Making the decision on which type of water you need for your application can be challenging. What’s more, if you happen to find yourself conducting research in a different country for the first time, it may be that the water classifications are somewhat different to what you are used to.
To implement a coherent classification system for water purity, we make use of several key factors describing the various properties of water.
Conductivity is reported as microSiemens per centimeter (µS/cm) at 25oC and is the reciprocal of resistivity and provides a measure of a fluid's ability to conduct electrical current. Conductivity is typically used when assessing water ranging from 'raw water' through to 'drinking water' and provides a valuable, non-specific indication of the level of ions in the water.
Reported as Mega-Ohms per centimeter (MO-cm) at 25oC, resistivity is related to conductivity: a high resistivity equals a low conductivity. As such, it also provides a measure of the water's ionic content. Unlike conductivity, resistivity is primarily used in the assessment of ultrapure water.
Organic compounds can exist in water in numerous forms and so measuring every single one individually is impractical. Instead, the most useful indicator is considered to be the total organic carbon (TOC) content of the solution. This is measured via a process that oxidizes the organic compounds present and then quantifies the oxidation products generated. TOC is as close as we can currently get to a 'universal indicator' for the presence of organic impurities.
Alternatively, chromatographic techniques may be employed to determine the specifics of organic content, but this is frequently considered both too expensive and time-consuming to be used in general monitoring workflows.
The presence of biological contaminants such as bacteria and other microorganisms is a common issue in untreated water. Bacterial levels reported as colony forming units per milliliter (CFU/ml) are kept low via filtration, UV treatment and sterilant solutions.
Following an incubation period in suitable growth media, individual bacterial species and total viable cell counts can be determined. Bacteria counts may also be monitored through the use of epifluorescence testing to rapidly detect and distinguish between dead and living microorganisms.
In addition to the bacteria themselves, endotoxins produced from the cell wall of gram-negative microorganisms (reported as endotoxin units per milliliter, EU/ml; 1 EU/ml approximately equal to 0.1 ng/ml) can be assessed using standard tests based on Limulus Amebocyte Lysate activity.
Suspended particles can cause water turbidity (measured in Nephelometric Turbidity Units, NTU) and are therefore filtered out of laboratory water as much as possible. This colloidal material is defined as being less than 0.5 µm in size and may contain iron, silica, aluminium or organic materials. The Fouling Index (FI) is frequently used to estimate the potential of water to block filters under 0.45 µm filter conditions.
There are several international boards around the world that have been working to establish some degree of consistency in the standards of water purity – the more people we have agreeing to these standards, the easier it is to generate reproducible data. Some labs will also adopt standards as outlined by the regulatory body overseeing the region they work in, for example, as found in the European, US or Japanese Pharmacopoeias. However, very few of these standards are specific to a particular application.
As of 2006, the CLSI has moved away from the typical Type I, II and III designations, instead preferring to suggest that water be simply ‘fit for purpose’, and only describes one grade in significant detail: Clinical Reagent Laboratory Water. The CLSI has also briefly outlined other grades in less detail, such Special Reagent Water (SRW) and instrument feed water.
The ISO based its specification on ISO 3696:1987, and specifies three grades of water: Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3, where Grade 1 is the most pure (see below):
Water quality parameters for ISO grades
pH value at 25oC
Conductivity (μS/cm) at 25oC, max
Oxidisable matter Oxygen content (mg/l), max
Absorbance at 254 nm and 1 cm optical path length, absorbance units, max.
Residue after evaporation on heating at 110oC (mg/kg), max
Silica (SiO2) content (mg/l), max
The ASTM uses D1193-06 and has four grades of water (see table below).
Water quality parameters for ASTM types
Conductivity (μS/cm) at 25oC, max
Resistivity (MΩ-cm) at 25oC, max
pH at 25oC
TOC (μg/l), max
Sodium (μg/l), max
Silica (μg/l), max
Chloride (μg/l), max
*Requires use of 0.2 μm membrane filter; **Prepared by distillation; ***Requires the use of 0.45 μm membrane filter.
As you can see, understanding choosing which pure water type you will use could quickly get confusing! Thankfully, when you get your water from an ELGA system, you can rely upon it to deliver the level of purity your need, all while only keeping three main types in mind.