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Thread: Iodine (Potable Aqua) vs. Chlorine Dioxide (Aquamira)

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    Iodine (Potable Aqua) vs. Chlorine Dioxide (Aquamira)

    I use a filter for multi-day outings but desiring chem backup for day trips if carried water ran out. How does one decide between the two listed in the title? Are there any particular Adirondack parasites (tape worm) or bacteria that these might not be effective on?

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    Senior Member DSettahr's Avatar
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    I have extensively used both. I prefer the Iodine tablets (potable aqua). With the Aquamira, you have to let the solution mix for 5 minutes before adding it to your water. I found that I was managing to forget about the solution, and knock the little cup over before it was done mixing way too often to be preferable. With iodine, there is no waiting for the solution to mix at all, just fill your bottle, drop the tablets in, and go.

    Additionally, Aquamira comes as a liquid, and the bottles a little bit less durable than desired. On several occasions, I opened my pack to find that one of the bottles was cracked and had leaked out all of it's contents.

    Another source of aggravation with Aquamira was the two bottles. It sure is fun getting ready for a trip and only being able to find one bottle but not the other one! I eventually started duct taping the bottles together as soon as I opened the package.

    The one thing that Aquamira has over iodine tablets is the taste. You don't really notice a thing. However, I think you can get taste neutralizer tablets along with the potable aqua that gets rid of the iodine taste. I've never used them, though- the taste isn't that bad, and while you may or may not develop a fondness for it, you get used to it.

    It should also be noted that the long term effects of iodine on the body aren't that great. On the fine print for the iodine tablet bottles, it generally says "for emergency use only."

    Additionally, Aquamira is essentially the same thing as bleach. Some (cheap) hikers just use a medicine bottle and dropper with bleach instead. I'm not sure how this compares to Aquamira in terms of how healthy (or unhealthy) it is for you.

    One drawback to chemical treatments in comparison to filters is that you must wait 20 to 30 minutes before drinking the water. In colder temperatures, the treatments will take even longer to work. With a filter/pump, it takes longer to get the water, but it's ready to drink immediately.

    One thing to remember when switching from a filter to a chemical treatment is the necessity of "threading" your bottle. When you fill and treat your bottle, there will be water stuck in the threads at the top that won't be treated by the chemicals. To counteract this, after filling the bottle and dropping in the treatment, close the lid almost the whole way, and turn it upside down, allowing some water to dribble through the threads. This allows the treated water to filter through the threads, killing any bacteria in them.
    Last edited by DSettahr; 06-13-2010 at 03:17 PM.

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    Senior Member Nessmuk's Avatar
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    I've been using PolaPure for the past 25+ years. Seems to have worked (I have never contracted any waterborne illness that I know about). We also give it to Boy Scout High Adventure crews on their week-long Adirondack treks with the as far as I know same result. I really don't mind the iodine taste, guess I've grown to love it as part of the outdoors. The 30 minute wait requirement is not a problem, you just have to plan ahead - 30 minutes is not difficult. You do have to watch the temperature and contact time though, but as i said, I've never had a problem with that either.

    A single $10 bottle will last a lifetime, certainly many years. Being elemental iodine, it never expires as long as there are crystals visible. I still have my original, plus a couple of extra spares.
    Last edited by Nessmuk; 06-13-2010 at 04:30 PM.
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    Senior Member rhihn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DSettahr View Post
    I have extensively used both. I prefer the Iodine tablets (potable aqua). With the Aquamira, you have to let the solution mix for 5 minutes before adding it to your water. I found that I was managing to forget about the solution, and knock the little cup over before it was done mixing way too often to be preferable. With iodine, there is no waiting for the solution to mix at all, just fill your bottle, drop the tablets in, and go.

    Additionally, Aquamira comes as a liquid, and the bottles a little bit less durable than desired. On several occasions, I opened my pack to find that one of the bottles was cracked and had leaked out all of it's contents.

    Another source of aggravation with Aquamira was the two bottles. It sure is fun getting ready for a trip and only being able to find one bottle but not the other one! I eventually started duct taping the bottles together as soon as I opened the package.

    The one thing that Aquamira has over iodine tablets is the taste. You don't really notice a thing. However, I think you can get taste neutralizer tablets along with the potable aqua that gets rid of the iodine taste. I've never used them, though- the taste isn't that bad, and while you may or may not develop a fondness for it, you get used to it.

