Using Water Contaminated with Cyanotoxin for Non-Consumable Purposes?

See even a little of this? Don’t use the water.

This article is part of the discussion on cyanotoxin Don’t Drink the Water.

When you find out your water is contaminated with cyanotoxin, your world will change.  This water is dangerous and causes all sorts of troubles, even for showering or bathing.  Unfortunately, you may never know it’s contaminated without the gas chromatography mass spectrometry testing.  Since you can’t keep one in your back pocket, you must prepare and be on the alert.  You must take precautions.

Do not bathe or shower in water contaminated with cyanotoxin.  Someone, who shall remain nameless, told us it is okay to shower with it if you have no cuts or skin breaks on  your body, you are healthy, and you are an adult if the toxin level was very low.  Given the additional information below, that bit didn’t provide any comfort.

If you have to use it for doing dishes, all dishes and utensils must be effectively rinsed with undiluted chlorine bleach.  It’s the only thing that removes (not destroys) it from the dishes.  Even that is not a guarantee of safety.

Not one article has been found that suggests it’s safe to wash your clothing with it.  And, since it concentrates the toxin as water is removed, it seems as if it would only remain in the clothing, and then be on your skin and you can’t get away from it.

Algae can get into the system and contaminate the water with toxins.

And, most disturbingly is that water containing cyanotoxin is unsafe for both livestock and irrigation.  Your animals will die from the exposure, and you wouldn’t want to eat any animals contaminated with cyanotoxin.  When used in irrigation systems, it is airborn and inhaled by field workers.  This causes any number of dreadful outcomes.  Further, studies show that plants irrigated with contaminated water poses a great threat.  The toxin not only gets in the plant, but it concentrates in the plant through the root system so that eating a small portion of the plant would be deadly.

In short the only way to get it off of something is to wash with full strength bleach, and that isn’t a sure thing.  It remains on surfaces.  It is both a poison and a carcinogen.  It is harmful to every living creature that encounters it.

In short, there is no safe way to use water contaminated with cyanotoxin.  When you use it, you know you are taking a risk and one has to determine if the risk is worth it or if there is some alternative water source to be found.


Saqrane, Sana, and Brahim Oudra. “CyanoHAB Occurrence and Water Irrigation Cyanotoxin Contamination: Ecological Impacts and Potential Health Risks.” Toxins. Molecular Diversity Preservation International, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

Milligan, Allen J., Assistant Professor of Botany and Plant Pathology, OSU. “Potential Impact of Cyanobacteria on Crop Plants.” Potential Impact of Cyanobacteria on Crop Plants. Pacific Northwest Plant Disease Management, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

“Drinking Water and Sanitation.” SpringerReference (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

Don’t Drink the Water – This is NOT a Boil Water Notice!

WaterWhat happens when you can’t test the water, and you suspect it could be contaminated with cyanotoxin/microcystin, even if you get it from a river or well?  Our local city water supply was contaminated with cyanotoxin.  You can’t use any standard water filter to remove it, and boiling just makes it worse.  It’s deadly.  But what is it?  How did the contamination occur?  What to do about it?  How do you know if your water is contaminated?  These questions recently had to be answered in our community.  Someday there might not be a city organization to take care of such issues and you might be using your own private water resources such as a lake, pond, or river.  You will be at risk.

Cyanotoxin is produced by microcystin (a type of bacteria in blue-green algae blooms).  Do NOT confuse microcystin with microcysts (also shown as micro-cysts), a ball of bacteria or virus living in the water.  While the function of microcystin producing cyanotoxin is scary, it is not uncommon.  It is seen anywhere water (fresh, salt, or brackish) may flow slow enough, or be stagnant to allow the blue-green algae to bloom.  Even rivers have “slow” spots where this can happen.  For this reason, it is important to be sure to check if the water is safe before swimming, drinking or cooking with the water.  For public water resources, calling the park service should give you the information about water safety.

Even so, you still have to be certain that these nasty little things didn’t find their way into your family or livestock water supply.  If you use city water supply, you won’t know because the city is not required to test for it.  It is assumed it is not in the city water due to the various processes used for water purification.  Our contamination was discovered when a neighbor suspected something was wrong with the water in her home and sent it out for testing.  The results came back with horrendous results.

