Milestones in Water Treatment

For as long as humans have existed, water has been a central force in the development of civilization. Across the planet we can see the proof that many diverse groups arrived at essentially the same conclusion: water in its natural state might pose a health risk but steps could be taken to lower these risks. Throughout recorded history there are many instances of people employing new and innovative methods to improve the safety and quality of drinking water.


Here are a few particularly noteworthy water treatment advances:

  • Between 4000 and 2000 BC
    • Egyptian, Greek and Indian civilizations all employed boiling as a means to purify water. Different filtration methods were also used to remove solids from the water before it was boiled. On the Indian subcontinent, sand filters were used. In Egypt, alum was used to remove suspended particles. In addition to filtration, these early civilizations recognized that how the water was stored affected its quality. In India, brass and other related alloys were used for water storage.
  • Around 400 BC
    • Hippocrates invented a cloth bag to filter drinking water. Much like earlier sand filters, the ‘Hippocratic Sleeve’ was meant to trap sediment.
  • 1676
    • Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, a self-taught Dutch scientist, first observed waterborne organisms through the lenses of telescopes that he designed and built.
  • 1804
    • The first municipal water treatment plant is constructed in Scotland. Engineer Robert Thom uses sand filtration to purify water before it is distributed by horse and cart. Water distribution pipes came about three years later.
  • 1854 
    • After a severe cholera outbreak in London, John Snow, a physician, determined that the disease had spread through the drinking water supply. Snow determined that the water had become contaminated with sewage. Several important advances resulted from this event. First, chlorine was shown to be effective at purifying water where smell and taste were previously used to judge safety. Second, the need for government regulation of public water sources gained recognition.
  • In the 1880s
    • Louis Pasteur, one of the chief proponents of the ‘germ theory’, showed conclusively how microorganisms could grow and spread in water without strict decontamination and sterilization protocols.

These are only a few landmarks in the world of water treatment.

Since Thom, Snow and Pasteur made their discoveries, huge advances have been made in not only detection and treatment but also water quality regulation. At LuminUltra, we’re innovators in our own right – using the latest methods to move the field of microbial monitoring forward. Our DNA-based products and services can identify nearly all bacteria and archaea in a sample. Over time, these tools can show the cause-and-effect relationship of certain microbes, helping water system operators to keep things running smoothly while achieving operating efficiencies.

Stacey Pineau

Clearly explaining complex topics has been Stacey’s focus for close to 25 years now. She helps plan how best to reach the right people, then works to provide them with relevant information that’s easy to understand. Stacey is a team player with an entrepreneurial spirit. She has broad experience that spans the private and public sectors. A lover of words, Stacey has a slightly irrational love of the library and a personal collection of way too many books and magazines. She lives in Fredericton with her husband Ray, their two children and dog Scouty.

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