    It should also be noted that the long term effects of iodine on the body aren't that great. On the fine print for the iodine tablet bottles, it generally says "for emergency use only."

    Additionally, Aquamira is essentially the same thing as bleach. Some (cheap) hikers just use a medicine bottle and dropper with bleach instead. I'm not sure how this compares to Aquamira in terms of how healthy (or unhealthy) it is for you.

    One drawback to chemical treatments in comparison to filters is that you must wait 20 to 30 minutes before drinking the water. In colder temperatures, the treatments will take even longer to work. With a filter/pump, it takes longer to get the water, but it's ready to drink immediately.

    One thing to remember when switching from a filter to a chemical treatment is the necessity of "threading" your bottle. When you fill and treat your bottle, there will be water stuck in the threads at the top that won't be treated by the chemicals. To counteract this, after filling the bottle and dropping in the treatment, close the lid almost the whole way, and turn it upside down, allowing some water to dribble through the threads. This allows the treated water to filter through the threads, killing any bacteria in them.
    DSettahr's practice mirrors mine when it comes to chemical treatment. As for the taste taste/neutralizer tablets, I carry a tablet or two of vitamin-C and scrape a small portion into the liquid, which kills the taste completely (you only need to scrape a small amount into the liquid to work). I do this AFTER the iodine has been allowed to work. I DON'T KNOW (I'm not a chemist) what the vitamin-C does to the iodine's ability to work! I'm careful to do the "threading" treatment. It is important to make sure that the bottle is COMPLETELY rinsed out (of iodine!) before a second batch is treated.

    There is also an iodine shelf life:

    http://www.millennium-ark.net/News_Files/NBC/KI.html
    Dick

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    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Iodine is very effective against bacteria and viruses, but not Cryptosporidium cysts. Use 4ppm (4mg/liter) for relatively clean water and 8ppm (8mg/liter) for poorer quality water with 10 to 20 minutes contact time. It is safe for people with normal thyroid function if used properly--lethal doses are 2-3 grams and excessive iodine intake causes immediate vomiting so accidental deaths are very rare. Tests using iodine-treated water for extended periods have found no health problems in adults. Iodine is available in crystaline, USP tincture of iodine, and tablet forms.

    Note: using vitamin C (or vitamin C containing flavoring) to kill the iodine taste destroys the effectiveness of the iodine. You should wait until the contact time is completed.

    Chlorine Dioxide appears to have similar effectiveness as iodine. (Contact times for Cryptosporidium cysts are ~4hrs, so in practice it isn't very useful against them.) It is available in bi-liquid and tablet forms.

    Note: Chlorine Dioxide (Aquimira etc) is not the same as chlorine bleach. (Chlorine bleach is not very effective as a field technique for treating water.)

    One of the best systems is filtering followed by >=2ppm of iodine. The filter removes cysts and the iodine kills viruses. (Viruses are not a significant problem for carefully chosen backcountry water in the US and Canada.)

    I personally use USP tincture of iodine. ~4 drops/liter for 4ppm and ~8 drops/liter for 8ppm. I don't mind the taste--if I can taste it, then I know that there is enough iodine in the water. (Most people cannot taste 2ppm; 4ppm and 8ppm can be tasted.)

    There is a very good section on water purification in "Medicine for Mountaineering & Other Wilderness Activities" by Wilkerson, Moore, and Zafren. Most of the above (and more) can be found in this reference.

    Doug
    Last edited by DougPaul; 06-13-2010 at 06:29 PM.

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    Senior Member rhihn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DougPaul View Post
    Note: using vitamin C (or vitamin C containing flavoring) to kill the iodine taste destroys the effectiveness of the iodine. You should wait until the contact time is completed.
    Doug
    Yes, I should have mentioned that. A good precaution for those who inadvertently put drink mixes (many of which contain vitamin C) in right away with their iodine in order to kill the taste.
    Dick

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    I used to use Polarpure for several years on week long backpacking trips. It is fairly fast and convenient. There is a side effect for some folks (generally not discussed in polite society) which is a slight case of the "runs" for duration of the trip. I ran into a water treatment specialist once and he attributed it to the residual iodine knocking out the "good" bacteria in the digestive tract (time to break out the yogurt?). The other issue for either iodine treatment is that there is a small percentage of the population that does get thyroid issues from long term use. Generally its after about 3 or 4 weeks and go away when they stop using the iodine.

