UV water purification has been practiced for several decades. The evolution of water purification required time. The connection between water quality and health has been known since ancient times. Clear water was regarded as clean water. The most ancient method of disinfection is boiling water. And it is a “technology” that has been used since humans have known how to make fire! Romans, as an example, used wine to disinfect their water. However, the origin of the diseases was wrongly interpreted. Diseases were said to be a divine punishment or caused by polluted air.

Since the invention of the microscope and the discovery of bacteria and micro-organisms in the 17th century, it took another two centuries for the activity of pathogenic micro-organisms to be identified. This is when disinfectants such as chlorine were introduced. For a century, disinfectants have been used widely to prevent the spread of disease and improve water quality.

Water quality is not constant

Water quality is an evolutionary concept. The physical, chemical and microbiological characteristics of water are continuously varied by contaminant and hydraulic loads.

In order to ensure optimal taste quality for constant water consumption, as well as the diversity of its use in industry, all specific water quality parameters must be analyzed in order to provide the right disinfection solution for each situation.

Historically, chlorine has been used in water treatment

The background of chlorine identification is complex. It was discovered in 1774 by the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele. In 1835, chlorine was first used to remove odors from water, which were considered at the time to be responsible for the transmission of disease. However, it was only in 1890 that chlorine was found to be an effective solution for disinfection, thus reducing the number of water-borne diseases. Chlorination then began in Great Britain, before spreading around the world.

What are disinfection by-products?

When chlorine or other chemicals are used, several by-products can be created during the disinfection of the water. However, some compounds can be extremely harmful. The primary ones are trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs).

    • The first, trihalomethanes (chloroform, bromodichloromethane, etc.) are essentially created by the reaction of chlorine, used to disinfect water, with natural organic matter present in the water (dead leaves, etc.). They are compounds consisting of a single carbon atom, linked to halogens, and of the general formula CHX 3, where X generally represents chlorine, bromine, or a combination of these two elements. THM concentrations depend on the organic content of the water source, and these compounds have been associated with several types of cancers.
    • Haloacetic acids (HAAs) are generated in the same way as trihalomethanes. It is a group of organic compounds based on the acetic acid molecule (CH3COOH). The

      The main HAAs contained in drinking water are :

        • monochloroacetic acid (MCA),
        • trichloroacetic acid (TCA),
        • dichloroacetic acid (DCA),

Which issues are caused by disinfection by-products?

Disinfection byproducts – primarily trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids – are carcinogens and therefore associated with extremely adverse effects on the body.

  • Chronic poisoning
  • Such effects are caused by prolonged exposure to high doses of THMs, for example.

  • Carcinogenic effect
  • Disinfection by-products are associated with several types of cancers. The main tumors observed are liver, kidney and colon cancer. Disinfection by-products are also associated with mutagenic effects.

    These effects result from long-term exposure to chemicals in domestic water, wastewater or water bodies. There are various pathways for the absorption of disinfection by-products from water. Ingestion is an important route. Specific water uses may also contribute to the absorption of the contained byproducts through inhalation and skin contact, as some are highly volatile and readily vaporize into the air.

    UV treatment - An alternative without adding chemicals

    Like chemical treatment, UV water treatment eliminates pathogenic micro-organisms (bacteria, viruses, etc.). This technique avoids the addition of any chemicals that could be harmful to human health or the environment. The UV disinfection method then appears to be a reliable and cost-effective solution. It does not alter the taste or smell of the water.

    This solution uses ultraviolet radiation transmitted in the form of waves moving in all directions from the emitting source (UV lamp). UV disinfection is therefore a physical process that is particularly effective at wavelengths where the energy intensity is optimal. Even microbes that are highly resistant to chlorine, such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium, can be effectively disinfected by UV.ÖNORM or NSF certified UV systems are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to chemical treatment for many applications.

    Ultraviolet history and the evolution of water purification

    Egyptian doctors already used boiled water to treat their patients. But they also used another method, which consisted of heating the water in the sun. This is certainly the oldest known application of UV disinfection technology. This process is ideal for disinfecting small quantities of water with good transparency. But it was only in 1910 that the first real UV disinfection technologies appeared.

    UV has a long history in water treatment, and has thus become an effective alternative for non-chemical water disinfection.

    Known for a long time as an effective germicidal treatment, UV light has indeed been installed in many large public drinking water and wastewater treatment plants around the world. In 1903, Niels Fensen received the Nobel Prize for his use of ultraviolet light to fight tuberculosis. In 1910, the first drinking water disinfection system was installed in Marseille, France. Since 1960, UVC disinfection has been used more and more as commercial applications were found.

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