Why cant we drink mud water

“Water, water everywhere – but not a drop to drink”. This old saying has never rung more true than it does now, especially in coastal towns of South Africa. During a trip to Durban in December last year, I was taken by surprise to see how many homes, hotels and restaurants – situated on the beach front – had come under water restrictions. How? You’re literally less than 100m away from an (almost) infinite supply of water! Well, it’s that simple – and it’s just as tricky; you can’t drink sea water because of the salt. We discuss this in detail.

What is in Sea Water?

Besides the horribly vast array of unidentified floaty-things, beach towels and sun hats – sea water (in it’s simplest form) contains about 3.5% salt, on average. This obviously excludes the Dead Sea – where salt levels can go as high as 35% salinity! This explains why it is possible to float in the sea water – the salt provides buoyancy otherwise not possible in lower salinity environments. So, excluding salt, we can find trace elements of the following minerals in Sea Water: Chloride, Sodium, Magnesium, Vanadium, Sulphur, Calcium, Potassium, Bromine, Carbon (and of course Hydrogen and Oxygen!) The concentrations of these minerals can be found in percentages ranging from 0.0028 – 1.94.

So, why can’t I drink it?

The reason we drink water is to quench a thirst. Salt holds the property of dehydration. When you consume water with such high levels of salt, as found in Sea Water, you are doing your body more harm than good. The amount of salt ingested per glass would need more water to process it than the water that was ingested. In short – it has the reverse effect of hydration and can cause long term damage to your kidneys, because they will be overworked. It’s a terrible cycle; the more Sea Water you drink, the thirstier you will be. A tip if you have no water except Sea Water; keep your lips closed and wet them. This tricks your body into thinking you are hydrated and will alleviate your thirst, albeit for a short period of time, until you can get your hands on safe drinking water.

How can we Desalinate Sea Water?

Because of the position we find ourselves in, worldwide, we are being forced to look at alternative sources of drinking water as our climates changes, as we are faced with El Nino and droughts worldwide. Desalination plants exist across the country and across the globe. Desalination can occur in nature, at home, or on a large-scale industrial level.

Desalinate Sea Water at Home

This can be one in a science-fare type of experiment. Steps to desalinating water at home can be found both here and on Wikihow.com. Both of these require a large amount of labour for a relatively small yield of drinkable water. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting experiment to do with your kids.

Desalinate Sea Water – Industrial Desalination

We’re seeing a huge increase in this because of the unprecedented need for it. Now, I’m no scientist, and this process is exceptionally complex and difficult to understand. In overview, all salt water needs to evaporate the salt from itself. Industrial desalination works on huge scales and the entire process, written and diagrammatically displayed – can be found at howstuffworks.com .

What happens if I drink Sea Water?

So, you find yourself in a life or death situation where your only option is to drink Sea Water without first filtering or boiling it. Think laterally; why do snow-burdened countries throw salt on their tyres? To melt ice. Salt water, or sea water as it is, holds a higher salinity than your blood. This could be disastrous as it throws your bodies’ coping mechanism entirely off balance. It is never, ever advised that you drink salt water. It may not result in fatality – but it is guaranteed to wreak havoc on your body. Deeper explanations can be found here. (side note to Mom’s for summer; don’t panic if your child accidentally gulps a mouthful of Sea Water. Simply give them a glass or two of purified water to help them flush it out. Amounts that small are harmless)

On a far smaller scale – and possibly a short term solution for impoverished area’s is a desalinating and cleaning straw. The user simply drinks their water through the straw – which acts as a filter to unwanted bodies as well as simultaneously decreasing the saline concentration of the water.

In summary, Sea Water is great for external application, can assist in clearing up skin imperfections and improving overall skin health. It can be exceptionally dangerous if it’s ingested in large amounts, but is harmless if accidentally ingested. Keep hydrated with purified water, especially throughout summer, and let the Sea Water stick to staying in the Sea

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