    One thing a lot of folks dont realize is that the iodine tablets have a short shelf life, once the package is opened it is only good for a few weeks and the therefore the remainder should be thrown away. Aquamira doesnt have this issue , nor does Polarpure.

    I have used Aquamira for about 10 years for about half the AT (usually one to two week trips with one five week trip). I have never had issues with the durability of the bottles and the side effects from the polarpure are no longer present. Chlorine dioxide is a realtively unstable compound that breaks down fairly rapidly, thats why you have to brew it up when you need it although one version (which I have heard about but havent used), would be mixed up in the morning and could be used all day. The only time there is a aftertaste I when the water has a lot of organics.

    The latest nasty in the US is cryptosporidium and to date it tends to be only problematical in areas with livestock, therefore for trips to the Boy Scout high adventure base (Philmont) and most mountainious areas, like the whites and the ADK's its not a real issue. Thats lucky as although chemical treatments can work, they can take a real long contact time and most folks wont wait long enough. Therefore there is a lot to be said for the filter and treat option in areas with livestock (there are many parts of the AT south of New England where this may apply).

    The other value for filter and treat, is when the water is not clear, granted chemicals can make water safe but sometimes the resultant water is not very palatable.

    Note there are several critics who argue thats its highly unlikely that you will get ill from drinking backcountry water untreated as long as its flowing. Having encountered a few folks who got Giardia from drinking pure looking flowing water from "springs", I dont agree, and would prefer not to win that lottery.

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    Senior Member woodsxc's Avatar
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    When I started spending time in the backcountry, I used Iodine. About 2 years ago though, my brothers and I caught our dad at a weak moment and convinced him to buy a Steripen. We haven't looked back. The pen is quick, easy, and very effective (if water is too cloudy, run it through a bandana). Bonus: no funky taste and no brown stains on your camelbak bladder.

    If the choices are Iodine and Chlorine Dioxide, I'd go with Iodine, but if you've got the $90, get yourself a Steripen.
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    Senior Member jniehof's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DougPaul View Post
    Note: Chlorine Dioxide (Aquimira etc) is not the same as chlorine bleach.
    It's one of the options used for municipal water treatment, so on the balance I think it's probably the safest chemical option.

    For those who don't like mucking with the two-part liquid, it's also available in tablet form, although fairly pricey. I carry a few tablets on day hikes when I don't expect to need to refill water, but stick with Aqua Mira for backpacks.

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    Senior Member ferrisjrf's Avatar
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    If you're gonna use a chemical in your water, Klearwater ClO2 is what I'd choose...it's what I do choose, actually.

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    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Chlorine bleach (= sodium hypochlorite)
    Quote Originally Posted by jniehof View Post
    It's one of the options used for municipal water treatment, so on the balance I think it's probably the safest chemical option.
    Not for field use.

    Disinfection depends on the amount of free chlorine in the water. In municipal water treatment, the amount of free chlorine is monitored and the amount of bleach is adjusted to achieve the desired amount of free chlorine.

    In field use, we add a fixed amount of bleach. Its effectiveness is a function of the pH and the amount of organic matter in the water--factors which we cannot easily measure or control or adjust for. Thus you may get essentially no purification of some water.

    Doug

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    filter bottle?

    How about as an alternative to a normal filter, one of the filter within a bottle types like the Katatyn?

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    Senior Member Quietman's Avatar
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    In the 4 years (early 80's) that I attended a 3 week summer hiking camp, we used 4 drops of bleach per gallon for 2 years, then 2-3 drops of iodine per gallon for the last 2 years. Didn't seem to harm any of us. No idea who decided how many drops of each.

    Now I use a filter.

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    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Quietman View Post
    In the 4 years (early 80's) that I attended a 3 week summer hiking camp, we used 4 drops of bleach per gallon for 2 years, then 2-3 drops of iodine per gallon for the last 2 years. Didn't seem to harm any of us. No idea who decided how many drops of each.
    My measurements for USP Tincture of Iodine yielded about 1ppm=1 drop/liter (Tincture is a mixture of diatomic iodine and ionic iodine--this number is for diatomic only (the active form).)

    Looks to me like you were using an inadequate amount of iodine (and probably chlorine, too). However, long contact times can make up for low concentrations of iodine or chlorine.

    Doug

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    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by adkayaker View Post
    How about as an alternative to a normal filter, one of the filter within a bottle types like the Katatyn?
    A filter is a filter. The differences are in convenience, not concept and performance.

    Doug

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