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By Carolyn Budd
Everyone needs to drink sufficient quantities of high-quality water to maintain their health. Unless you are fortunate enough to live near a gravity-fed mountain spring, the safest and most economical approach to securing a supply of healthy water is to treat the tap water in your home. Whether you live in an apartment or own a home, there are a variety of filtration systems that are effective and affordable. When you create your own supply of healthy water at home – and carry it with you in a nontoxic container – you save money and help preserve the health of our environment.
Discover what’s in your tap qater
Before you begin shopping for filtration systems, it is helpful to know what’s in your tap water. Consult the Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water Database for your city’s water-quality report, or reference your local utility’s Consumer Confidence Report on the EPA web site. You’ll learn about the beneficial and harmful contaminants present in the municipal tap water that serves your home. Knowing what contaminants need to be eliminated will facilitate your selection of a filtration system.
Types of contaminants
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a list of drinking water contaminants on the EPA web site, and their maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) to help you understand the results of a water-quality report. These contaminants fall under the following categories:
- Microorganisms – human and animal fecal waste and naturally occurring bacteria
- Disinfectants – water additives/chemicals used to control microbes
- Disinfection by-products – contaminants resulting from the chemicals used for disinfection
- Inorganic chemicals – discharge from asbestos, metal refineries, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals; corrosion from pipes; erosion of natural deposits
- Organic chemicals – runoff from herbicides and insecticides; discharge from petroleum refineries and pharmaceutical drug disposal; effluent from chemical and textile factories; discharge from dry cleaners
- Radionuclides – erosion of natural and man-made deposits
Various types of filtration and purification systems are designed to reduce or remove harmful contaminants.
Types of filtration systems
The most common types of filtration systems include:
- Charcoal filters pass water through activated carbon or carbon blocks and are generally effective for removing petrochemicals, chlorine, and other organic contaminants. Charcoal filters do not remove beneficial minerals. In addition, some are unable to remove fluoride and some do not remove heavy metals. Charcoal filters are only as effective as the quality and quantity of their activated carbon filter elements. Large, well-built filter elements and slow-moving water are key to their efficiency. Faucet-mounted and pitcher filters do not have enough filter media to create healthy water.
- Reverse osmosis (RO) systems use pressure to force water molecules through a fine membrane that filters out most microorganisms, dissolved solids, and inorganic contaminants, including beneficial minerals. Some systems can remove fluoride. RO systems are rated (and priced) by their flow rates or gallons per day (GPD). The effectiveness and productivity of a home RO system will depend on your water pressure and water temperature. A system rated at 36/45 GDP means it is rated at 36 GPD at 50 psi (pounds per square inch) of water pressure or 45 GPD at 60 psi. The amount of water you need, and the psi and temperature of the water in your home will influence the RO system you purchase. Most quality RO systems contain many different components, including charcoal filters, particle filters, RO membranes, and built-in water-quality indicators. Drinking water must be remineralized with liquid ionic (not colloidal) trace minerals after RO, in order to be healthful.
- Distillation steams and then recondenses water to remove all beneficial and harmful contaminants, including lead and fluoride, so all that remains is pure H2O molecules. This water is an active absorber, tending to grab things into it, including carbon dioxide from the air, which makes distilled water acidic. As a short term detox, distilled water can pull toxins from the body, yet can also deplete the body of electrolytes and cause mineral loss. It should only be consumed under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
- Deionization (similar to demineralization) uses ion exchange to remove salts and mineral ions from water to create a “soft water” with no scale build up. It is known for being more compatible with soap and extending the lifetime of plumbing systems. However, deionization alone does not significantly remove bacteria or viruses and the demineralization process removes beneficial minerals. Healthy water researcher Martin Fox has noted correlations between hard water and improved health on the site healthywater.com, compared with health declines noted in communities that instituted soft water treatment in their municipal water supplies.
- Bone char & alumna filters pull out chlorine, heavy metals, and, in some cases, fluoride.
Filtering water at home
If you rent, consider a portable drinking water system you can take with you should you move. The Black BerkeyTM water purification system, is a countertop, gravity-fed reservoir system that contains large purification elements. The Berkey also offers the option of adding fluoride filters that contain activated alumina. Active alumina is most effective when removing fluoride from acidic water, and is not recommended for use with hard water. Also consider a shower filter. More chlorine is absorbed through the skin while showering or bathing than by drinking untreated tap water all day. A good shower filter should contain at least one pound of Kinetic Degradation Fluxion (KDF) pre-filter media and have a 10,000 gallon chlorine removal certification by the National Sanitary Foundation (NSF). If you own your home and take baths instead of showers, look into having a whole-house filter installed by a reputable plumber on the incoming water line. While a whole-house filter will give you better water quality, it is not adequate for a drinking water supply.
Homeowners should consider having an under-the-counter filtration system installed with a separate countertop faucet. Several reliable brands include: DoultonTM, EverpureTM, SeagullTM, The PurestOne, and Multi-PureTM. These brands also offer portable countertop systems with a hose that attaches to the faucet. Built-in systems must be properly installed, and all systems will only be effective as long as cartridges or filters are replaced at appropriate intervals. Look for NSF ratings for quality and be aware of the number of gallons approved for the unit in order to know when to change filters or cartridges.
Whether you rent or own your home, there are many options to secure a healthy water supply. If you are a renter, purchase a gravity fed or countertop drinking water system and a shower filter. If you own your home, install an under-the-counter drinking water system and consider investing in whole house filtration. Your investment will be repaid with the peace of mind that comes from knowing the water you drink, and shower or bathe in, is not compromising your health.
- Fox, Martin, PhD. “Healthy Water,” a 1990 summary of Healthy Water for a Longer Life. 2d ed. 1986. Portsmouth NH: Healthy Water Research.
- Getoff, David J., CCN, CTN, FAAIM. 1999. “Water, Water Everywhere: But Which Ones Should We Drink?” Journal of Health and Healing.