I receive a lot of inquiries about source water. People are concerned about contaminants in their water. Some of the fears that I hear are unfounded, but many are real. This article is about the contaminants found in your water, and which filters can effectively deal with them.
I believe everyone should learn what is in their drinking water as soon as they move into a home. Have your water tested if your source water comes from a well, river, lake, or anything other than a municipal water supply. If you do have a municipal water supply, look up the results of their tests on the internet, or call your local municipality. Remember, they are working for you. It is very important to understand your source water conditions so that you can be confident in the safety of the water that you drink.
As a starting point, it should be noted that Americans and Canadians generally have very good water compared to many other countries in the world. In municipalities, the water is regulated by the EPA in the States and Health Canada north of the border. The municipalities are obligated to meet minimum federal standards for water safety. Unfortunately, while the standards are met on average, that doesn’t mean that are met at all times. Even when standards are met, do you really want your family drinking water that is “not too bad”?
The biggest problem with municipal water supplies is that while they are safe against things that will cause you to be sick in the short term, they are not particularly safe in the long term. Like so many issues in our society, the safety of our water comes down to money. Every homeowner wants lower taxes and water rates. Absolute purification is possible, but is obviously more costly. So, municipalities are faced with a trade off between cost and effectiveness.
Everyone should have safer and better tap water, but until people understand the importance of water to our health, sacrifices will be made. Those that can afford to add filtration systems will enjoy better. It isn’t fair, but that is the way things work in our world. The question that I have to ask people who can’t afford basic filtration is: Is there anything in your life that you could do without in order to be able to have the best possible water in your life? Another question would be: What is more important than water? Our family is fortunate that it doesn’t have to give up anything to be able to afford the $100 per year it takes to drink good water.
The proliferation of bottled water has been a huge business success, but don’t think for one minute that the water is any better for your health than the water that you get out of your tap at home. Most bottled water is acidic and carries a positive ORP (oxidation reduction potential), and both are bad for your health.
In order to learn more about water, I have spoken with the presidents or owners of water ionizer companies, water softener and reverse osmosis suppliers, filter companies, and public works technicians responsible for municipal water quality. They all have different perspectives, and they all have something to add. There will never be agreement between all the different interest groups, especially when their livelihood is the source of the discussion. However, there are some basic and reasonably inexpensive steps anyone can take to insure that their water is safe. The bonus is that filtered water is also much more pleasant to drink because the filters remove tastes and odours.
The following is a discussion about various factors and contaminants that can alter the quality of water.
Water that comes from a municipal source doesn’t have to have a pre-sediment filter, but it is always a good idea to have one. You would be surprised at how much “stuff” accumulates on a pre-sediment filter that you install under your kitchen tap. The good news is that the filters only cost a few dollars at the most, so it makes sense to have one. When it comes to wells, or any water that is not supplied by a municipality, a pre-sediment filter is essential. Pre-sediment filters come in various sizes and filtering capabilities. Generally, I recommend a five micron filter, as it takes out the “big stuff”, but won’t clog up too quickly.
Chlorine is used by municipalities as a low cost means of sanitizing water. Chlorine is a necessary evil as it is required to remove bacteria from the water. Chlorine can effectively be removed from water with carbon filters.
Carbon filters will typically last 12 months and are available at building supply stores for about $25. You can choose from a GAC (granulated active carbon) filter or a carbon block filter. Both are effective.
More and more municipalities are opting to use chloramine instead of chlorine for disinfecting the water. Chloramine is formed when ammonia gas is mixed with chlorine.
There are arguements for and against chloramines, but Susan Pickford (see the comments below) provides a strong arguement against the use of chloramines. There are incident reports available in regards to respiratory issues caused by chloramines. However, to be fair, there are also carcinogen incident reports associated with the use of chlorine due to the formation of Trihalomethanes (THMs).
