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Would You Drink From A Wooden Water Filter?

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March 10, 2014
Would You Drink From A Wooden Water Filter? - 2

Before you answer this post’s title question, think back carefully. If you’ve ever tasted tree sap that was dripping from a maple, birch, sycamore, or hickory then technically you’ve drunk from a wooden water filter.

After the first sip of sap I took years ago, I’ve always wondered why it was safe to drink. I thought it might have had something to do with the size of the pores in the tree’s roots, or some similar screening process. According to some interesting recent research, it turns out that the wood itself may be the filter element.

This study used the sapwood of pine to filter out E. coli bacteria, among other things added to water. The sapwood’s structure already performs a filtering action in the living wood, screening out air bubbles from the sap. Unchecked, these air bubbles would lead to tissue damage. This filtering ability has some humanitarians looking hard at conifer wood as a readily available material for water filtration devices in developing nations. When firewood is scarce for struggling people, boiling the water may not be an option every day. This means that people must drink from the local waterways, and make themselves more vulnerable to E. coli, salmonella, cholera, hepatitis, giardia, and many other pathogens. The World Health Organization has estimated that 1.6 million human deaths occur each year from waterborne diseases caused by a lack of safe drinking water.  
 
So, back to the water filter. Researchers used a block of pine sapwood for this study, roughly one cubic inch. This was attached to a water supply with PVC pipe and epoxy, to prevent water from bypassing the wood filter. Flow rates of several quarts a day were reached in their trials, and 99.9 percent of E. coli was eliminated. These are the same numbers you’ll see from commercial water filters, like those from LifeStraw, which can be employed in a gravity-fed system or sucked like a straw. This test did not mention the efficacy of the conifer wood filter against viruses, which are typically much smaller than bacterias. It is possible that these smaller organisms may work their way through the wood but, again, this is no different than the LifeStraw, which do not guarantee virus removal either.

Have I tried this myself? Not yet. But I would if I had no other choice. The way I see it, any filtration is better than none.

Tell us whether this method makes sense to you, and whether you would try this in an emergency.

 

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from ozarkghost 3/10/2014 at 12:38pm

Sure why not do this? Native peoples of North America and frontiersmen often cut grape vines to get drinking water if they could not find another source. Barrel cacti, I would assume, do the same thing in the desert that grape vines do in the Ozarks. It would be interesting to see if this research is extended to other plant species or not. In the meantime, in a survival situation of short term duration I would not think it a viable option. For an apocalyptic long term situation it just might be worth the time and effort.

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from Tioughnioga 3/10/2014 at 11:59am

Interesting. I'd certainly try it, though it's hard to imagine how you might use wood in a makeshift filter. Since the water won't simply run through it (as with a makeshift funnel-type filter using sand, gravel, and vegetation) and would need some soak-time, you'd have to figure a way to make the wood completely tight against the inside of the vessel. Maybe cutting a piece of wood to size and then sealing the edge with pine sap? And then, assuming you were able to make a good seal, how long would it take for the water to soak through? Overall, it's interesting to think about. And I wonder if different species of wood, since they all burn differently due to their inner structures, would filter better than others? (I'm chuckling, thinking of the bottled-water yuppies and what this might mean for them: Wood-filtered water might be the next health-food craze, or just the next thing it's cool to be seen drinking. Think of all the flavor options.)

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from Tioughnioga 3/10/2014 at 11:59am

Interesting. I'd certainly try it, though it's hard to imagine how you might use wood in a makeshift filter. Since the water won't simply run through it (as with a makeshift funnel-type filter using sand, gravel, and vegetation) and would need some soak-time, you'd have to figure a way to make the wood completely tight against the inside of the vessel. Maybe cutting a piece of wood to size and then sealing the edge with pine sap? And then, assuming you were able to make a good seal, how long would it take for the water to soak through? Overall, it's interesting to think about. And I wonder if different species of wood, since they all burn differently due to their inner structures, would filter better than others? (I'm chuckling, thinking of the bottled-water yuppies and what this might mean for them: Wood-filtered water might be the next health-food craze, or just the next thing it's cool to be seen drinking. Think of all the flavor options.)

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from ozarkghost 3/10/2014 at 12:38pm

Sure why not do this? Native peoples of North America and frontiersmen often cut grape vines to get drinking water if they could not find another source. Barrel cacti, I would assume, do the same thing in the desert that grape vines do in the Ozarks. It would be interesting to see if this research is extended to other plant species or not. In the meantime, in a survival situation of short term duration I would not think it a viable option. For an apocalyptic long term situation it just might be worth the time and effort.

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