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The problems of Greece's drinking water and the solutions

23/05/2018
by Μαργιώλος Γιώργος
The problems of Greece's drinking water and the solutions

We all use water daily, drinking water, cooking with water, cleaning with water, etc. So water is in our lives. Because of this, it is very reasonable to have encountered one or more water problems.

In this article we will mention the main problems that water has in Greece, how to recognize them and especially how to solve them.

The main problems facing water in Greece are bad taste & smell, salts, bacteria, soil and in some areas nitrate, lead and arsenic. So let's look at one by one:

BAD TASTE AND SMELL

The bad taste and smell of water is mainly caused by chlorine added to the water network to disinfect it. Chlorine is probably the cheapest solution to water disinfection and makes it safe for use by humans. Chlorine itself is not that innocuous, especially when we consume too many liters of chlorinated water. Chlorine, chloramines and chlorine derivatives such as chloroform, in addition to being harmful to humans, give the water the characteristic bad taste and smell we all recognize.

Taste and odours are caused by Chlorine / Chloramines and other chemicals which are added to mains water during municipal water treatment in order to disinfect it and keep it from picking up germs in transit.

The Risk

The chemicals added during treatment are vital for keeping your water clean but they’re essentially the wrapping; they protect the product on its journey from the supplier to the customer. But when you get your shopping home, do you eat the packaging?

So while mains water taste and odour poses no major health risk, it can be unpleasant and often unwanted.

The Identification

Taste and odours in water can obviously be identified by simply tasting and smelling your water. Chlorine levels in mains water are generally maintained at safe levels but if you want to test what levels of chlorine are in your water, chlorine test kits are available.

The Solution

Bottled water is one solution to the problem of chlorine taste and odour but it is expensive (estimates put the cost per litre of bottled water in the UK anywhere between 48p to £3.40). It also makes little sense from an environmental standpoint: water is heavy stuff and the fossil fuels burnt carting it about in bottles means it will have acquired quite a carbon debt by the time you get it home.

A far better solution is to filter water at the point of use after it has already been transported by the water main. This method of obtaining clean, chlorine-free water is more cost efficient than a filter jug and is far more environmentally friendly and convenient than bottled water.

Water filtration systems from simple unobtrusive under-sink systems to larger commercial systems are available depending on your requirements. Either will reduce taste and odours in water for high quality drinking water and better tasting beverages.

Limescale

Limescale (or scale to give it it’s short name) is the hard chalky deposit that forms when hard water is heated. It is predominantly composed of calcium and magnesium carbonate and it can range in colour from white to dirty brown.

It is commonly seen as a scum on tea, on the end of taps, in pipes and on the heating elements inside kettles and boilers. Once it has formed it is very hard to remove and requires the use of an acid descaler to dissolve it.

The Risk

While there are no health risks from drinking hard water, the scale formed due to hard water will pose a risk to appliances and other water fed equipment.

The scale formation in any form of water boiler or water heating system will affect that system’s efficiency. According to British Water, just 1.6mm of scale in a heating system causes a 12% loss in heat transfer, which is a huge amount in these energy conscious times.

Scale formation in pipes is also a huge issue as it reduces the flow of water, meaning pumps have to work harder and can even lead to a complete blocking of the pipe over time.

Scale issues can also be extremely detrimental to catering equipment such as ice machines, coffee and espresso makers, steamers and dishwashers. Scale build up on the heating coils, evaporator plates or steam jets of these machines causes them to run inefficiently or, worse still, can cause maintenance problems and breakdowns.

Beyond water system efficiency and potential damage to appliance and equipment, the taste and appearance of a hot beverage can be affected; as the extraction of flavours may be altered with hard water and clear drinks may become cloudy or have a surface scum.

The Identification

Speaking with your water / utility company is an easy way to find out the water hardness in your area. Alternatively, water hardness test strips can be obtained which allow you to ascertain how hard your water is.

If it is difficult to form lather with soaps, or you notice hard deposits on the end of taps then you’ve probably got hard water.

Another method of identifying if you have hard water is a water hardness map, which will give a general idea of which areas of the UK have hard water. However, it’s not exhaustive and there are always exceptions – for example, while the water in the North West of England is generally quite soft, in Southport the water is as hard as nails!

