, the recommended guidelines for treated drinking water specify <1 pg ATP/mL as good control and low levels of contamination, while >10 pg ATP/mL indicates significant biological growth and high risk.
The untreated river water averaged 393 pg ATP/mL, standard for surface water but significantly higher than the 10 pg ATP/mL limit for drinking water. After adding the Aquatabs, mixing the sample, and allowing them to take effect for 30 minutes, the results showed a 99% decrease in biological content with the treated water averaging 5 pg ATP/mL, well below the high-risk limit. After one hour, ATP levels remained stable at 4 pg ATP/mL, still impressively close to the 1 pg ATP/mL target for full-scale water treatment plants.
The next time you’re planning a long hiking or camping trip, or preparing a survival kit for emergencies, water purification tablets are an excellent way to ensure safer drinking water without having to rely on a heat source to boil water. They also provide longer protection against microbial regrowth and can keep water safe to drink for 24 hours without additional treatment.
While Aquatabs demonstrated excellent disinfection efficacy for microbiological contamination, it’s still important to understand local water sources and consider potential chemical and physical contaminants that may be present.