Technologies for Cleaner, Safer Water
You may be thinking, “I have very good water at my home. I go to my kitchen faucet and fill my glass with water that is cool, crystal clear and colorless, with no bad taste or smell. I have nothing to be concerned with. What’s the big deal?”
Others of you may be thinking, “My water smells and tastes like chemicals. The chlorine effects are obvious. I know it also has synthetic fluoride added, and I hear that chloramines may eventually be added into the water as well, but I guess that’s just the way it is.”
And still others of you are likely thinking, “I know my water needs help, as it seems barely fit for human consumption. Drink it or cook with it? I can’t even stand showering in it!”
FRESH WATER IN TROUBLE
No matter what you are thinking, you need to know that all water today is in peril. Water is under tremendous environmental stress from a quality perspective and in many areas like California, severe drought has caused serious supply issues as well. Most of us, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, are consuming water that is laced with treated sewage (in some cases, untreated sewage!), industrial waste, agricultural chemicals, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, fluoride, disinfectants and their byproducts, and storm runoff. That’s the bad news. The good news is that excellent technologies and solutions do exist today that can empower you to make your home a better place for you and your family and to gain true peace of mind. In this article we will discuss the challenges water faces, why these challenges have occurred, why it matters, and what we can do about it.
FLOW IN FLOW OUT
Have you ever wondered exactly where the water in your home comes from? Most people know very little about the source of their drinking water. Does it come from a public water supply? Often termed “city water,” “municipal water” or “treated water,” if you pay for your water or if a third party is adding disinfectants or fluoride to your water, then your water comes from a public water supplier. Alternatively, your water may come from a private well, a spring, or some other source. Over 85 percent of us in the United States rely on water from a public water supply. In fact, the majority of us relying on public water are drinking water laced with treated sewage! And those depending on well water or some other source may be worse off! Have you ever wondered where the wastewater leaving your home goes? Or have you wondered why your drinking water tastes and smells the way it does?
We turn on our kitchen faucets and water flows as if by magic. We assume it will always be there. But will it? We assume it is safe. But is it? To begin answering some of these questions, let’s start by taking a look at water from a global and historical perspective.
THE BIG SQUEEZE
We all know that most of the earth is covered with water. Coleridge’s eighteenth-century poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” includes the oft-repeated line, “Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” He was referring to the fact that most of the earth’s water—about 97 percent of it—is undrinkable salt water, unless, of course, one is able to desalinate it.
A major desalination effort is presently underway in Carlsbad, California. This will be a welcome addition to the water supply in Southern California, but the process is very costly and will account for only about 7 percent of the water demands in San Diego County. Given the best-case scenario today at about two dollars fifty cents per gallon for the desalination process, this makes it far too costly (about twenty-five hundred times the cost of fresh water) compared to the mere tenth of a cent per gallon that we pay today. Environmental concerns over desalination efforts are also major obstacles that must be addressed.
To look at fresh water another way, let’s use a simple one-gallon jug to represent the earth’s total water supply. This one gallon (or 128 ounces) is 97 percent salt water, representing about 124 of the 128 ounces. This leaves about four ounces, or a half cup, as fresh water. However, since much of the fresh water on the planet is inaccessible or at least impractical to access (polar icecaps, frozen tundra, water within topsoil, trees, insects, animals, humans), we are left with less than a single drop being conveniently available as surface water. On this fraction of a drop, the future of fresh water and, one could argue, the future of civilization depends!
Overall, only .007 percent of the water on the planet is fresh and accessible surface water—a very finite amount. This finite nature of water makes sense when we review the natural water cycle process. Recalling our elementary school science class, there are four phases to the water or hydrologic cycle: evaporation (the conversion of water, through the sun’s energy, from a liquid into a gas); condensation (the conversion of water, as it cools in the earth’s atmosphere, from a gas into a liquid); precipitation (in the form of rain, hail, sleet or snow); and collection. The net effect is that the water we use today has always been here—it’s the same water that was here eons ago and it’s all we have for ourselves and for future generations.
Since 1950, worldwide population has tripled, growing from 2.4 billion to 7.3 billion. Over this same time span the U.S. population has increased from 150 million to 315 million. Meanwhile, worldwide water use has risen by a factor of six over the past one hundred years. In the U.S., we use upwards of one hundred gallons of water per person per day, almost twice the amount as our European friends and about twenty times more than those living in sub-Saharan Africa!
In addition to the facts that the quantity of water is finite, that global population is growing, and that water usage is way up, we are finding more contaminants in our water than ever before. Over two thousand chemicals have been found in the U.S. drinking water supply, yet only eighty-seven primary water contaminants are monitored by the EPA. Over seventy-four million Americans in forty-two states drink chromium-polluted tap water, and arsenic, a highly toxic element, has been detected in the tap water in forty-three states.