THMs are known to be carcinogenic (cancer causing) and are formed when chlorine interacts with organic compounds (carbon chains) that are found in water. Municipalities that don’t use chloramines typically use ozone to treat for THMs. If your municipality uses chlorine for disinfecting the water, contact them and ask them what they are doing about THMS.
Chloramines are definitely more difficult to remove from your source water. Reverse osmosis systems will remove chloramines, but we have already covered my dislike of them. You can purchase catalytic carbon filters that will remove about 99% of the chloramine from your water. The filters are not easily found, so you will have to go find a water specialty store.
An under counter 2.5 inch by 10 inch catalytic carbon filter typically costs about $45 to $60. Many companies will attempt to sell you a carbon filters for use with chloramine, because they are less expensive, or the company simply hasn’t done their homework. Either way, don’t settle for a basic carbon filter or a KDF filter if you source water contains chloramine.
I used to think that there was a legitimate argument both for and against fluoride. After a great deal of research, I can say with 100% confidence that Fluoride should not be in our water. Fluoride is a by-product of the waste from the creation of agri-chemicals or aluminum. Fluoride is a poison and should not be in our water supply. If you don’t believe me, read the label on a tube of Crest or Colgate toothpaste. You will be surprised. Fluoride is banned in Europe and Asia and it should be banned in North America.
I won’t even go into the arguments for using fluoride, as the inclusion of the substance in our water supply is just plain stupid. While the EPA and Health Canada set the maximum allowable amount at 1.5 parts per million (ppm), most municipalities won’t include more than 0.8 ppm. Why do you think that is?
Approximately 2/3 of households in Canada and the USA drink water containing fluoride. If your municipality adds fluoride, ask them to stop. If you are unable to get the town or city to stop using fluoride, get a filter system to take out the fluoride if you can afford it. If you can’t afford it, think of ways to cut other expenses in your life, because removing fluoride from your family’s drinking water is important.
You can remove fluoride with a distillation system or a reverse osmosis machine. I don’t recommend either as they remove important minerals that your body needs. Reverse osmosis systems typically make your water very acidic, which often makes your drinking water unsafe for drinking water by the standards set by Health Canada. Therefore, you need to add a re-mineralization filter which creates more potential health problems. This gets complicated….just don’t use this system unless you have no alternative.
You can remove 75% of the fluoride in your water with an Activated Alumina filter, or 94% with two filters. While these reduction levels are not 100%, they are very effective and reduce the amount of fluoride to trace amounts. Activated alumina filters are not readily available from normal sources, so you will need to contact a water specialty company. The cost of the filters is typically about $45.
When the odour becomes unacceptable, some municipalities may add ammonia to reduce the odour. The problem with combining chlorine and ammonia is that chloramines are created. Water ionizers do not eliminate chloramines.
Once again a heated debate exists about the advantages and disadvantages of the use of chloramines in the water. You can read more at:
Medical grade chloramine filters are available that will eliminate over 90% of the chloramines, and they last approximately six months.
Older homes that have lead plumbing pipes may have lead contamination. The best solution for lead is to use a carbon block filter, as it also removes chlorine, bacteria, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). In fact, the carbon block filters are a great multi-purpose filter. The filters are typically found in a water specialty store and cost about $45 to $50 for an under sink drinking filter system.
Mercury is found in both organic and inorganic forms. You can learn more about mercury at: http://people.uwec.edu/piercech/Hg/mercury_water/drinkingwater.htm. Heavy metal filters are available that will remove virtually 100% of the mercury found in water, and they last approximately six months.
Sodium is not typically a problem in source water as it is acceptable up to 40 ppm (parts per million). Sodium concerns generally only occur when sodium is added to the water supply by means of a water softening systems. Drinking water produced by salt based water softening systems often contains sodium in concentrations in excess of 200 ppm. People should not drink water that has been softened with salt. They should also be aware that more sodium may be absorbed through the skin from taking a bath or shower in water that has been softened by salt, than from drinking water for an entire day. You might want to investigate salt-free water softeners if your source water is hard.
As always, this article expresses the opinions of the author. Always consult your health care provider with health issues.