The pore size of the filter, usually measured in microns, will determine what will be filtered through. While a standard micron size of 0.2 is small enough to block heavy metals such as lead and copper and large parasites such as Cryptosporidium, it will not block viruses. The National Sanitation Foundation sets a standard for effective water filtration products so look for an NSF stamp when selecting a filter to purchase.
A process of osmosis through semipermeable membranes was first observed in 1748 by Jean-Antoine Nollet. For the following 200 years, osmosis was only a phenomenon observed in the laboratory. In 1950, the University of California at Los Angeles first investigated desalination of seawater using semipermeable membranes. Researchers from both University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Florida successfully produced fresh water from seawater in the mid-1950s, but the flux was too low to be commercially viable until the discovery at University of California at Los Angeles by Sidney Loeb and Srinivasa Sourirajan at the National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, of techniques for making asymmetric membranes characterized by an effectively thin "skin" layer supported atop a highly porous and much thicker substrate region of the membrane. John Cadotte, of FilmTec Corporation, discovered that membranes with particularly high flux and low salt passage could be made by interfacial polymerization of m-phenylene diamine and trimesoyl chloride. Cadotte's patent on this process was the subject of litigation and has since expired. Almost all commercial reverse-osmosis membrane is now made by this method. By the end of 2001, about 15,200 desalination plants were in operation or in the planning stages, worldwide.
The cellulose triacetate membrane is prone to rotting unless protected by chlorinated water, while the thin film composite membrane is prone to breaking down under the influence of chlorine. A thin film composite (TFC) membrane is made of synthetic material, and requires chlorine to be removed before the water enters the membrane. To protect the TFC membrane elements from chlorine damage, carbon filters are used as pre-treatment in all residential reverse osmosis systems. TFC membranes have a higher rejection rate of 95–98% and a longer life than CTA membranes.
If the right equipment is available distillation is another way to ensure removal of bacteria and viruses. This is one method that will allow us to use salt water for drinking. Note: If you own a boat and use it for off shore trips a desalinator such as the Katadyn Survivor series would be a prudent purchase. The Katadyn Survivor 40E can be operated manually or using 12/24 V DC power. We will cover makeshift ways of distillation in future articles.
Ultraviolet light (UV) is very effective at inactivating cysts, in low turbidity water. UV light's disinfection effectiveness decreases as turbidity increases, a result of the absorption, scattering, and shadowing caused by the suspended solids. The main disadvantage to the use of UV radiation is that, like ozone treatment, it leaves no residual disinfectant in the water; therefore, it is sometimes necessary to add a residual disinfectant after the primary disinfection process. This is often done through the addition of chloramines, discussed above as a primary disinfectant. When used in this manner, chloramines provide an effective residual disinfectant with very few of the negative effects of chlorination.