Some of the unregulated chemicals in our drinking water include strontium and the antibacterial agent triclosan. Triclosan can react with the free chlorine in tap water to produce lesser amounts of other compounds, such as 2,4 dichlorophenol, which can convert into dioxins upon exposure to UV radiation. Although only small amounts of dioxins are produced, some are extremely toxic and potent endocrine disruptors. Dioxins are also chemically stable, so that they take a very long time to eliminate from the body and they persist in the environment as well.
Caffeine, isomorphine, metolachlor (an herbicide), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), and many other perfluorinated compounds such as PFOA (found in some nonstick and stain-resistant food packaging, fabrics and cookware) are linked to a variety of health problems, including cancer, and are present in blood samples of nearly everyone in the U.S. Other contaminants include MTBE (fuel additive), X-ray imaging media, BPA and artificial sweeteners, among a multitude of others. The bottom line is that fresh water is under tremendous pressure from all sides.
THE LESS FORTUNATE
Over one billion people around the globe lack access to safe drinking water, and in many places indigenous peoples are being sidelined and excluded from debates about the fair and proper way that their water supply is managed.
Within the Asian and African continents and especially in the sub-Saharan area in a country like Ethiopia, for example, the issues are severe. Ethiopia has a population of ninety-nine million of whom 60 percent lack access to safe water. This lack of water contributes to a very high infant mortality rate of 7 percent as well as health problems and resulting educational challenges. Women and children are generally tasked with the responsibility of getting water, often walking many miles for up to six hours to find water from unprotected water sources, while 90 percent lack access to clean sanitation facilities.
A 2500-YEAR-OLD STRUGGLE
The same struggle occurring today in Ethiopia and elsewhere—to provide clean drinking water on the one hand while properly disposing of wastewater on the other—has been playing out over the past twenty-five hundred years or so. During this time span, there have been five major revolutions centered on water.
The first water revolution grew out of the Roman Empire within the city of Rome itself, with the building of an intricate web of aqueducts and sewers. This occurred from 300 BC to 200 AD. As ancient Rome grew into a city of a million people, aqueducts were built to pipe water into the city. These were at the time, and remain today, an engineering marvel. Of course the arrangement was not perfect. It is well known that most of the pipes were made of lead. Lead is very malleable, making it easy to work with compared to other metals. It also won’t rust. The problem, of course, is that it is poisonous. The Romans got lucky, however, as their water was rich in calcium and this mineral formed calcium deposits on the inner lining of the lead pipes. This provided them at least some protection against the ravages of lead exposure. Eventually, the Romans also built central sewer systems to flush the wastes generated within the city.
Systems like these emerged in other parts of Europe as well, but eventually, through further urban growth, the wastewater overwhelmed the drinking water and water-borne disease became commonplace. The belief for many centuries was that emanations of foul air (referred to as miasmas) were the cause of illnesses such as cholera and typhoid, not unclean water.
It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that enough research and evidence pointed to the need for investment in water treatment, and the second revolution began. In Paris alone, nineteen thousand people died in a nineteenth-century cholera outbreak caused by drinking water from the polluted Seine River. Many more became sick in London from typhoid and cholera from the contaminated Thames River. These outbreaks were commonplace up until the late nineteenth century when water filtration using sand plus chlorine was first used in London to address atrocious water conditions.
It was not until 1908 that the United States established the first routine use of chlorine in a municipal water supply in Jersey City, New Jersey. By 1924, three thousand cities in the U.S. relied on chlorine for water treatment.
In 1900, the average American had a 5 percent risk of dying of a gastrointestinal infection. By 1940, that rate had dropped to .03 percent. Though highly effective and absolutely necessary, disinfectants such as chlorine are also highly toxic, and they have caused other problems that we will discuss a little later.
The third water revolution occurred post-World War II (1945 to 1950), consisting of two separate and seminal events. The first event involved the expansion and improvement of the country’s sewer systems, which helped to mitigate the effects of dumping untreated sewage into our water supplies, reducing contamination and sickness. This was clearly beneficial as it directly improved the condition of our waterways and water quality.
Through the efforts of Dr. Henry Trendley Dean, DDS, the second event, fluoridation of public water supplies, was inaugurated in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1945. The logic of the “Father of Forced Fluoridation” and his supporters played out as follows: fluoride is naturally occurring so adding more to the water supply is beneficial. The crucial detail here is that calcium fluoride is the naturally occurring form of fluoride found in water at very low concentrations. The supplemental forms of fluoride used are instead synthesized industrial waste products such as sodium fluoride and fluorosilicic acid! This would be like saying that since arsenic, another deadly poison, is naturally occurring, let’s add more into our water!
