July 14, 2011

Another problem with boiling water

A view of the lake at Uhuru Park in the city center, with lily pads, footbridges, and families in paddle boats. I walked down here last weekend to explore the city and ended up sitting on a grassy knoll watching a dance performance while a lady told me that I was her Jesus Christ and savior. (Crazy is a little harder to ID across a language and cultural barrier, but that was a pretty good tip-off).

But this isn't a story about attracting loony people; it's an exploration of water. Water sanitation methods, to be precise. Which may bore people not interested in water sanitation methods. Just a fair warning.

The advice is so simple: Don't drink the water. Or, as the travel clinic brochure says, "Avoid both tap water and drinks or ice made from tap water, unless you are advised by a reliable fellow foreigner that they are safe."

Coming here, I was actually kind of excited about trying out different purification techniques: Bottled, boiled, chemically-treated (iodine tablets), SteriPEN, solar disinfection.

I started thinking about what kinds of studies I could do to test out ease and effectiveness of each method. Given that my N=1 (me), the answer was none. I couldn't even do an extremely poorly powered crossover study on myself because I would need at least one person for each of the different ordered options (e.g. Bottled then boiled then chemical, vs. chemical then bottled then boiled) in order to account for the development of immunity/bacteria familiarity over time.

Still, I want to try them out. However, things have ended up being more complicated than I thought:

- The SteriPEN was about $90 from REI, so that got scratched.

- Bottled water is pretty much exactly like you'd expect, but it's hard to sustain. I buy 5 liter jugs because that's the heaviest I can carry home from the store, and that probably lasts me up to 2 days (depending on if I'm using it for brushing teeth or just drinking).

- Boiling water seems simple enough... but most recommendations say to boil for at least 5 minutes (although the CDC gives a liberal 3min), and the electric water kettle here has an automatic shut-off when water reaches boiling. So at first I tried to manually override the system by just holding the switch down in the "on" position (until I got burned with steam, and amended this procedure by holding it down with several hand towels). And then the kettle broke. Apparently, manual override is frowned upon. So I've started just doing it in pots on the stove, which is much slower and is starting to tarnish the pots. Logistics aside, there's another problem with boiling water: it's really really hot. Which is great for tea, but not so great for brushing teeth. So, if I want a supply of tepid, boiled water, I need to make it several hours in advance, pour into another receptacle, and store in the fridge (away from things like eggs that might spoil).

- SODIS (solar disinfection) is really exciting, and I can't wait to try it! But... I don't have a corrogated tin roof (or similarly appropriate locale) to put the bottles. And it's not really sunny. Mostly overcast with a tinge of smog. And sunbreaks (like Seattle, but warmer and no rain).

- The iodine tablets, I'm saving for an emergency, or perhaps when I head up north to Marsabit, as my supply is limited and I don't want to waste them when the 5 liter jugs of bottled water are just a short walk away.

The other issue is hand-washing. Easy enough. Wash hands with antibacterial soap before eating to kill the bacteria. But since the water is also likely to have bacteria, rinsing off the soap will just leave you with another layer of creepers, right? Perhaps the bacteria is water dies when it's dried, but how long do your hands need to be dry for before you can touch your food or mouth? And what about the the lack of towels in most washroom facilities?

The logic eludes me!

1 comment:

  1. its very much important that you would bring a water with you cause you don't know what kind of water they have..