A turbidity value quantifies the degree of cloudiness in water and is an important water quality metric. Turbidity is defined as the aggregate scatter and reflection of light as it interacts with particles that are contained within a liquid sample. These can originate from various sources, including microorganisms or silt.

How Turbidity Influences Water Quality

Turbidity has long been used as an indicator of water quality. Low turbidity, which is clearer, is often considered to be of better quality. This results from the potential for highly turbid water to contain harmful contaminants. Such samples can complicate water testing and treatment processes aim to remove pathogens and other organic compounds from the system.

Tools for Measuring Turbidity

The primary instrument for measuring turbidity is the turbidimeter. These devices vary in their design and application:

  1. Benchtop or Laboratory Instruments: These are used in controlled environments and typically have more advanced features. They are often employed for research or in-depth analysis, or high-volume testing labs.
  2. Portable or Handheld Instruments: Designed for field use, these allow for samples to be collected and measured outside of a laboratory setting and provide users with immediate feedback about their sample. 
  3. Process or Online Instruments: Integrated into larger systems, these turbidimeters provide continuous readings from a designated sampling point. This continuous monitoring allows for immediate detection of changes in turbidity levels.

Process turbidimeters are especially useful in ongoing water quality monitoring. Their continuous data output ensures that any changes in turbidity are detected promptly.

Applications of Turbidity Measurements

Drinking Water and Turbidity

Turbidity plays a pivotal role in the treatment and distribution of drinking water within municipal systems. Elevated turbidity levels can shield pathogenic microorganisms, rendering oxidizing agents like free chlorine ineffective. By closely monitoring turbidity, we can ensure that drinking water is adequately disinfected and remains free from harmful pathogens, including Cryptosporidium. Fluctuations  in turbidity values can signal issues like filter bleeds or ruptures in the water distribution infrastructure. Monitoring turbidity at various stages—from water sources to end-users—is crucial. Adherence to international standards, such as those set by ISO in Europe or the EPA in the USA, is mandatory.

Wastewater and Turbidity

In wastewater treatment, the goal is to foster optimal conditions for efficient microbiological processes to occur. Before discharging treated water, pathogenic microorganisms must be eliminated. Chlorine serves this purpose, ensuring no residual chlorine remains that might adversely affect ecosystems. Turbidity measurements can offer insights into the efficacy of filtration during clarification and the required duration for chlorine disinfection.

Environmental Implications of Turbidity

Natural calamities like floods or earthquakes can elevate turbidity levels in rivers, dams, or surface waters, posing environmental threats. High turbidity can disrupt sunlight penetration and diminish oxygen levels, adversely affecting aquatic life, including fish respiration, reproduction, and photosynthesis. Seasonal algae blooms or human-induced pollution from sectors like agriculture or construction can also increase turbidity. In such scenarios, turbidity is a crucial metric to identify detrimental environmental influences.

Laboratory and Industrial Applications

In laboratory settings, turbidity analysis is routine for samples from diverse sectors, including food, environmental monitoring, and water treatment. Turbidity serves as a reliable indicator for process efficiency, online instrument functionality, and product quality control. In industrial water systems, suspended particles can lead to complications in cooling towers and associated equipment. Elevated particle levels can accelerate bacterial slime formation, necessitating frequent cleaning and potentially causing system blockages. Ensuring optimal feedwater quality is essential for processes like Reversed Osmosis (RO) and Ultra Filtration (UF), with turbidity levels playing a crucial role in determining system performance.

Turbidity is a crucial parameter in the field of water testing. Its role in determining water clarity and quality makes it a valuable tool for professionals in the industry. For those interested in further details on turbidity parameters, Lovibond offers a range of resources. Learn more about turbidity parameters.