Polar Pure water disinfectant had been a long time favorite among outdoorsy types who like to able to quickly and conveniently disinfect the water they refill their canteens with while out and about. Polar Pure uses iodine crystals to disinfect, and it became very popular over the years when it was available… for almost three decades. It has a small sturdy container size, an indefinite shelf life (unlike iodine pills), and can disinfect up to 2000 liters of water against water-borne pathogens (biological agents that causes disease or illness to their hosts), including Giardia cysts… Giardia of course being marketed as being the pathogen to be aware of! These qualities of Polar Pure make it an ideal solution… ba-da-bing!… except for one thing… well, two things actually.
1. Because in 2007, iodine became classified a controlled substance, manufacturers of the illegal substance methamphetamine were buying huge quantities of the Polar Pure product in order to obtain the iodine necessary to make methamphetamine, Polar Pure became too difficult for the manufacturer to continue manufacturing and sellers pulled all remaining shelf stock in order to avoid having to comply with new regulations… Polar Pure became unavailable. Until recently! Now it is available as it can be sold under certain restrictions. That said, don’t go and buy more than one. Why not? Because you might look suspiciously illegal-drug-manufacture-motivated, and because they aren’t being made anymore (to my knowledge) and the stock being sold is all that is left from when it was manufactured before the ban. Someone please correct me in the comments section if I am wrong about this now or in the future. Keep reading before you impulsively decide to buy a bottle for nostalgia’s sake, as it might not be something you actually want in your kit. Note that this is old stock, Polar Pure is not being manufactured at this time, and there is no telling when or if it ever will be again.
2. Because while very effective against the Giardia protozoan, it is inadequately effective against the Crytospridium protozoan. Why does this matter? Well, there was a time when it didn’t, or so people thought, because not many consumers knew anything about Cryptosporidium, which is thought not to be as commonly found in many waters where hiking is popular as is Giardia, but which is now estimated along with Giardia to exist in 80% to 96% of all surface waters in the United States, even though Giardia is the more common of the two organisms in waterborne disease outbreaks.
Which begs the question… if all those people have been relying on Polar Pure to safely disinfect their canteen water… and they have not been getting sick… then they were either in areas where there was no Cryptosporidium or the chance of being infected by it is very low in humans, the later of which I highly doubt.
The 1993 Milwaukee Cryptosporidiosis outbreak infected more than 400,000 of approximately 880,000 people who were served by the contaminated water treatment plant. That is a 50% chance of infection if exposed, assuming all those 880,000 residents served by the infected water treatment plant were drinking straight out of the tap without filtering it, boiling it, or disinfecting it by way of another means before ingesting it! They suffered dehydration, diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps; with at least 104 deaths mostly among the elderly and the immunocompromised (such as those with AIDS). The contamination is thought to have been from cattle pasture runoff or from melting ice and snow via Lake Michigan.
What are Giardia and Cryptosporidium?
Giardia and Cryptosporidium are parasitic protozoans that infect the intestinal tract of many species of vertebrate hosts, including birds (such as migratory ducks) and mammals. The most common species in these genera of pathogens to infect humans are Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium parvum. Cryptosporidium infection results in diarrhea that can last for 1 to 3 weeks. Infection is usually because of ingestion of feces-contaminated water.
Just how ineffective is iodine against Cryptosporidium?
The ability to control water-borne diseases is critical for soldiers, hikers, and others who may need to drink directly from an outdoor source. Water-borne protozoan parasites that are specifically of concern are Giardia and Cryptosporidium because of their resistance to halogen disinfection. The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of iodine tablets against Giardia and Cryptosporidium under general- and worst-case water conditions that might be found in the field. Giardia cysts and Cryptosporidium oocysts were exposed to iodine according to manufacturer’s instructions (two tablets/L = 13-18 mg/L for 20 minutes). This dose inactivated 3-log10 of Giardia in general-case water and pH 9. In worst-case water, however, only about 35% of cysts were inactivated at pH 5. Fifty minutes were required to achieve a 3-log10 reduction at pH 5. Cryptosporidium oocysts were more difficult to inactivate. Only 10% were inactivated after a 20-minute exposure to iodine according to manufacturer’s instructions; even after 240 minutes of exposure to iodine only 66-81% oocysts were inactivated. These data strongly suggest that iodine disinfection is not effective in inactivating Cryptosporidium oocysts in water. Because this organism is common in all surface waters, it is recommended that another method of treatment be used before ingestion. – Efficacy of iodine water purification tablets against Cryptosporidium oocysts and Giardia cysts; Gerba CP1, Johnson DC, Hasan MN; Wilderness Environ Med; 1997 May; 8(2):96-100.
So, should I rely on Polar Pure?
Polar Pure water disinfectant uses iodine and is very highly effective against all bacteria and viruses. It is also very effective against the Giardia protozoa, although it has a limited effect on the Cryptosporidium protozoa even after prolonged exposure. So, because Cryptosporidium is known to be much more widespread and common than a few decades ago… Polar Pure, depending on where it is intended to be used, might not be such an ideal all-purpose water disinfectant as it might have once actually been or believed to have been. So, the best answer is… do you intend to be able to disinfect water with iodine in an area where there is no significant chance of being infected by anything other than a bacteria or virus, and other than Giardia, such as Cryptosporidium? That kind of research is not the scope of this article… so my best advice is to do your own research on the areas you inhabit and travel to, and rely on Polar Pure only if boiling water (the only 100% effective means of disinfecting water against all pathogens) is not an option or if you know iodine-resistant pathogens such as Cryptosporidium are without a doubt not on your water-borne worry list… and if they are, the even besterest answer is to use a filter on the water before using Polar Pure… but not just any filter (keep reading)!