The first notice was hand delivered on a Friday night only to our neighborhood.  Then as the rest of the community was tested, eventually the entire city was found to be contaminated.  After two weeks of flushing lines and testing and re-testing the water, they were able to come up with a clean water supply.  The city had no idea how long we had been exposed to this deadly toxin.  Nor does the city know how the contamination happened since it is a closed system.  But, if the indications we saw are correct, it was at least six months, but more like a year.

Here are things you need to know to keep your water supply safe:

Symptoms and consequences of contamination are mistakable for other medical issues.  They include hay fever symptoms while or after swimming or bathing, liver and kidney failure, and death.  If you should survive those things, you have other things looming in your future since cyanotoxin facilitates cancer.  It takes at least one month for even low levels of toxin to be removed from you system, assuming that you have enough liver and kidney function left to remove it.  If the damage to your organs is not too severe, you can recover from it and the organs should heal.

Laws do not protect you if the water is contaminated because monitoring this toxin in the water supply is not currently required by the E.P.A. nor other water regulatory agencies.  However, with several cities’ recent water purification issues from lead, cyanotoxin, chemicals and fecal matter, one can not wait for the law to catch up in time to preserve your health.

There is only one way to remove cyanotoxin from your water supply.  Use a long slow sand filter.  The bad news is, buying these types of systems are usually expensive and they take up a large area.  The output is slow and low water pressure.  It is easier and cheaper to make your own system.  If you are interested, see this article about how to make your own long slow sand filter.  There are precautions  you must take if you are going to make your own filtration system.  See this article about long slow sand filters.

Take precautions with your water supply, especially if you won’t have the might of a city behind you if contamination occurs.  If you are concerned that your current water system won’t be able to remain pure, learn how to make and use a long slow sand filter.  Once you have a system in place and working, have the water that comes through it tested.  Don’t assume that it works.  See this article about using water contaminated with cyanotoxin for non-consumable purposes.




Mapping the Water Supply

Securing a safe water supply is important to every entity in the world.  With changing weather patterns bringing droughts to regions normally the best farmlands, it is getting more frustrating for cities and states as they try to find water sources and negotiate prices and methods to transport water.

Coastal states have the ability to build desalinization plants, but landlocked states must rely on rivers, lakes and aquifers.  To this end there have been many man-made lakes and rivers dammed up for both water and electricity. 

Even after some rains, aquifers remain at levels below 50% or less in some areas of the United States, and around the world.  It takes many days of rain to replenish the water supply both above and below ground.

Because of this, it is important to know where water can be accessed and to keep up with the status of those locations on a weekly basis.  Aquifers serve not just one well but instead wells for entire cities, your wells may have water this week, but not have water next week under severe drought conditions.

One thing you can do is pay attention to EPA, state, and local water authority reports which list where contaminated ground water is already found.  Knowing water is already contaminated and what the contaminants are is a step in the right direction when choosing which places to eliminate as possible sources of fresh water in the future.

Mapping safe and unsafe water is an important part of being prepared.  Keep your map Map of the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Arkansas Territory.up to date since water wells that are clean today may be contaminated next week; and contaminated wells today may be safe next year.  Similarly, it is important to realize that if your well is contaminated, it is possible that those adjacent to yours is contaminated too.  Generally, water wells within cities are likely contaminated with any number of lawn and garden, industrial or other chemicals and not fit for human or animal consumption.

Another thing important is to recognize what a water well looks like.  They are not all like the picturesque open top well, nor are they marked with rustic hand-pump wells.  Some have signs on them that read “city of $%^ pumping station” or “city of $%^ well”.  Some wells, particularly those in colder regions use submersible pumps and therefore may not have a cap visible from a distance.  Instead they are  capped with a slab of concrete or some other structure to keep people from falling inside.  In warmer climates, often there is a tank visible next to the well.  Many people decorate these with cute fake wells. Taking note of where these wells are could be important.  

