Unless you are a chemistry buff when you think of heavy metal your brain likely takes you to the loud, raucous music of bands like Metallica or Black Sabbath. You certainly aren’t thinking about “Metallic” pieces that have leached off the Earth’s crust into your drinking water. Unfortunately, you probably should be because heavy metals (such as lead or mercury), bacteria and viruses, and other waterborne contaminants that are almost impossible to see, smell, or taste are always present in your water to some degree (1,2).
Throughout the world, drinking water standards are quite different from water purification systems administered by municipalities or federal authorities vary substantially in terms of quality and performance (1). This article will provide the background information you need to protect yourself and your family as well as suggest several products on the market today that will make you feel confident and secure. We will provide you with the tools to make an educated decision on what shower filter, filtered drinking jug, and portable filtered water bottle to purchase to protect you and your family.
I drink bottled water so I’m good, right?
You may think that you are off the hook because you drink bottled water but besides being extremely unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly, they do not actually ensure safety. Many companies advertise that their water is “pure naturally filtered mountain spring water” or something similar but for the most part they come from the same water that comes out of your tap (4). Their purification systems are often less regulated (infrequent testing and less stringent oversight) and the water has a higher percentage of attracting the agricultural leaching of pesticides and bacteria or runoff from industrial practices (4). The drinking water purification structure in most developed countries is a closed system with frequent testing and quality insurance that reduces the potential of this industrial leaching (4).
Common waterborne contaminants
Let’s start with one of the most contested contaminants out there. For years, people have been adding fluoride to drinking water under the auspice of it improving the health of teeth. However, much of Europe, with Scandinavian countries leading the charge, have banned the addition of fluoride to drinking water (2,3). Currently, the United States is responsible for more people drinking fluoride added drinking water than the rest of the world combined (2). According to The Water Quality Association, children under nine years old exposed to fluoride levels greater than 2mg/L may develop discolored teeth (3). Higher levels are dangerous (more than 4mg/L) for people of all ages as it can cause bone disorders similar to osteoporosis (3).
Heavy metals (lead, copper, mercury, arsenic, cadmium):
Because much of the developed world uses metal in their plumbing systems, heavy metals are still present in drinking water in many areas. Leaching from mines and smelting areas is also a potential contaminator (3,5). Exposure to these metals in high proportions is especially dangerous to children as a developing body is much more sensitive (5). It can cause learning disabilities, memory impairment, and damages to the nervous system5. Severe effects on all age groups include growth impairment and damage to the brain, kidneys, and bone marrow (3).
Chlorine has long been used as a disinfectant but it creates a harmful by-product called trihalomethane (THM). Long-term exposure to THM has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and infant birth delivery problems (3). According to The Water Quality Association, it is estimated that THMs in drinking water is responsible for as many as 2-17 percents of the bladder cancers diagnosed each year in the United States (3). Alternative forms of disinfection such as chloramination are used in many cases to reduce the amount of THMs. It is much less effective as a disinfectant but chloramine does not react with organic materials to form THM (3).
Bacteria and Viruses:
Many bacteria and microbes are actually quite beneficial to humans yet some such as E. coli or Giardia can cause digestion/gastrointestinal problems or flu-like symptoms. Chlorination or UV light are common virus and bacteria treatments and on a commercial scale, ozone can be used as well (3).
How do waterborne contaminants go into our bodies?
Though the answer seems obvious, it is not what you would have expected.
We drink it. Sure. Ingestion has been considered one of the principal routes for contaminants to penetrate our bodies. And other routes of exposure such as inhalation and dermal absorption (through showering, for example) are generally underestimated. However, a number of recent studies suggest that skin absorption contributed 29-91% of the total dose of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) we take in, averaging 64%!
Another study on trihalomethanes (THM) and trichloroethylene (TCE) in drinking water show that ingestion contributes to less than 50% of the total absorbed dose. It also estimates that if you take a 30-minute shower, the total dose absorbed by either inhalation or dermal absorption is comparable to drinking 4.9–5.6 L/day.
How do filters protect you from waterborne contaminants?
This infographic shows how you can protect your body from waterborne contaminants using filter technology. As mentioned above, you come in contact with waterborne contaminants through a variety of different ways including when taking a shower, drinking from the tap or water pitchers, and taking a portable water bottle on the road. These three avenues, along with in-home water purification systems (filter the water at the source), are explored in the table below.
Essential Life Accessories
How to choose a water filtration/ purification system?
Have in mind that there is no “universal” filter or purification system that eliminates all contaminants from your tap water. Some systems can reduce the level of certain chemicals, non-organic and organic contaminants, others can work better for removing germs and viruses.
- Find information about the water that goes into your house. What technologies or substances are used for disinfection and contaminants removal. You could ask your local water utility company to send you a copy of your water quality report (called a CCR). Or you can choose to test your water in an independent laboratory.
- Decide which contaminants you’d like to remove from your water. Then, look for the solution that serves best that purpose. You can use NSF’s guide to identify the right certified systems to treat your target substance/s.
- Do you need alkaline water? Alkaline water has a pH of greater than 7 and is often claimed to be healthier than acidic water. If so, you may want to choose a filtration system that improves the mineral content of the water and raises the pH to more alkaline levels.
- Make sure the product you choose is NSF certified. Look for the logo on the label. Labels on water filters usually list the contaminants that they reduce. You can double check it on NSF’s database.
- What is your budget? Based on that you can narrow to look for the best filtration systems within a specific price range. When choosing a water filtration system, however, consider not only the price for purchasing, but you should have in mind that there might be installation costs and maintenance costs. Make your calculations on yearly basis to make sure you include all costs before making a decision.
- How much filtered water do you need? For drinking only, or for all household activities. That would narrow further your choice, letting you choose between, for example, pitchers or whole house filtration systems.
- What type of filter system best fits your needs, expectations and even – kitchen style. Check the advantages of different filtration systems in the table above, and reconsider which “Pros” are important for you, and which “Cons” you can put up with.
Essential Life Accessories
- World Health Organization. (2011). Guidelines for drinking-water quality 4th Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/44584/1/9789241548151_eng.pdf
- Wark, C. Flouride: How a toxic poison ended up in our water supply. Chris Beat Cancer: A Chemo-free Survivor’s Health Blog. Retrieved from http://www.chrisbeatcancer.com/fluoride-is-poison/
- Water Quality Association. (2017). Common Waterborne Contaminants. Retrieved from https://www.wqa.org/learn-about-water/common-contaminants
- Weeks, C. (2010). Bottled water has a high level of bacteria, researchers find. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/bottled-water-has-high-level-of-bacteria-researchers-find/article4320401/
- Apec Water. (n.d.). Health risks of heavy metals. Retrieved from http://www.freedrinkingwater.com/water-education/quality-water-heavymeatal.htm
- Critical Cactus. (2015). Is a shower head water filter really necessary? 9 benefits. Retrieved from http://www.criticalcactus.com/shower-head-water-filter-benefits/
- EWG. EWG’s Tap Water Database. (2017) Retrieved from http://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-water-filter-buying-guide/filter-technology
- HistoryofWaterFilters.com. Distillation – Pros and Cons. Retrieved in on March 2017 from http://www.historyofwaterfilters.com/distillation-pc.html
- Chlorine Concerns and the Endangered Species Act: Vitamin C and Fish
- by Greg Peterka, P.E., Engineering Manager, Public Utility District No. 1 of Skagit County
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