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Tuesday 20 February 2018
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Water, Water Everywhere: Not a Drop to Drink!

by Professor Lynn Basford


Water Reveals its story through its behaviour     

 (Water Centre, University of Leeds, 2011)


Water is a most precious and threatened resource and relates to the health of all life on planet earth and still more than 1.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water. 

(The World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, 2002) 


1. Introduction and Rationale

The properties of water (H2O) are unique among more than 15 million chemical species we presently know. It is a phenomenon that is both wondrous and beguiling and begs many questions that purport to its physical, microscopic, and life sustaining properties.

We know that water’s special properties are framed around a combination of nuclei and electrons that formulate a water molecule in a stable situation through the process of hydrogen bonding.

water splash drop blue liquidIn addition, we know that water is able to exhibit many physical properties within the context of a solid, liquid or gaseous form. The unknown factors relate to its volatile and dynamic nature that hinders scientist from arriving at a full and definitive description.

Scientists have used a variety of tools and instruments and techniques to ascertain its microscopic structure. These techniques have included infra red absorption, neutron scattering and nuclear magnetic resonance.

From such experiments theoretical modelling has occurred that has begun to explain water’s molecular behaviour and characteristics. More recently, this knowledge has been further advanced with the use of computer technology and photographic imagery.

What has emerged is that the molecular structuring and clustering of water is both dynamic and volatile depending on volume, temperature, pressure and the time frame under consideration.

For example, in less than picoseconds water is more like a gel substance, while thermal motions cause individual hydrogen bonds to break and reformulate into new configurations.

It is therefore clear that water’s molecular stability is an issue for investigators who have come to a common understanding that water stabilisation cannot be done. However, Roy Rustim (2007) has claimed that through using infrared radiation water clusters can be stabilized for up to several hours. Unfortunately, this remains a controversial theory. Nonetheless, the investigative work continues throwing light to new insights into water’s stability and properties for sustaining human health and life on earth.

2. Drinking Water

While the scientific community seek to find out definitive answers relating to the microscopic properties of water, health scientists and epidemiologists have been concerned about the water’s purity and health giving nature of certain water compositions.

It is suggested that ‘pure’ water only exists in laboratory conditions and that drinking water is never chemically ‘pure’.

Groundwater from springs and wells always contain ions of calcium and magnesium and can be further infused with chloride and sulphates. In some exceptional cases the water can be subject to other highly toxic substances such as arsenic and fluoride. Also rainwater often contains dissolvable carbon dioxide that renders the water acidic.

However, when the water comes into contact with sediment the carbon dioxide is safely dissolved. During the dissolving process the ph value of the water becomes more alkaline varying from around 5 to 9. Water alkalinity on human health is said to be a positive benefit, but there is no real substantive evidence to support this theory, (WHO 1997).

The benefits of mineral free water (distilled water) on health are also debated. Adversaries make the claim that distilled water depletes the body of vital minerals in, ‘leaching out processes’. This view is counter claimed through the suggestion that within the osmotic process that occurs at the cellular level, mineral ions do not pass through the cell wall, but are actively transported by the metabolic processes.

Nonetheless, WHO (1997), reported that animal experiments and human epidemiological studies  suggest that ion-free water has a more negative effect on health than water that contains moderate quantities (200-400 mg/mL) of ions, such as, calcium and magnesium.

The quality of our water is of great significance to health and yet it is estimated that 1.2 billion people on planet earth rely on low water availability, and water that is contaminated with pathogenic micro-organisms. This results in a high percentage of illness and early deaths.

In an attempt to eradicate water of micro-organisms a Swiss scientist, Martin Wegelin, (cit. in WHO, 1997) designed a Solar Water Disinfection System that was both cost effective and had demonstrable positive health outcomes. His technique was based on treating water with sunlight in transparent bottles. E.g., After filling the bottles they were placed horizontally on a flat surface in sunlight for five hours. This eradicated the micro-organisms who were exposed to ultra violet light.


The effectiveness of this approach was further enhanced when combined with ‘solar thermal water treatment’, which made use of the fact that the colour black absorbs light. This was accomplished by painting the bottom half of the bottle black or placing on a black surface. This model has been successfully tried out in several countries, such as; Bolivia, China, Columbia, Indonesia, Lebanon, Thailand, Togo and Morocco. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are less reported incidence and prevalence of diarrhoea during these water trials, (WHO, 1992).

3. Water in the Human Body

Most of the human body weight is due to water located within the cells, blood plasma and interstitial fluid that bathes the cells.

The Fluid (water composition) acts as an essential framework through which cellular renewal and activity can occur and metabolic waste removed.

For example, the kidneys process about 180 litres per day of which most is returned to the blood system and the remaining excreted through the urinary system. Lymph flow amounts to 1-2.5 Litres per day and turnover of fluids in the bowels is between 8-9 litres per day. However, within the cellular ‘osmotic’ process there are around 80,000 litres per day, (this means that fluid is diffused in both directions through the capillary walls).

These statistics make interesting reading and illustrate the bodies ability to conserve and maintain water volume to sustain and support cellular life and related activities.

Clearly, total water intake plus metabolic production must balance out water loss through excretion, (urine, faeces, sweat, and breath) for total health to be maintained. The amount of water we should drink a day is related to these factors.

Nonetheless, there is a consensus that around 8 glasses of water per day are required for a healthy adult. Of course it is unreasonable to expect that we measure our total water output on a daily basis so as to ascertain water intake.

We do however, have a very sophisticated chemical system that alerts our body that we need to drink fluid (feeling of thirst), this is often mistaken that we need food and, as a result, our need to drink fluid is overridden. The consequences of this phenomenon are detrimental to health and early symptoms such as; lack of concentration, tiredness, feeling fatigued, low energy and general lethargy are often experienced.



World Health Organization. Guidelines for drinking-water quality. Vol. 3, Surveillance and control of community supplies. Geneva, WHO, 1997. (Second edition).

WHO, World Water Day Report. (1992),The report is also available in one complete file (Acrobat PDF format, 2.6MB). Table of Contents.

Water research at the University of Leeds, water@leeds is an interdisciplinary water research group at the University of Leeds. With over 100 experts from across the water arena, we specialize in research that crosses the ·

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