Fluoride accumulates in different parts of the body over time, creating consequences during a lifetime of exposure. One study found that ingesting fluoride had a huge impact on rats’ brains, changing their behavior. British researchers found that thousands of people experience hypothyroidism because of drinking too much fluoridated water. Another study revealed that about 40 percent of U.S. teenagers have dental fluorosis, a condition in which the teeth become mottled due to changes in tooth enamel.
Adding fluoride to drinking water also raises plenty of ethical and practical problems as well. The dose is imprecise as it is impossible to know who ingests it or how to monitor how much treated water people drink each day. There’s also zero consent. The fluoride is there, medicating you, whether you agree to it or not. That’s why we refer to it as forced fluoridation!
Though chlorine saved many lives since its introduction in the late nineteenth century, it is only since the 1990s that the ravages of chlorine came to the attention of many people. Chlorine is necessary to protect the masses from large-scale outbreaks of disease. However, chlorine is a double-edged sword. It comes with unintended consequences in that it reacts with organic matter in the water supply to cause the formation of carcinogenic compounds such as trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids and mutagen X. The recognition of chlorine’s harm caused the fourth water revolution.
It’s what we could call both a blessing and a curse. As mentioned, chlorine as a water disinfectant has been critically important. However, we don’t want it or need it in our homes. One of the byproducts of chlorination is chloroform. As we shower or bathe, we inhale chloroform, which has been linked with central nervous system disorders and liver dysfunction. It is unconscionable that fifteen years into the twenty-first century, with all of our advanced technology, we still allow chlorine, fluoride, and other known toxins into our homes via the public water supply.
Of course, with over two thousand other chemicals detected in our drinking water, chlorine represents only the tip of the iceberg!
The fifth water revolution is where we are today—where the last line of defense is you in your home or place of business! We have many challenges facing us regarding safe, adequate supplies of clean water as we’ve just discussed. You can continue to wait for the government to fix the problem, or you can trust your own instincts, be empowered, take personal responsibility and gain peace of mind now! Many people have come to understand that relying on the government or other authorities to fix these problems is useless. We need to take personal responsibility as we do with our food choices. We don’t place much trust in the USDA to protect our food supplies and the same holds true about trusting the EPA with our water quality. Remember, less than 5 percent of the chemical contaminants found in our drinking water are regulated by the EPA!
WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW
In addition to the aforementioned five water revolutions, there are also five aspects of your water that influence your home’s water quality.
The first is the source of your water. The source of your water is only as good as the surrounding watershed. A watershed is a land area that feeds into a local body of water. Some of these watersheds are protected from environmental hazards while many others are not. Cities with protected watersheds include New York City, Boston, Seattle, Denver, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. These cities with protected watersheds try to keep the sewage treatment as well as other contaminants (road salt, volatile organic compounds, etc.) away from the source of the drinking water. Unfortunately, the number of Americans with access to water from protected watersheds is estimated at less than fifty million.
Unprotected watersheds include the metropolitan areas of St. Louis, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati and others. The Mississippi River represents the drainage ditch for more than 40 percent of the U.S. It alone collects the wastewater effluent from seventy million people, though the waste it collects from industry and agriculture is more of a concern. Wastes include pharmaceutical compounds, X-ray contrast media and artificial sweeteners. Some of these chemicals do not decompose, are not affected by sunlight, nor do they get cleaned up through microbial action at either the sewage treatment plant or the drinking water treatment facility. These processes are totally ineffective at removing these chemical compounds.
A good example of a protected watershed is the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts, which serves a large percentage of the residents of the state, including Boston and its suburbs. The reservoir sits in a bucolic setting in central Massachusetts. The area was considered so pristine that its water was delivered completely unfiltered to homes. However, in the late 1990s, this unfiltered water began causing E. coli outbreaks. The MWRA (the state’s water authority) was ordered by the EPA to build a water filtration plant. Instead of incurring this cost, the state decided to take watershed protection to a new level. The decision was to scare off birds that were contributing the bacteria via their droppings! The water authority used hovercraft, propane cannons, destruction of birds’ eggs, and also built structures to keep muskrats and beavers from building nesting areas. To this day, Massachusetts continues to have unfiltered water delivered to its customers (it is chlorinated only).
It is important that the sources we use for our water supply are good, clean and readily available in an adequate amount.
