Many preparations of iron have long been known to possess a purifying influence on water containing organic impurities. Thus Scherer, years ago, recommended a solution of iron sulphate where the impurities were present in large quantity. Later still, iron chloride was proposed as suitable, the salt being precipitated in the presence of organic matter as ferric oxide, the oxide thus formed acting also mechanically on the suspended impurities in course of precipitation, very much as white of egg acts in clarifying liquids, when it coagulates and carries impurities with it to the bottom. Other iron preparations have a similar action, notably dialysed iron, while several oxidising agents, such as potash permanganate, are also well known to possess a powerful effect on organic impurities. It will at once be seen, however, that all such substances are inadmissible as filtering media, or purifying agents for potable waters, for the reason, that in the case of some at least of the agents mentioned, decompositions take place, which in themselves might prove dangerous, while in the case of all an excess (and it would be almost impossible to avoid an excess) of the purifying agent would be equally bad, and would render the water quite unfit for domestic purposes.
It has been found, however, that various kinds of native rock containing iron protoxide effect the filtration of water very completely, and Spencer, acting on this idea, after experimenting, found that when the iron protoxide was isolated as magnetic oxide, it both freed the water from turbidity and effected decoloration very quickly. Thus bog-water, as dark as porter, when filtered through it speedily lost its colour and became clear and sweet, the carbonic acid given off during the process of decomposition rather tending to improve the water. The purifying power of the magnetic oxide does not deteriorate with use. The oxide gets coated with a slimy deposit, owing to the deposition of decomposed organic matter, but this being removed, it is as powerful as ever in its purifying action. Unfortunately this iron rock is not found native to any extent, but the fact of its action being determined, Spencer continued his experiments with the result that it can now be produced artificially, and forms one of the most efficient and useful filters for domestic purposes.
Metallic iron is employed by Jennings & Hinde. The filtering material consists of fine iron or steel shavings, filings, turnings, or borings obtained from the swarf or skin of cast iron, wrought iron, or steel; this material may either be used by itself, or it may be used with other materials, either mixed with them or in separate layers. The iron or steel shavings, etc, are obtained from iron or steel that has been brought to a state of fusion either by melting or the processes necessary for making cast iron, wrought iron, or steel, and being separated from many of the impurities contained in the ore from which it was obtained, will have but a comparatively small portion of earthy impurities mixed with it, and will be for this reason superior to iron which is obtained from native ores or oxides without fusion.
By filtering water through small divided swarf or skin of cast iron, wrought iron, or steel, free oxygen will be withdrawn from the water, and consequently any insects or animalcula contained in the water will be deprived of life, and any germs contained in the water will be deprived of the oxygen necessary for their development and life, and the water will be consequently purified and rendered wholesome. A convenient way of forming a filter is to use a layer of the turnings, shavings, etc., together with layers of other filtering material resting upon a perforated partition placed across a closed vessel. The materials are cleaned by boiling them in hot water with a small quantity of ordinary washing soda, to remove any oil or grease that might accidentally be associated with the materials above mentioned. Afterwards the iron borings should be well washed before being put into the filter. The filter vessel may be of any ordinary construction and shape. If sand is used in conjunction with the above-mentioned materials it is preferable to place some of the sand at the bottom of the filtering vessel, and the iron or steel materials, or both, over the sand, and then more sand over them.
These materials are disposed so that they may be par-. tially separated from each other by perforated plates of earthenware, glass, or other suitable material. But this partial separation, though convenient, is not essentia], as the perforated plates may be dispensed with and the material placed over and under each other in layers without plates to separate them.
In some of the dyeing establishments in Germany water containing lime has been softened successfully by a new process. The principle of the invention is based on the fact that magnesia oxide made red hot easily absorbs, after hydration, the free carbonic acid of natural water, and by thus depriving the water of the gas dissolved in it causes the lime carbonate in solution to be precipitated. The magnesia itself is then dissolved, and joins the magnesia bicarbonate which is in the water. At first the water cleaned in this way was blamed for attacking old boilers which were fed with it, and filling them with mud. It was, however, found that magnesia sulphate in the pure water, when heated to a high degree, acted upon the lime carbonate, of which the deposit in the boilers consisted, and formed gypsum and magnesia oxide, so that the hard deposit was gradually transformed into mud. When this was blown off it not unfrequently happened that weak parts in the plates were exposed which previously were kept tight by the deposit, and this gave rise to the opinion that the plates were attacked is clear from the fact thai the always present magnesia hydrate is alkaline, and counteracts the effects of acid, which would act corrosively.