Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard your fair share of water quality horror stories. From the ongoing humanitarian crisis that is Flint, Michigan – to oil spills, runoff, and other environmental catastrophes, there is no shortage of worrying news when it comes to the quality of our water. So how do you know if your water is safe to drink and what (if any) filtration is needed? Get comfy, friend.
The ‘Cure’ to Terrible Tap Water
Let me be very clear: when it comes to the air and water that comes through your home, the contaminants are going to be filtered out one way or another. You can capture mold spores, dust, pet dander, and toxic chemicals in your lung tissue, or you can let an air purifier do that for you. Your kidneys can turn that fluoridated, chlorinated, and radioactive municipal water into pristine urine, or you may want a water filtration system to handle that chemical cocktail for you. You can use a filter or be the filter.
In this article we’ll explore the contaminants that affect the quality of the water that comes out of your tap and how you can use targeted filtration to achieve cleaner water in your own home.
Do I Really Need Water Purification?
I’m not sure where you live, but on Florida’s Gulf Coast where I live, we have some of the most contaminated water in the entire country. To deal with this poor water quality, my local municipality as well as your own, treat the water – often by adding more chemicals rather than removing the gross stuff that is already in there, as one might assume.
Because of the terrible quality of our water sources and the chemical-based water treatment methods, the following contaminants may be present in your un-filtered tap water:
- Chlorine is used as a highly effective disinfectant, and is largely responsible for the reduction in deaths from waterborne illnesses such as cholera and typhoid fever. Unfortunately, chlorine kills bacteria indiscriminately, meaning that it kills the beneficial bacteria, or probiotics, that line our gut and intestinal tract, where a majority of our immune systems reside. In this way, drinking and bathing in chlorinated water may be damaging to your immune health.
- Trihalomethanes (TTHMs) are a class of cancer-causing contaminants that includes chloroform (yes, that chloroform). TTHMs are always formed during the water chlorination process and are considered a “regular” disinfection by-product (DBP) of water treatment. Any time a municipality chlorinates the water, total TTHM levels will be elevated.
- Fluoride is the only chemical added to the water supply as a form of medical treatment (preventing tooth decay), and as such is considered a “drug,” as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to Dr. Paul Connett, “Most Western, industrialized countries have rejected water fluoridation, but have nevertheless experienced the same decline in childhood dental decay as fluoridated countries.”
- Radioactive particles (such as uranium and radium) are commonly found in tap water because they are naturally-occurring in the rock beneath our feet in many areas. The map below shows areas of the United States that are high in radioactive uranium – similar maps are available for other radioactive particles. According to the Environmental Working Group, drinking water contaminated with radioactive substances increases the risk of cancer and may interfere with normal fetal development.
Source: U.S. Geological Survey
- Chromium (hexavalent) is the cancer-causing chemical made famous by the movie, Erin Brockovich, which commonly contaminates drinking water along the Emerald Coast. The presence of chromium (hexavalent), also called “chromium 6,” in drinking water may be due to industrial pollution or natural occurrences in mineral deposits and groundwater. Chromium 6 is extremely toxic, even at low doses.
- Nitrates are common in our local drinking water due to agricultural and urban runoff (they are often used as fertilizer), as well as discharges from municipal wastewater treatment plants and septic tanks. According to the Environmental Working Group, excessive nitrates in water can cause oxygen deprivation in infants and increase the risk of cancer.
- Lead based pipes experience corrosion after years of “normal use” may introduce dangerous levels of this neurotoxin to your drinking water. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “if your home has lead pipes, flush the cold water tap by running it until it becomes cold – if the water hasn’t been used for several hours. Lead accumulates after extended contact with lead pipes. You may use this flushed water to water plants and do other household chores.”
- Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) belong to a particularly dangerous class of chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs). POPs are sometimes referred to as “poisons without passports” because they are tiny, travel easily, get into your bloodstream even easier, and then begin the filing process for permanent residency in your vital organs. The half-life on PFCs (the amount of time it takes for them to break down) in the human body is longer than a human life, so they are bio-accumulative. If you live near an airport or Air Force Base, you should see if your drinking water is high in this carcinogenic chemical. If you want to know for sure, readers can get 10% OFF a DIY at-home PFC water testing kit from GetMyTapScore.com with the coupon code…
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You May Also Like: 8 Ways to Reduce Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) in a Wholesome House
The contaminants listed above are commonly high in my region, but you can find out which, if any of these, are above health guidelines for your own water treatment plant. If you want a quick snapshot of your tap water quality, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water Database. Please keep in mind that some of the above-named contaminants (including chlorine, fluoride, PFCs, and lead) will not be listed through this database, even though they could easily be running through the pipes of your home.
