This article is from the Water Treatment FAQ, by Patton Turner with numerous contributions by others.
Iodine's use as a water purification method emerged after WW2, when
the US military was looking for a replacement for Halazone tablets.
Iodine was found to be in many ways superior to chlorine for use in
treating small batches of water. Iodine is less sensitive to the pH
and organic content of water , and is effective in lower doses. Some
individuals are allergic to iodine, and there is some question about
long term use of iodine. The safety of long term exposure to low
levels of iodine was proven when inmates of three Florida prisons were
given water disinfected with 0.5 to 1.0 PPM iodine for 15 years. No
effects on the health or thyroid function of previously healthy
inmates was observed. Of 101 infants born to prisoners drinking the
water for 122-270 days, none showed detectable thyroid enlargement.
However 4 individuals with preexisting cases of hyperthyroidism became
more symptomatic while consuming the water.
Nevertheless. experts are reluctant to recommend iodine for long term
use. Average American iodine intake is estimated at 0.24 to 0.74
mg/day, higher than the RDA of 0.4 mg/day. Due to a recent National
Academy of Science recommendation that iodine
consumption be reduced to the RDA, the EPA discourages the use of
iodized salt in areas where Iodine is used to treat drinking water.
Iodine is normally used in doses of 8 PPM to treat clear water for a
10 minute contact time. The effectiveness of this dose has been shown
in numerous studies. Cloudy water needs twice as much iodine or twice
as much contact time. In cold water (Below 41 deg. F or 5 C) the dose
or time must also be doubled. In any case doubling the treatment
time will allow the use of half as much iodine
These doses are calculated to remove all pathogens (other than
cryptosporida) from the water. Of these, giardia cysts are the
hardest to kill, and are what requires the high level of iodine. If
the cysts are filtered out with a microfilter (any model will do since
the cysts are 6 um), only 0.5 PPM is needed to treat the resulting
Water treated with iodine can have any objectionable taste removed by
treating the water with vitamin C (ascorbic acid), but it must be
added after the water has stood for the correct treatment time.
Flavored beverages containing vitamin C will accomplish the
same thing. Sodium thiosulfate can also be used to combine with free
iodine, and either of these chemicals will also help remove the taste
of chlorine as well. Usually elemental iodine can't be tasted below 1
PPM, and below 2 PPM the taste isn't
objectionable. Iodine ions have an even higher taste threshold of 5
PPM Note that removing the iodine taste does not reduce the dose of
iodine ingested by the body