WATER TREATMENT PROCESSES
The second key piece of the water puzzle is how your water is treated at your municipal water facility. Is it filtered, and how is it chemically treated? Methods include coagulation and flocculation—a gentle mixing of the water and treatment chemicals causing the impurities and particles to form larger floc particles, or floccules. Chemicals commonly used for this process include aluminum sulfate (alum), ferric chloride and synthetic polymers. The particles that are formed through coagulation and flocculation become increasingly large and eventually settle out of the water in large sedimentation basins. After sedimentation, the clarified water is passed through filters to remove particles of dirt, algae and harmful bacteria and parasites. Filters can be made from sand, gravel, coal or granular activated carbon. Disease-causing bacteria, viruses and parasites are destroyed by disinfection. Chlorine and chlorine-containing compounds are typically used for disinfection purposes. New disinfection technologies may also use ammonia, ultraviolet light and ozone. Synthetic fluoride is added in many communities.
The distribution and storage of your water is the third key aspect in water safety. The distribution system is the system of pipes that allows water to travel from the drinking water treatment plant to homes and businesses in your community. This system consists of pipes, pumps, valves, storage tanks, fire hydrants and meters. There are literally millions of miles of underground pipes throughout the U.S., many of them leaking wastes and contaminants. Capital investment need is estimated at over two billion dollars over the next twenty years for pipes alone! Many pipes are coated with biofilm, a bacterial, polysaccharide slime that forms when water contacts a hard surface. Inside city pipes, biofilm supports the growth of pathogens as the biofilm itself becomes impervious to disinfectants such as chlorine.
The fourth aspect of water safety concerns your home. Many older homes still contain lead solder or pipes. In fact, in Washington, DC, 10 percent of homes still show lead levels in their plumbing at five times the EPA maximum allowed levels. A further concern is that many communities are now using chloramines in their water. Chloramines will react with and slowly pit away copper tubing, creating risk of both damaged pipes and, more importantly, the introduction of excess copper into our water supply.
THE FATE OF WASTEWATER
The fifth and final aspect of water safety concerns what happens to your wastewater when it leaves your home. A city or town with its homes and businesses generates sewage (both black water and grey water), storm runoff and wastes from agriculture and industry. The sewage treatment facility takes all this in, processes it, and deposits the treated sewage as effluent into either an unprotected watershed or into the ocean. The majority of U.S. residents drink water coming from these unprotected sources.
Earlier, we mentioned the earth’s natural water cycle. The five aspects of water safety just described depict the man-made drinking water cycle of our time. This is the epic struggle that has characterized human history over the past twenty-five hundred years!
IT’S NOT JUST FOR DRINKING
We all know the importance of healthy fats, proteins, carbohydrates, phyto-nutrients, vitamins and minerals. And we all know that food, meal preparation and family gatherings that include real food provide great enjoyment in our lives. However, from a survival perspective, we can live many weeks without food. Without clean, fresh water, on the other hand, we cannot survive more than five to seven days.
We Americans use from ninety to one hundred gallons of water per person per day. Most of this is expended on laundry, toilets, showers, baths, outdoor uses and food preparation. Water use also extends beyond the home to include manufacturing, agriculture and medicine.
High quality food and beverage preparation is greatly dependent on high quality water. Think about bone broth, all of those fermented vegetables and beverages such as beet kvass, kombucha, coffee, tea and beer! Water is used to prepare just about every meal. We also use it while simply rinsing our fresh produce. Water is the key “raw material” for much of what we grow, eat and who we are! What type of water do you use to irrigate your gardens, vegetables and animals?
Foods absorb chlorine and other chemicals when washed with regular tap water. Have you ever gone to a restaurant where the first thing that you notice is the smell of the chlorine in the water being served?
We simply have to make our water the best that it can possibly be, as it is so essential to optimal human health.
SOLUTIONS FOR EVERY FAMILY
If you are embarking on the journey to better water, you will want to assess your current situation carefully. Here is a set of critical questions that will help determine the best solution for you:
1. What type of water do you now have?
2. Which chemicals do you want to remove?
3. What troubles you about your water?
4. What are your specific water goals?
5. Do you rent or own your home?
6. How many bathrooms are in your home?
7. How many people live in your home?
8. When do you plan to act on your water needs?
9. What is your approximate budget for water improvement?
The good news is that solutions do exist for removing contaminants from your home’s incoming water supply, thereby providing you with clean, safer water for drinking, cooking and preparing meals. We will describe options including point-of-entry (POE) and point-of-use (POU) systems for filtering and/or purifying your water for everyday use.
