Appalachian Trail Histories


History of Water Treatment that Still Work Today

Historically, the main purpose of water sanitization was mostly concerned with removing cloudiness or turbidity from drinking water.  Ancient people were more concerned with producing aesthetically pleasing water and were not aware of microscopic contaminants.  Early civilizations circa 4000 B.C. used charcoal filtering, exposure to sun, and boiling as methods of sanitizing drinking water. Egyptians circa 1500 B.C. would use coagulant alum to force suspended particle to settle out of water.  Around the early years of the 20th century scientist realized that water could contain organisms that were not visible to the human eye.  Organisms and contaminates in water like giardia and fecal matter can be microscopic and far more dangerous to a person’s health than larger sediments that can be seen.  In the 1900s local governments started to use chlorine to disinfect drinking water. 

AT hikers today practice these 6000 year-old methods to sanitizing drinking water.  It seems fitting that hikers would resort back to using ancient methods to acquire safe drinking water.  Boiling water today still seems to be the best method of removing harmful contaminates. A combination of all three methods is a hiker's best bet to avoid contracting norovirus from water resources in the environment.

Boiling Water
Boiling water seems to be the best method of preventing norovirus.  Bring the water to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute.  Bring water to rolling boil for at least 3 minutes if at altitudes higher than 6,563 feet.

Filtration can remove most microorganisms and contaminants.  Filters designed for reverse osmosis or with an absolute pore size one micron or smaller can remove most contaminants from water.

Chemical Treatment
Iodine and chlorine dioxide can be used to sanitize drinking water; however, it does not thoroughly destroy all contaminants in water.  


“25 Years of the Safe Drinking Water Act: History and Trends.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. December 1999.;page=root;seq=1;view=1up;size=100.