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How Can Soil Clean Water?

Soil is the key to pure water.

Soil works as a physical strainer, a biochemical renovator, and a biological recycler of all wastewater passing through it. Besides a mix of sand, silt, clay, and organic matter (humus), each teaspoon of rich soil contains a million to a billion bacteria, hundreds of thousands of protozoa, up to a hundred thousand or more algae, and up to millions of fungal strands.

The soil community eliminates pathogens, turbidity, and most color and taste problems in water in five ways:

  1. Soil harbors creatures that out-compete the pathogens for food, as well as protozoa that prey on pathogens.
  2. The soil, bacteria, and fungi produce antibiotics that poison pathogens (penicillin is produced by a soil mold).
  3. The soil's clay adsorbs viruses and other potential pollutants, and the water-repelling surfaces adsorb uncharged particles that could degrade drinking water supplies.
  4. Soil's texture and structure act as a physical strainer.
  5. The soil's moisture, temperature, acidity, and nutrient conditions are so different from those of the host that excreted the pathogens that they simply die.

Excerpted from “Can we drink the water we live with?” WholeEarth, Summer 1998. Paul Mankiewicz is the executive director of the Gaia Institute,

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