SOLUTIONS FROM NATURE HERSELF
The key ingredient for producing clean, safe water actually comes from a very unexpected place—good old basic carbon! The ancient Egyptians used a form of porous carbon as far back as 1550 B.C. for medicinal purposes. In the eighteenth century, carbon was used for the purification of liquids. Today, solutions include coconut shell, coal, and wood-based carbon products, targeting removal of the widest range of contaminants possible. Activated and catalytic carbon products are produced to strict performance standards and are often certified to NSF, UL and WQA standards for contaminant removal.
WHOLE-HOUSE FILTRATION AND CONDITIONING SYSTEMS
Point-of-entry (POE) systems, or what are also referred to as “whole-house systems,” are installed wherever the main water supply enters your home, possibly in your garage or basement. Owners of condominiums may have difficulty determining where their main water supply enters their unit. In these instances, the main water line cannot be easily accessed and only POU systems can be installed. Whole-house systems are either filters or conditioners.
Whole-house filtration systems address all the water entering your home including water used for kitchen and bathroom sinks, showering, bathing, laundry, dishwasher, toilet and outdoor uses such as gardening. One properly sized filtration tank with the optimal blend of media within it will address chlorine, chloramines, fluoride, trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids, heavy metals and many other contaminants before they enter your home’s plumbing, while retaining essential minerals. Whole-house filtration systems feature a long filter life (typically one million gallons) requiring no regular maintenance. For a family of four using an average of ninety gallons per person per day, the duration of their filtration media will usually exceed seven years. When the time comes, only the filtration media need to be replaced, while retaining the original tank, making the replacement process simple and very cost effective.
Some systems will also incorporate electronic controls for timed periodic regeneration of the filtration media via a backwash cycle to ensure optimal ongoing filtration and long filter life.
If you have water that is high in minerals such as calcium and magnesium, this will result in what is known as “hard” water. You will see and experience evidence including sub-optimal sudsing or lathering, water stains, calcification on water fixtures and possibly clogged filters in your washing machine and other fixtures. If these conditions are present, a whole-house water softener or conditioner may be the appropriate solution for you.
Traditionally, the most common way of removing water hardness has been through the use of salt-based water softeners. Water softeners use an ion-exchange resin in which the calcium and magnesium ions are exchanged for sodium ions. In order to keep the softener working properly, large amounts of salt are needed to regenerate the resin on a weekly basis. Additionally, these systems produce a salty discharge that is not good for the environment, resulting in many communities banning or restricting their use.
Fortunately, we have an alternative to traditional salt-based water softening systems. New whole-house conditioners provide the most advanced anti-scaling water conditioning technology without resorting to harmful salt- or potassium-based systems. These systems employ catalytic media to prevent hard calcium scale from forming on critical appliances and heat transfer areas such as water heaters, dishwashers and pipes. They never require any direct maintenance nor do they require salt, backwash, draining or electricity.
It is important to note, however, that water conditioners (as well as water softeners) do not filter or clean your water in any way but rather reduce the possible negative consequences of excess calcium and magnesium in the water on your home’s plumbing system. A water conditioner also requires that chlorine and other unwanted tastes and odors be removed first with a wholehouse water filtration system prior to conditioning. Thus, whole-house water conditioning units are always paired with whole-house water filtration systems to provide the cleanest, safest water for your home.
Conditioning systems are designed to provide years of protection from scale build-up and reduce or remove existing scale from hard water supplies. These systems are intended for installation at the point-of-entry (POE), wherever the water supply enters your home, so it can treat your entire house for both hot and cold water.
POINT-OF-USE (POU) SYSTEMS
POU systems are typically installed at the kitchen sink providing you with filtered or purified water for drinking, washing fresh fruits and vegetables and preparing meals. POU systems recently have expanded to include filtration systems that provide you with full-flow filtered water at locations other than your kitchen, such as in bathrooms throughout your home. The following solutions are available for removing contaminants present in your incoming water supply throughout your home, whether in the kitchen or in the bathroom sink, tub, shower or outdoor garden.
KITCHEN DRINKING WATER FILTERS
A simple, easy and inexpensive way of removing contaminants from your drinking water begins with a countertop kitchen drinking water filtration system. Often times they are in the form of single carafe-style pitchers that hold a few gallons of water and need to be refilled on a regular basis. These systems are designed primarily to remove chlorine and offensive tastes and odors while reducing other contaminants and impurities. Most systems are designed with a container holding a small amount of granulated activated carbon (GAC)—coconut shell carbon—along with an ion exchange resin. Unfortunately, due to the size of these filters, they need to be replaced on a regular basis, usually every two months, or the contaminants will begin to pass through the filter into your drinking water.