Water Purification Technology
As you can see, even water that “smells and tastes ok” is typically teeming with contaminants that can be extremely damaging to human health. Therefore it is critical that all health-focused households use purification or filtration systems to access pure water at home.
When it comes to getting clean water, you can either purify or filter the water that comes into your home (called point-of-use filtration). Water purification technologies include distillation and UV sanitation. When it comes to water filtration, size really matters. Pore size, that is. When a contaminant is larger than the pore size of a particular filter or membrane, it is “captured” by the filter, allowing only pure water to pass through. Water filtration technologies include reverse osmosis, microfiltration, ultrafiltraion, and nanofiltration.
Here are a few of the most effective water purification technologies you should know about:
- Reverse Osmosis (RO) (pore size ~ 0.0001 micron) has been the gold standard when it comes to water filtration for decades. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), RO is the most effective method for the reduction or removal of radionuclides (such as uranium and radium) as well as many other tiny contaminants (such as fluoride, arsenic, nitrates, and viruses). However, traditional RO technology has a few significant flaws (including extreme microbial contamination, arsenic and chemical leaching, and high amounts of waste water created) that exists inherently in most systems. I believe that wet reverse osmosis (see recommendations below) is the best type of RO to purchase because it has solved all of these problems. RO technology has remained relatively unchanged until recently with the invention of what’s called “wet reverse osmosis” or “wet RO.”
- Distillation uses a process of heating water to its boiling point and then collecting the water vapor as it condenses, leaving most of the contaminants behind. In addition to removing biological contaminant, distillation systems are able to remove many common chemical contaminants, including arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium (hexavalent), lead, nitrate, sodium, sulfate, and many pharmaceuticals and organic chemicals.
- Ultravoilet (UV) sanitation is a water purification strategy that is effective at disinfecting standing “pools” of water (such as a water cooler storage tank). Ultraviolet Treatment Systems have a very high effectiveness in removing protozoa, viruses, and bacteria, but are not effective in the reduction of chemical contaminants.
- Whole-Home Filters will typically use an ion exchange resin to “attract” charged particles, a lot like a magnet. Whole-home filters will significantly reduce or eliminate the amount of chlorine, chloramines, VOCs, as well as foul tastes or odors in your tap water. Even if you are filtering your drinking water with reverse osmosis (hint: I highly recommend this!), chlorine is easily and quickly absorbed through your skin as well as being vaporized and inhaled in the shower. This is one of dozens of benefits of whole-home filtration.
- Water Softeners are whole-home salt-based systems that remove hard elements such as calcium and magnesium from the water. While they are highly recommended in this area, they should not be considered water filters, and should be paired with a whole-home filter. Households with skin irritation (including eczema, psoriasis, and dry skin) can usually benefit from showering and laundering clothing in soft water. Other clues you may need a water softener include: dishes, drinking glasses, and shower doors have white spots/residue; you have white crusty deposits on your faucets or showerheads; or your “performance fabrics” (think yoga pants and sweat-wicking t-shirts) have an odor even after being washed.
How Can You Get Pure Water at Home?
While the very best method of getting pure water begins with testing your water at the tap, I’m often asked for a general recommendation for a water purification strategy. I suggest starting with pure drinking water via a wet reverse osmosis or distillation system. But don’t stop at drinking water. You’ll want to use this pure water for making ice and fridge water, washing fruits and vegetables, boiling pasta, and even brushing your teeth! Go a step further by adding a whole-home structured water filter and a water softener if needed, and you are truly taking your family’s health into your own hands!
- Free Masterclass: Kicking Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs) Out of Your Life
- Personalized Tap Water Testing: GetMyTapScore.com
- Article: Here’s an updated map of military sites where DoD found cancer-causing chemicals in the drinking water
- Article: The Military’s Toxic Firefighting Foam Disaster