One easy way to keep your map up to date is to laminate a map and use dry erase markers to make notations and changes.  Label the wells with the notations about the type of of contamination and what is required to make the water potable.  When the time comes that you need to take your water map with you, simply snap a picture of it with your tablet or cell phone, then when time permits, can use your photo to transfer it to a permanent map.  

Here are two links to get you started:

Radiological Contamination, Water Treatment and the Water Well

Well water is subject to contamination from above and below ground contaminants the same as surface water.  Agricultural and residential fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides are regularly found in ground water.  Industrial chemicals sometimes contaminate ground water and surface water.  Radiation and toxic chemicals found in water wells can be caused by the currently popular fracturing (fracking) process used by some oil and natural gas companies.  

Just as you can’t tell by looking if the water you wish to drink is contaminated with chemicals, bacteria and viruses, you can’t tell if it is contaminated by radiation.  Certainly you will need special equipment for that.  As stated in the article about purifying water, be on the look out for dead things in, on, or near the water source before approaching, touching, or using it.

Observing surface water is easier than observing ground water.  Plants and animals lying dead all around a stream or lake is a sure sign something is wrong.  Radiation contamination doesn’t kill instantly.  The animals may drink the water and go a long distance away from the source before they die.  When observing surface water, pay attention to more than the shores and banks.

Ground water is another matter completely.  While there may be chemicals and bacteria, there won’t be animals standing around the well dead or dying.  Instead, there might be people living in the area who can tell you about families who used a certain well or wells, who got sick and/or died from it.

But, let’s suppose you are in a world changing event and need to know if water is safe.  You’d get out your handy water test kit to check for chemicals.  Wait.  If the water is contaminated with radiation, you may have already contaminated yourself, simply by touching anything the well water may have touched.

Instead, when approaching a water well, get out your handy Fluke radiation detector (charged by your solar powered charger) to find out if there is radiation present on the ground or surfaces of the interior of the well. Once you have safely approached the well, be careful about how you get the water out of the well.  If the water is contaminated, breathing it’s fumes or touching it may likely will contaminate you.  If you are going to sample the water be sure to wear protective gear and use protective equipment if at all possible!

Once you have determined that the water is contaminated with radiation, it’s up to you to decide if the risk of contaminating yourself is worth the reward of cleaning the water.  Seriously, the only way most people would think the risk is acceptable is if there were absolutely no alternative sources of water and they were going to die before any other source of water can be found.

Major water purification systems designed to purify water for entire cities can’t even remove all the radiation contamination.  Since using a source of water contaminated by radiation will be difficult to purify, will ruin any filters and utensils, may contaminate you during the process, and still may not be safe to use, one would only consider this under the most dire circumstances. 

Right now, before some world altering event happens is the time to have your well water tested by professionals.  It should be tested frequently since changes can happen without warning signs.



Chemical Purification of Fresh Water

Luckiamute Falls

Our packs are packed, kayaks and fishing gear ready, and our camping supplies are always ready. It’s not only in case we have to evacuate, but also to take planned or unplanned trips.  Part of those supplies include water purification systems.

While we won’t swim where we know we can’t drink the water, it is nice to know that should public water sources not be available, we can still enjoy the great outdoors.  Even during a world changing event, being prepared for the worst will make camping with our family and friends seem less traumatic and stressful for everyone.  Distillation is our preferred water purification method, having the proper water purification chemicals will go a long way towards providing peace and security if you can’t use your stove.

If you plan to use freshwater sources not part of a public water supply, be sure to contact your local fish and game department or department of state parks to find out which lakes and rivers are closed to swimming or fishing.  Chances are you won’t want to use the water for drinking either.  Some times part of a lake is closed due to algae blooms or other reasons.

It is impossible to tell by looking if water is contaminated. Water purification tablets can be used as a last resort, for a few days, when other methods are not available. Chemical purification systems are used to kill bacteria and viruses in drinking water, especially giardia and cryptosporidium. Use chemical purification tablets when no other method is available and for no longer than five days.

The two chemicals most people choose are:

  • Chlorine dioxide tablets (or droplets)
  • Iodine tablets (or droplets)

These chemicals are cheap to purchase and light weight to carry in a pocket or backpack.