Multistage countertop or under-counter filtration systems are also available that can effectively remove bacteria along with a wider range of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and a few heavy metals. Contaminant removal claims vary widely from brand to brand so it is very important to read the fine print and select the filter that can address the most common contaminants found in your incoming water supply. It is also important to understand the frequency and costs associated with filter replacement. These filters are typically in the form of a cartridge. Water filtration cartridges are typically two inches in diameter and ten inches in length. Due to their larger size and volume compared to carafe-style pitchers, these filters not only hold larger amounts of filtration media but also allow for a mixture of different types of media to be blended together to expand the range of contaminants that can be removed using one device. Typical applications for these filters include both countertop gravity filters and under-counter filtration systems. The types and levels of contaminants that are filtered differ from one manufacturer to another so, again, it is always important to understand which specific contaminants the filter is designed to remove.
Water filtration cartridges typically are fabricated using coconut shell GAC media or activated carbon block media for the reduction of chlorine, off tastes and odors, along with a wide variety of organic and inorganic substances including VOCs and heavy metals. Specialty cartridges can also remove fluoride and other specific contaminants. Some filters are designed with a ceramic outer shell that contains the carbon media to remove particulates, bacteria and cysts. The life of ceramic filters can be extended with a monthly cleaning using an abrasive pad under cold water. Manufacturers generally recommend replacing these cartridges every six to twelve months depending on water quality and family size.
The most common types of kitchen drinking water filters are gravity filters, under-counter, and countertop filtration systems.
Gravity filters are an excellent choice for those looking to dramatically improve their drinking water with a highly portable, simple-to-use system requiring no installation to existing plumbing. Often made of stainless steel, the device rests comfortably on any countertop. A gravity filter enables you to have filtered drinking water on tap. Water is poured manually into the upper chamber; it then passes through the filter elements under pressure of gravity and into the lower chamber where the filtered water can be accessed via a tap on the front of the filter. Gravity filters can hold two or four filters, depending on how much filtered water is needed by your family on a daily basis. The more filters in the system, the faster the water will be filtered and available for drinking. Multiple filters also provide the option to select different types of filtration technologies, such as a ceramic filter for sediment, bacteria and viruses, plus a GAC filter for chemical contaminants, to address specific needs. In combination, these filters can provide high-quality drinking water.
Under-counter filtration systems are a great choice for people who prefer to conceal the system below the sink with only a dedicated water faucet visible. Under-counter water filtration systems do require connection to the existing plumbing and installation of the dedicated water faucet on your kitchen sink area. (Models are now available that connect directly to your kitchen faucet, not requiring a dedicated faucet. These are a great solution for providing filtered water in other locations in your home such as bathroom sinks.) Under-counter filtration systems are designed to house multiple cartridges, allowing you to select from a range of specialty filters to address specific concerns. Dual-cartridge systems are typically comprised of a sediment, ceramic, or multimedia filter plus a specified drinking water filter. The first filter removes bacteria, dirt, sand, sediment, rust, particles and other contaminants. The selected drinking water filter then removes the chemical contaminants including chlorine, VOCs and heavy metals present in the water. The key advantage of a multi-cartridge under-counter water filter is the ability to remove a wide range of contaminants in a single system including chlorine, chloramines, disinfection by-products, fluoride and heavy metals, among other contaminants. The main disadvantage is that these filters are POU systems, thus providing filtered water in only a single location in your home.
For those such as renters who cannot make permanent modifications to their kitchen sink area, an alternative solution is a countertop system. This is a free-standing water filtration system designed for easy installation with a diverter valve that attaches to almost any faucet that has a removable aerator. This system requires no modification to existing fixtures or plumbing. Simply by turning the lever on the diverter, you can alternate between filtered or unfiltered water. These are usually single-cartridge devices incorporating a single ceramic filter to remove the widest spectrum of bacterial and chemical contaminants from the incoming water supply.
The definition of purified water varies but generally refers to water from which the highest possible level of impurities has been removed. Water impurities must be eliminated or reduced to extremely low levels. Purification technologies include reverse osmosis, deionization and distillation. Combinations of these technologies are often used to produce purified water with only trace and often undetectable amounts of contaminants remaining. Purified water should not be confused with filtered water, as they are very different. Purified water can only be produced through technologies producing water of significantly higher purity than filtered water.
Reverse osmosis, or RO, is a process in which water is forced through a semi-permeable membrane under pressure. In residential systems, this is accomplished by household water pressure (typically 60 PSI) pushing tap water through the semi-permeable membrane. The membrane only allows the purified water to pass through while the contaminants remain in the incoming tap water and are sent to the drain. RO is capable of removing more than 99 percent of dissolved inorganic solids, fluoride, VOCs, bacteria, viruses, nitrates, sulfates, chlorides and heavy metals such as arsenic, barium, chromium, lead and mercury from incoming water.
