When an emergency or a disaster strikes and you run out of clean drinking water, a clock starts counting down. Three days is all that this clock has. Three days is how long it takes a healthy adult to die of dehydration. This journal entry is a continuation of my article on Pool Chlorine and Drinking Water. Many people with pools believe they can use this water as a back up source of drinking water, whether or not that belief is a sound one is not always a simple answer. While chlorine is by far the dominant disinfection agent used in pools there is a growing trend away from using chlorine. In the first article (linked to above) I covered all the common types of pool chlorine chemicals. In this article I will discus some of the other chemicals used in pools, and how they affect drinking water in survival situations. I always recommend drinking the safest quality water you can get, clean untainted water that has been properly disinfected is always at the top of the list. The advice that follows is for those situations where pool water and pool chemicals are better than tainted and untreated water. That decision is something that everyone has to make for themselves when the emergency hits.
Saltwater pools are the fastest growing among the alternative disinfectants. Saltwater pools may be safer to swim in, but are much more difficult to treat. If you were to drink the saltwater from a pool you would start an acceleration of the dehydration process as it takes more water to remove the salt from your body. To put it another way, it takes over one liter of water to remove one liter of saltwater. There is only one that can effectively remove salt from water is distillation. Boiling will not remove any salt at all. In fact you can boil it till all the water is gone and all the salt will remain in the pot. Distillation is the boiling of water and collection of the water vapor and steam. Then the cooling of the vapor and steam back into water into another container.
Distillation can be done quite simply. It just needs a well constructed collection system or you will lose A LOT of water as steam escapes the distillation device. It also takes a lot of energy to distill water. It requires bringing water to a boil and keeping it there until you have collected enough distilled water. Distillation is the most expensive way to treat drinking water, due to the energy cost. This is why many coastal cities do not get their drinking water from the ocean. It only makes financial sense when the price of water can offset the cost of energy. There are solar distillation devices that are available and are a good option if you are in a hot sunny region. Solar distillation devices work better when they are small, however smaller devices produce less water.
There are other chemicals used in pools as well. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun and heat from heaters break down most chemicals used in pools. There are stabilizers, to keep disinfectants (chlorine and others) in a usable form for a longer time. Many stabilizers adjust the pH of the water. Bromine is a common stabilizer used in pools. Bromine is poisonous in liquid form. It is sometimes used as a disinfectant, but never for drinking water. It gives the water a “medicine” taste and it leaves no residual for ongoing protection. Bromine is a bleaching agent similar to chlorine. Bromine gas is reactive with human skin, eyes and respiratory tract because it reacts with most organic material. It causes serious burns wherever it makes contact. At concentrations of 1mg/L it causes eye watering and inhalation of concentrations below 10 mg/L causes coughing and severs irritation of the respiratory tract. In a municipal water distribution system we remove bromine by getting rid of water. In a survival situation you may not have this option.
Algaecides are also commonly used in pools. These chemicals are used to kill microscopic plants called algae. Certain algaes produce toxins and need to be removed from pools and drinking water. However algaecides are also very toxic to people. Many algaecides contain chlorine, and the active ingredients are the same chemicals discussed in my first Pool Chemicals and Drinking Water article usually the ones with cyanide. The other chemical that is common in algacides is copper sulfate. Copper sulfate has a limit of 1mg/L in many jurisdictions. Copper sulfate will (very surprisingly) give the water a taste like copper, you know what this taste is if you have ever tasted a penny (preferably a clean one).
Something to remember is that these chemicals are all designed to kill living organisms, none of them are good for human ingestion. Since pool chemicals are not designed for human consumption this is not normally an issue. I have many of the same warning I gave in the first article about pool chemicals and drinking water. Even if the active ingredient is necessary for disinfection, the lower grade of chemical, usually around 30%, means that 70% of what you are adding to the water is unknown. That lack of information is and should be unsettling. Again ANSI/NSF 60 is the standard for drinking water chemicals, you can order this grade for your pool. The hypochlorite I use in my water treatment plant has pool instructions printed on the containers. If you are a prepper and have a pool I highly recommend drinking water quality disinfectants. You will always have a fresh supply, and none of the worries with poisonous chemicals when you are dying of thirst and you have 10,000 gallons in your back yard.