The history of water treatment has been marked by slow, gradual discoveries that coincided with human development. While water filtration technology only became successful and widely used in the 20th century, the history of water treatment can be traced back to thousands of years ago.
Early in The History of Water Treatment
Man has sought pure, clean water for as long as he has been on Earth. The earliest recorded mention of water filtration and purification can be found in Sanskrit writings from about 2000 B.C.E. These writings state that “impure water should be purified by being boiled over a fire…or it may be purified by filtration through sand and coarse gravel and then allowed to cool.” This demonstrates that even in some of the earliest civilizations the basics of water purification were known. There is also some evidence that the ancient Egyptians used wick siphons for water clarification. Later, following the tutelage of Hippocrates, the Greek and Roman empires used cloth bags and additives such as pounded barley to filter out bad tastes in water.
Important Discoveries in the History of Water Treatment
After Sir Francis Bacon renewed interest in filtration in 1627, a number of important scientific discoveries deeply affected the history of water treatment. Around 1690, Anton van Leeuwenhoek invented an early version of the modern microscope, which allowed scientists to more effectively study particles in water. Meanwhile, in Italy, Lucas Antonius Portius invented the first effective sand filtration system using multiple perforated compartments and large grains of sand. These two inventions allowed people in 19th century Britain to examine disease-causing bacteria in water and create one of the world’s first municipal water treatment systems.
Modern Developments in the History of Water Treatment
In the early 1900s, English physicians discovered that chlorine was very effective in eliminating disease from water, and chlorination of public water systems began. The United States and other countries soon followed suit, and in 1972, the Environmental Protection Agency passed the Clean Water Act, requiring cities to filter public water. Today, amid growing concerns about the safety of water fluoridation and chlorination, individual households have begun to install filtration devices to taps, showerheads, and entire plumbing systems.
The History of Water Treatment Continues
The history of water filtration is still being written. While individuals in America and other countries continue to improve the quality of household water, many people in developing countries lack the ability to properly filter their water. The challenge moving forward will be in improving water filtration for all of humanity.