Choosing the freshwater source:

Water should be moving, as in a stream or river.  Or, in the case of lakes or ponds, examine it carefully.  If a lake or pond might be unsuitable in one location, try another location.  The larger the body of water, the more likely at least some part of it will be suitable for chemical purification.

Never use water from any source with dead fish or animals, any odor coming from the water, and algae blooms. The water must not be stagnant nor have a foamy surface. These waters may not be suitable for chemical purification systems.

How to use chemical purification systems:

Follow package instructions at all times.  Failure to follow the instructions exactly as listed could lead to severe illness or death.

Pour clear water into your container.  If you have to use muddy water, strain through fabric until it runs clear.   Add chemicals according to package instructions. For maximum effectiveness, the ideal water temperature is 80ºF. If using chlorine dioxide, wait at least four hours, longer at temperatures below 62ºF. When using iodine, use a dark container and do not use under 68ºF, wait 30 minutes. Chemical purification is completely ineffective near 35ºF.

Pros and cons of  each chemical system:

Chlorine dioxide is most effective against cryptosporidium. The municipal water taste dissipates when left open for an additional 30 minutes.

Iodine does not kill cryptosporidium, and leaves a foul taste to be neutralized with vitamin C.

Women over 50 and persons with certain allergies and health conditions should not use iodine.  Consult your physician for your situation.

Iodine has a long shelf life.

Shelf life of products:

Chlorine dioxide has a long shelf life. Once opened, chlorine dioxide tablets lose potency within a few days. Visually examine previously opened tablets before use. Gray or brown discolored tablets may retain some effectiveness. Tablets with a green or yellow discoloration should not be used. Some brands of chlorine dioxide tablets are packed in waterproof foil sheets.

Store chemical purification systems under controlled temperatures between 68°F and 86°F. Protect them from light or replace yearly. Check with the manufacturer for information about how the production date is displayed on the package before purchase.


What About Your Water Supply?

Many hours of work and dollars are involved in water storage.Many people a lulled into thinking if they have a stash of bottled water, barrels of rain water, a cistern, or other way to store large amounts of water they are in the clear.  That is only the beginning.

Imagine, thousands of gallons of water sitting there, but you can’t use it because it was contaminated during the disaster.  What good did it do to store all that water if you can’t use it after the disaster?  Plenty of good, if you are prepared.

When you return to your location after the disaster, first things first.  Check on any livestock that might not have been evacuated and render first aid to them.   Check out the safety of the home and tend to the immediate needs of the family only using food and water that came back with you.  After that, it’s time to set about the business of checking on the food and water supplies.

The food is either safe or it is not.  There’s not much you can do to fix it if it is contaminated.  The water on the other hand, can be cleaned and be useful.

How to know if it is contaminated?  Use your common sense and your senses.  If the disaster and your water supply obviously crossed paths, the first thing is to test the water.  Such cases as natural disasters that disturb land and water like earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes.  All of these can contaminate wells with petrochemicals and other things.  Obviously a nuclear disaster would demand that you not return to your home.

The EPA provides information about water contamination and what to do about it.  The EPA chart about which tests order is helpful.  Considering that state agencies will be flooded with work after a disaster, it might be a good idea to have test kits on hand.  It helps to know which tests to use.

Consider your location.  For instance, in our location there is the risk of contamination from all manner of refineries after a hurricane.  For this reason, we would know that our wells would be likely contaminated with industrial chemicals, animal decay, sewer system failure, and salt water.  We would not use any stored water until it can be purified and retested.  Over time the wells would clean themselves, but certainly not fast enough to use right after a disaster.  Frequent testing of the wells will let you know when they are safe to use again.  In the meantime it will be necessary to purify the water according to EPA instructions for the contaminants found.

It is important to note that wells may test negative for one contaminant this week, but next week it might test positive because of the underground flow of water or rain washing contaminants into the well.  Until all wells in the area test clean, don’t assume your well is always safe.  For that information contact the appropriate authorities in your region.

The EPA and water quality associations are dedicated to pure water for everyone one.  Use the resources they offer.