Most RO systems for residential use are designed with the same basic components. The real difference between the many products on the market is the quality of filters, membranes and components used inside the unit. Typical systems include the following stages:
• Sediment filter to remove dirt, sand, silt and other sediment.
• Activated carbon block filter to remove chlorine, off tastes, odors and other organic compounds.
• Reverse osmosis membrane to purify the water.
• Post filter (again generally carbon) to remove any remaining taste and odor problems.
The good news is that purification technologies that include RO membranes remove most if not all the contaminants from our drinking water. Unfortunately, they also remove the healthy minerals leaving the water acidic. To address these concerns, a few companies add additional stages to their purification systems to re-mineralize, restructure and rebalance the water, making it not only pure but also biocompatible.
SHOWER AND BATH FILTERS
Filtering your shower water is very important since up to two-thirds of harmful chlorine exposure can come from inhalation and skin absorption while showering. Shower filters are a highly effective option for removing chlorine and volatile compounds from your shower water. These filters can generally remove more than 90 percent of the incoming chlorine and are designed with a replaceable cartridge that is simple to install, compatible with most showerheads, and generally needs replacement only once a year. Please be advised, however, that due to the rapid flow of water passing through a small filtration device, shower filters do not effectively remove chloramines that may be present in your water supply.
Bath ball dechlorinators are a great way to enjoy baths without breathing or absorbing chlorine, chloramines and other volatile chemicals. These bath balls are designed to be circulated in the bath water for a few minutes to remove those contaminants. The filter media inside the bath ball can also be replaced in most products. Perfect for bathing infants and small children!
FOR THE GARDEN, TOO
Remember that healthy soil depends upon beneficial bacteria, fungi and microbes—the very things chlorine kills! Chlorine does not differentiate between harmful bacteria and the beneficial bacteria in your garden soil. You can protect this delicate ecosystem while maximizing the disease resistance of your plants with the right water filter specifically designed for your garden.
CLEANER WATER IN ANY SITUATION
Whether you have a home in the city, the suburbs, or a farm, solutions exist no matter what your living situation or budget. POU systems can be easily installed in apartment buildings and condominiums and are particularly useful when POE systems are not a viable solution. Under-counter POU water filters provide clean, filtered water either through a dedicated faucet or through your existing kitchen faucet. If your landlord will not allow you to install these systems, countertop filtration systems with their own dedicated faucets are another option. Alternatively, gravity-based filtration systems can also be used as a convenient source of filtered water for drinking and preparing meals.
For those living in the country on a private well, contaminant removal systems can be tailored to your particular water situation. A complete well water test is always required before a filtration solution can be recommended. However, solutions do exist for addressing high levels of iron, manganese and hydrogen sulfide often found in well water, along with other specific concerns such as high levels of sediment or low pH. Water softeners and conditioners also exist to treat water high in natural minerals such as calcium and magnesium, or “hard” water. Finally, whole-house systems can also be used with well water tainted with man-made contaminants such as herbicides, pesticides, pharmaceutical residuals or industrial solvents.
Once you know the levels of contaminants in your drinking water supply, you can take the next step and identify the right water filtration and/or purification system to protect you and your family from the dangers of these chemical contaminants. Although your local water quality report generally provides a good snapshot of the quality of the water entering your home, the only way to know specifically which contaminants are present in your drinking water is to have your water tested. Water entering your home may have different levels of contaminants than reported locally since contaminants may enter anywhere along the distribution system or even from the copper plumbing inside your home. It is always recommended that you have your water tested by a professional, nationally recognized, independent laboratory.
The bottom line is this: great solutions to improve your water exist regardless of your situation. Whether you rent your home or own it, live in a small or sprawling residence, reside in the city or the country, have a modest or flexible budget, rely on private well water or city water, it matters not. The keys to great water are in your hands to empower you to transform the water in your home or place of business to be the best it can possibly become.
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PRIMARY AND SECONDARY STANDARDS OF PUBLIC DRINKING WATER ESTABLISHED BY THE EPA
A National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR or primary standard) is a legally enforceable standard that applies to public water systems (PWS). This term should replace “water systems” in this entire section, as it is confusing to refer to water treatment facilities as “systems.” Primary standards protect drinking water quality by limiting the levels of specific contaminants that can adversely affect public health and are known or anticipated to occur in water. They take the form of Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL). MCL were established to protect the public against consumption of drinking water contaminants that present a risk to human health. MCL is the maximum allowable amount of a contaminant in drinking water that is delivered to the consumer. The EPA sets standards for approximately ninety contaminants and indicators in drinking water. The List of Regulated Contaminants actually contains only eighty-seven compounds, although over twenty-one hundred chemical compounds have been found in U.S. drinking water.
