Wouldn’t it be nice if the water we used to clean our facilities didn’t make them dirtier? We have probably all mopped the floor at least once in our lives and reached that point in the wash cycle of mopping and/or the rinse cycle of mopping where the water in the mop bucket is so dirty that the floor begins to look dirtier with each mop stroke. Way past time to change the water in the mop bucket.
Unfortunately, microbes don’t necessarily create murk – just infection. The reason our swimming pools have been chlorinated for decades is to eliminate the invisible agents of infection in the water. The downside to chlorination, is that what kills microbes also burns and irritates human tissue – eyeballs in particular. In too high a concentration or vapors, chlorine is corrosive and deadly. But we dialed in the acceptable parameters, and for decades chlorination was a tolerable necessity – the fragrance of summer vacation children and swim team members. Then, not too long ago, thanks to the inevitable march of progress, along came Reverse Osmosis – a technology for water filtration that didn’t require harsh, dangerous, or toxic chemicals. The incursion of reverse osmosis into public swimming pools was slowed by prohibitive energy demands and cost, when considered as a tax burden on communities or as a component of profit margin for private enterprises such as gyms and racquet clubs. Still, inroads are being made.
When considering drinking water treatment options, there are a number of emerging technologies: Ion Exchange, Ultraviolet Irradiation, Advanced Oxidation, Ozonation. They all have their limitations, and none of them seems to be fully capable of eliminating Giardia, but the conclusion of a 1999 study by the National Academies of Science, Engineering, Medicine was that “there is almost no contaminant that cannot be removed from water. The question becomes that of cost. As alternative water resources become increasingly less available, the need for innovative and cost-effective treatment technologies will rise steadily.”
Fifteen years later, the EPA’s Fiscal Year 2014 National Water Program Guidance stated:
“Innovative technology can play a significant role in solving many of the water-related problems facing the U.S. and also providing opportunities for economic development. The preponderance of evidence demonstrates that environmental protection and economic progress go hand in hand.” Huge progress has been made in these technologies over the last 40 years, and standard practices in water treatment facilities today embrace a multi-barrier approach that commonly uses up to five of these disinfecting methods in serial to ensure the water in public systems is safe to consume.
Interestingly, researchers at the University of Arizona’s West Center focus on these historical water disinfection technologies as well as new technologies used to disinfect surfaces and they are recognizing a similar pattern emerging in surface disinfection technologies. They refer to this commonality as a multi-barrier approach, and for surface disinfecting they summarize it as first using a cleaner with water to remove dirts and oils from a surface; second using a spray disinfectant that remains on a surface for a short duration (dwell or contact time) before wiping the surface down. This traditional two-barrier system is recognized as an effective active cleaning protocol, but active cleaners and disinfectants do not continue to protect surfaces from recontamination. Like multi-barrier water treatment facilities, people interacting with surfaces is undergoing an evolution of technologies to improve their well-being. We recognize these as hand sanitizers (alcohol, povidone-iodine, benzalkonium chloride and triclosan), disposable wipes and in the last five years the emergence of passive (continuous) germ fighting systems such SafeHandles (antimicrobial films that cover commonly touched surfaces) and Ultraviolet system that disinfect all light exposed areas. The significance of multi-barrier systems that use both active and passive technologies is that they can be effective in both disinfecting a surface and preventing reinfection of surface thus reducing the exposure of those interacting with the surface from illness causing microbes.
In summary, we can see that making the commitment to pay for environmental and health protection is an investment with long-term ROI not only in safe drinking water systems but also in creating healthier facilities environments.