Filtering Dirty Water

Ever been tempted to drink from a stream but didn't because you weren't sure what was in the water? I know the feeling. I've always wondered whether filters remove all of the protozoans and bacteria found in ponds and streams, but I haven't had the guts to test them with my stomach. So I found a better way.

To determine how well four filters remove these stomach churners, I pumped water just downstream of a sewage treatment plant through each of them. Then Ken Crisp, a water specialist in Missoula, Mont., tested the samples against a sample of untreated water from the stream.

Filters work by straining protozoans, which are hard-shelled cysts ranging from 2 to 15 microns in diameter, and bacteria, which measure just 0.2 to 0.5 microns in diameter.

When Crisp tested the unfiltered river water, he found it contained coliform and E. coli, but no viruses. (E. coli is a potentially deadly bacteria and coliform is used by the EPA as an indicator bacteria; if it's present, there's a good chance that other bad things are too.) The filters removed the E. coli, but two of them failed to remove all of the coliform. The other two filters got the job done.--John Haviland

THE FILTERS PRICE WEIGHT FEATURES REMOVED COLIFORM REMOVED E. COLI
1. General Ecology First Need Deluxe Portable Water Purifier 800-441-8166; www.generalecology.com $93.00 15 oz. The double-action pump filters 1.8 quarts of water per minute. The filter has 0.1-micron pores and a 125-gallon life span. Yes Yes
2. Mountain Safety Research MiniWorks EX 800-877-9677; www.msrcorp.com $79.95 16 oz. The EX cleans 1 quart of water per minute. Its filter has a carbon core and 0.3-micron pores. The filter treats 525 gallons of water-a gauge indicates when the filter needs replacing. Yes Yes
3. Katadyn Hiker Microfilter 800-755-6701; www.katadyn.com $59.95 11 oz. The filter cartidge has an activated carbon core to reduce bad tastes and a filter with a 0.3-micron pore size. It trats 200 gallons of water. The Hiker pumps out 1 quart of water per minute. No Yes
4. Katadyn Exstream Purifier 800-755-6701; www.katadyn.com $39.99 7 oz. The Exstream includes a pre-filter, a 1.0-micron cyst filter and a ViruStat Cartridge treated with iodine to kill bacteria and viruses chemically. The filter treats 26 gallons of water. No Yes