What is the History of Water Treatment?
Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Water is essential for all life on Earth and has been considered a precious resource for mankind since the beginning of our existence. The earliest civilizations were set up near water bodies since they provided a source of drinking water, fertile land to grow crops, and a channel for transportation, and hunting and fishing opportunities.
Records from the Bronze Age (ca.3200-1100 BC) show domestic wastewater being reused for irrigation and aquaculture in the Chinese, Indus Valley, and Egyptian civilizations. However, as humans evolved, we went from simply reusing water to learning how to clean it by removing impurities.
In this article, we’ll outline the history of water treatment around the world and the development of filtration processes. Read on to learn more about all the amazing advancements that led to you being able to drink a glass of safe and pure water whenever you’re thirsty!
Water Treatment in the Ancient Times
Early Greek and Sanskrit writings are considered the first recorded attempts of water filtration. At this time, people considered the water’s taste as an indication of its purity; if it tasted fine, it was fine to consume. They used to boil water or strain it using crude sand and gravel filtration devices. Ancient Sanskrit texts also recommended exposing water to sunlight exposure to treat it.
A notable invention at this time was the Hippocrates Sleeve. It was a cloth bag designed by the famed Greek physician which could trap sediments in the water. This formed the basis for modern bag filters.
Needless to say, these methods were not sufficient for removing dangerous bacteria and contaminants from the water.
Water Purification in the Middle Ages
The 1600s AD saw the first attempts to purify large quantities of water. Sir Francis Bacon, an English scientist, and philosopher created a sand filtration system to remove salt particles from seawater. While this experiment was not particularly successful, it did lay the foundation on which other scientists conducted further experiments.
A major step in water treatment came from an expected source. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, a Dutch spectacle maker who had a fascination with magnification, created a rudimentary microscope and viewed water droplets under it. This led to the discovery of tiny ‘beasties’ in the water and the crucial realization that drinking water could not just be assessed by taste. It was necessary to remove the harmful microorganisms as well.
Robert Thom created the first patented water treatment system in the city of Paisley, Scotland in the 1700s. It used slow sand filtration to remove bacteria and provide clean drinking water via pipes for the first time. This resulted in the Metropolis Water Act of 1852 where all water supplied to London needed to pass through slow sand filtration.
Advancements in Large-Scale Water Treatment
London faced a deadly cholera outbreak in the 19th century which was traced back to the city’s contaminated drinking water. John Snow identified cholera bacteria in unfiltered water as the cause of the outbreak and a hand pump in Broad Street as its source. While his findings were not immediately accepted, they influenced change in the public health domain and improved sanitation facilities.
The UK government started using chlorine along with slow sand filtration for water treatment in major cities and other developed countries followed suit. In 1902, calcium hypochlorite was added to water in Belgium for its disinfecting and coagulating properties. Four years later, French scientists started using ozone to disinfect water. Soon, wealthy families began to install water purifying systems in their homes.
In the late 1940s, American universities began to study osmosis as a solution to desalinating sea water and addressing water shortage in the county. Their research built on the findings of Jean-Antoine Nollet, a French clergyman who had used a pig’s bladder to show that solvent molecules from low solute water could flow into a higher solute alcohol concentration. In 1959, researchers at UCLA produced a fully functional synthetic RO membrane that allowed water to flow through while filtering salts and TDS. Soon the first commercial RO plant was built in California and drew global interest. Today, membrane-based filtration and RO systems are used across the world to provide clean water for residential and industrial purposes.
Modern Water Filtration in the Middle East
The Middle East region has grappled with the challenge of water scarcity for years. In fact, the drought that took place between 1998 and 2012 was cited by NASA as the worst in the last 900 years. The GCC Countries, which consist of Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Saudi Arabia, have been taking proactive steps to meet water-related challenges. These include investing in infrastructure for wastewater collection and treatment and expanding water reuse.
Advanced Watertek is an OEM and industry leader which has been providing cutting-edge water treatment solutions since 1984. We have a strong presence in the Middle East and have offices in Oman and the UAE, allowing us to work with reputed clients in the region.
We specialize in membrane-based and reverse osmosis technology for water treatment and also provide reconditioning services and system repair. Contact us today to find out more!
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