The Solution

Preventing scale by filtering your water is far easier than trying to remove scale once it has formed. There are various techniques that are used and two of the most common are:

Scale Inhibition:-

Reducing or slowing down the scale formation. This is typically done with phosphate dosing which acts to keep the hardness in the water and not on your pipework / heating elements. This can be done with a simple water filter which has a polyphosphate scale inhibitor.

Hardness Removal / Reduction:-

Ion exchange is one technique that can be used to reduce the levels of calcium and magnesium in the water. As the hardness is removed from the water its tendency to form scale is also reduced. This can be done with an ion exchange water filter, calcium treatment unit (CTU) or water softener.

Bacteria

Harmful forms of bacteria are rarely, if ever, present in mains water due to municipal water treatment. However, in some areas, such as Scotland, some residences rely on private water supplies such as bore-holes, wells or streams. As water from these sources is untreated and prone to contamination from external factors, the likely hood of harmful bacteria’s being present is much higher.

The Risk

Bacteria contamination in water is potentially a serious risk to health and water which contains any trace of harmful bacteria should be treated or completely avoided. The health issues caused by outbreaks of E. coli and Legionella are well documented.

The Identification

Usually in the event of mains water bacteria contamination, your water supplier will inform you however in exceptional circumstances or for private water supplies, low cost bacterial test kits are available and should give an idea of whether further investigation / treatment is required.

The Solution

There are various options to remove bacteria from a water supply, two of the most common being ultra-fine mechanical filtration or ultra violet (U.V.) sterilisation.

Filtration:-

To filter bacteria, an ultra-fine filter will be required, which usually comes in the form of a ceramic filter. Ceramic has a complex surface structure of pores which are so tiny that most bacteria cannot actually fit through! A good quality ceramic filter can remove 99.99% of pathogenic bacteria / cysts.

U.V. Sterilisation:-

Ultra violet light destroys the cell DNA of micro-organisms rendering them inactive. So given the correct dose of UV light a UV steriliser system can be used to kill organisms such as viruses, bacteria, algae, fungi and protozoa.

Particulate / Sediment

Particulate describes suspended solids in your water and generally falls into one of two categories: sediment and turbidity. Sediment can be sand, silt or rust while turbidity is the technical term for larger solids, such as leaves, twigs or even frogs! However, much like bacteria, particulate is rarely present in mains water but can be present in private water supplies.

The Risk

While particulates themselves are not known to cause any adverse health effects, they can sometimes carry other harmful organic, inorganic and microbiological contaminants through drinking water systems.

Sediment in your water supply can have a number of detrimental effects on equipment. Over time it can have a sand blasting effect and damage equipment internals as well as potentially blocking up valves / pipework.

Sediment can also act as a masking agent, reducing the effectiveness of U.V. sterilisation by shielding bacteria or viruses from U.V. radiation as the water passes through the steriliser. It may also interfere with some water process applications.

Aside from the above it can impair the aesthetic qualities of water which may in turn affect the presentation of any products prepared using that water.

The Identification

Though slow flow rates and blocked valves may be the result of sediment in your water supply, there are usually clear visual indications of sediment at any outlets and / or residues in your water or processed product.

If you think you may have a sediment issue you should consider the age of your distribution network (older networks being more prone to sediment problems) and also the source of your supply. Certain supplies, such as surface sources, suffer from sediment more than others.

The Solution

The best way to remove sediment or turbidity is mechanical filtration. This can be done with sediment removal filters; from bag filters to micro filters and even ultra-filtration. An example low cost solution would be a water filter housing and a drop in sediment filter, with various types of filter available to achieve different levels of filtration.

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George Margiolos

George Margiolos was born in Thessaloniki and has graduated from the Department of Marketing of the Alexandreio Technological Educational Institute of Thessaloniki. He is fluent in English and (not so fluent) in German.

Ηe has been Project Manager at Avery Dennison - Fastener Division in the UK. There, his main project was to redesign the company's products into new applications so as to become more environmentally friendly. In combination with the fact that in the UK people are more familiar with water filters, he has developed a love for environmentally friendly water filters, which reduce the use of plastic bottles and improving people's quality of life.

Since 2008, he has published over 300 unique educational and informative articles on water filters and new water treatment technologies.

Occasionally, universities and doctoral students request to use George Margiolos' articles in their research because of their quality and uniqueness.