Let’s stop recommending right now, and look at some facts, so we can see why what is recommended is recommended.
1. Water can contain three groups of pathogenic microorganisms… these are viruses, bacteria, and protozoans, all of which are completely destroyed by boiling water.
2. If boiling water is not an option, most people think they need to choose between filtration and chemical disinfection. But for our purposes here, because we are considering Polar Pure which uses iodine; and iodine is highly effective against all viruses and bacteria… we need to classify these three groups of microorganisms according to their size so we can choose a filter that is capable of removing the protozoans since only Giardia seems to be effectively disinfected against with iodine. Confused? It won’t last.
* Any filter rated with any one of these:
- Absolute (NOT nominal) pore size of 1 micron or smaller; or
- Reverse osmosis; or
- Tested and certified by National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) Standard 53 or NSF Standard 58 for cyst removal; or
- Tested and certified by NSF Standard 53 or NSF Standard 58 for cyst reduction.
Here’s a helpful pdf from the Centers for Disease Control, Drinking Water Treatment Methods for Backcountry and Travel Use.
Readying Polar Pure
When you first buy Polar Pure, you will see iodine crystals in the bottle. Ready Polar Pure by taking off the cap, filling the bottle with water, putting the cap back on tight, and shaking the bottle a few times. It takes an hour for the iodine to reach its saturation point and then the solution is ready to kill viruses, bacteria, and the Giardia protozoa. The saturation point means that it forms a saturated solution… the point at which the water can hold no more dissolved iodine and thus no more iodine is dissolving into the water. The concentration of iodine in the solution will be the same no matter how long it goes unused. After an hour after filling the bottle, as long as there remains one iodine crystal in solution, the first cap full will have the same strength as the last.
Using Polar Pure
Directions for the use of Polar Pure are written on the bottle. The number of cap fulls of solution required depends upon the temperature of the bottle, which is shown by way of a green dot thermometer. Where the green dot shows is the number of cap fulls to add the water to be disinfected, double that amount if the water to be disinfected is cloudy. To be effective at killing Giardia cysts, the water being treated must be a minimum temperature of 68ºF (20ºC), and must sit for at least 20 minutes before drinking.
Important: Water that has been disinfected with iodine is NOT recommended for pregnant women, those with thyroid problems or hypersensitivity to iodine, or continuous use for more than a few weeks at a time.
As of October, 2015; I sent an email to Polar Equipment:
Polar Equipment’s response:
Thank you for your question. the official and original website is polarequipment.com. We launched our website in 2001. I hope I can clarify the confusion.
We (Polar Equipment, Inc) are not able to sell Polar Pure (with iodine) at this time, as you have seen on our website, because we do not have the required DEA registration to purchase or sell iodine. In order to purchase or sell iodine (the only ingredient in Polar Pure), we and anyone else selling iodine or any iodine containing products must possess federal DEA registration and a State permit where required. We have been unable to purchase iodine since 2011.
My father, Bob Wallace (creator of Polar Pure) did not want to apply for the registration or follow these rules and regulations and instead wanted to obtain an exemption to the registration requirement (at 92 yrs old, he will not be dissuaded from his stance). We did try, unsuccessfully for more than two years to obtain an exemption as he wished. I realize that an exemption is not possible at this time, but he did not want to give up the idea.
After nearly three years of pursuing an exemption, which predictably failed, Bob decided to sell empty Polar Pure bottles to a seller who has a variety of items on Amazon and convinced him to apply for DEA registration. This was not my idea or preference, but Bob felt this was his only option aside from applying for DEA registration through our own company. This seller applied for DEA registration and obtained required documents to purchase iodine with which to fill the bottles and sell using Amazon for his storefront. This same seller has a listing for iodine in 7.5gram quantities for sale on Amazon as well. All offerings of Polar Pure that you see on Amazon (or any other site) are from this seller – he has multiple listings on Amazon under various seller names (I assume to look like competition).
Our company, Polar Equipment, Inc. cannot sell Polar Pure bottles with iodine without DEA registration and, in our case, a CA permit, both of which I would like to pursue in the future in order to make it available for sale exclusively through our company again and bring the entire manufacturing production back to our company.
Unfortunately, in February or March of this year, the seller also created the website that you refer to (with Bob’s ok, but I do not believe Bob has seen it or pre-approved its content. Bob does not know how to use a computer or search for a website and he is not interested in allowing me to show him the polarpurewater site). While it misrepresents as the “owner”, this website is full of inaccuracies, unsubstantiated claims (about Polar Pure and other water treatment products), misspellings, and poor grammar. The polarpurewater website “looks attractive” but a closer look reveals the ignorance of the creator. At this time, I can do nothing about it, but I do not approve, and regret that it causes confusion.
I hope this has answered your question. Please do not hesitate to contact us for further clarification or with any other questions regarding Polar Pure.
Ted Wallace, Polar Equipment, Inc.
What is your opinion of Polar Pure… and what other water treatments have you tried?
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