By P.V. Durga:
Popular media is filled with advertisements about the importance of drinking clean water in order to ensure good health. Have you been influenced by one of those ads and installed an RO (Reverse Osmosis) purifier at home? Or are you planning to install one? You probably need to think twice about your decision, because while you are drinking hygienic water, you might be causing more harm to public health at large.
True to their names, RO filters and purifiers function on the principle of reverse osmosis. Simply put, pressure is exerted on the water containing high concentration of impurities, and it is passed through filters to extract “pure” water. The process came as a breakthrough in the 1950s when people were on the lookout for methods to desalinate ocean water. Reverse osmosis is used not only in the purifiers at home, but also in industries, specifically the bottled water industry, both in India and abroad.
The problem begins with the disposal of the “stuff” that has been separated from the purified water. Reports state that the impure water is discarded back into the ground and aquifers. But why is it such a big deal when it seems like we are merely sending back the water that was not useful?
The answer is, the “waste water” contains higher concentration of harmful substances, which in turn poses a serious health threat to the population, including animals that are dependent on groundwater. Also, the RO process is said to cause a lot of wastage of water, both at the industrial, as well as household levels.
However, Dr. R. Suryanarayana Rao, a Deputy Civil Surgeon at ESI Hospital in Vishakhapatnam believes otherwise. He said that the problem, in reality, is with the “wastage” of the excess water, caused by faulty disposal through drains. Dr. Rao said that the unwanted water could be put to other uses, such as watering plants, when handled properly. He stated that if the water containing wastes is exploited through alternate use, it may not snowball into a health concern. He strongly recommends RO purification over boiling because it ensures that salts and other unwanted components are removed from the water.
However, it is important to remember that the true success of any scientific innovation is when it benefits everybody equally. In this regard, while RO purification is a major breakthrough in the provision of potable water, but the fact that it benefits some while causing harm to others who are dependent solely on groundwater calls for some introspection. It is high time we adopted long term perspectives even for seemingly simple inventions, rather than using science as a quick-fix solution for our daily hassles. The glitch with disposal can best be described as the “last mile problem“, which must be tackled at the earliest, lest we end up causing more harm than good.