A National Secondary Drinking Water Regulation (NSDWR or secondary standard) is a non-enforceable guideline regarding contaminants that may cause cosmetic effects (such as skin or tooth discoloration) or aesthetic effects (such as taste, odor, or color) in drinking water. The EPA recommends secondary standards to Public Water Systems but does not require them to comply. However, states may choose to adopt them as enforceable standards. The list of Primary Standards is as follows:
Microorganisms (Seven Regulated Contaminants):
• Total coliform bacteria (including fecal coliform and E. coli)
• Turbidity—higher turbidity levels are often associated with higher levels of disease-causing microorganisms such as viruses, parasites, and some bacteria
• Viruses (enteric), Cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, Legionella, Heterotrophic Plate Count (HPC)
Disinfectants (Three Regulated Contaminants):
Disinfection Byproducts (Four Regulated Contaminants):
Total trihalomethanes (THM)
Haloacetic acids (HAA5)
Inorganic Chemicals (Sixteen Regulated Contaminants):
• Heavy metals discharged from petroleum refineries, metal refineries, and electronic factories:
Antimony Arsenic Barium Beryllium Cadmium
Chromium Cyanide Mercury Selenium Thallium
• Asbestos fibers—decay of asbestos cement in water mains
• Copper—corrosion of household plumbing
• Fluoride—discharge from fertilizer and aluminum factories and as a water additive
• Lead—corrosion of household plumbing
• Nitrates and nitrites—runoff from fertilizer use; leaking from septic tanks; sewage; erosion of natural deposits
Organic Compounds (Fifty-two Regulated Contaminants) including:
• Discharge from chemical plants and industrial factories:
Benzene Carbon tetrachloride Chlorobenzene/Dichlorobenzene Dichloroethylene
Dioxin Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) Trichloroethylene Xylenes
• Herbicides and pesticides:
Alachlor Atrazine 2,4 D Dalapon, glyphosate Simazine
Radionuclides (Four Regulated Contaminants):
• Alpha particles—erosion of natural deposits of certain minerals
• Beta particles—decay of natural and man-made deposits of certain minerals
• Radium 226 and 228—erosion of natural deposits
• Uranium—erosion of natural deposits
The list of Secondary Standards is as follows:
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)
OPTIMAL SOURCES OF WATER
Do you believe that some water is better than others? If so, are you drinking the best quality water available? From merely surviving to thriving, we can study those centenarian hot spots also known as “blue zones.” Like our ancestors, the following groups of people obtain their drinking water from pristine streams rich in minerals, which absorb natural energy from the forests, the sun and the earth along its journey.
• Hunzakuts (Pakistan Mountains): irrigation channels through rock faces bring mineral-dense water from melting glaciers down to their valley;
• The Campodimelani (Italy): water from Mount Faggeta, known for richness in minerals;
• Bama (China): the Panyang River, found to have healthy amounts of zinc and other minerals;
• Other areas include Nicoyans (Costa Rica), Ecuador, the Caucasus region of Asia (just northeast of Turkey) Sardinia, New Zealand, Okinawa (Japan), and Panama.
Many have tried to define the best water for human consumption. Based upon investigation of the aforementioned healthy, long-living indigenous people from around the world, here is our takeaway. The water of these people consistently takes on very similar characteristics as outlined below:
• Safe: free of disease-causing microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, spores); heavy metals; chemicals from industry and agriculture; pharmaceuticals; disinfectants and related by-products; radioactivity; and synthetic fluoride;
• Fresh: neither salty nor stagnant;
• Clean: physically, biologically and chemically;
• Natural: coming from a pristine mountain stream, glacial river or fresh spring;
• Hydrating: water with low surface tension and thus better hydrating;
• Mineral balanced: contains a wide variety of minerals including trace minerals, excellent ionic activity (Total Dissolved Solids ~300 ppm), including cations such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium; and anions such as nitrate, chloride, bicarbonate, sulfate and carbonate.
WATER TREATMENT PROFESSIONALS DO THEIR BEST, BUT REMEMBER. . .
As a nation, we discharge eight hundred fifty billion gallons of untreated sewage and storm water into our waterways. Two hundred eighty-five million Americans rely on public drinking water, and most of these people are drinking treated sewage every day! Authorities issue water advisories and water warnings as well as “do-not-drink” and “do-not-use” orders on a regular basis throughout the U.S. and Canada. This state of affairs is not surprising when you consider the following:
• Human error
• Natural disasters
• Budget constraints, decrepit systems
• Chlorine-resistant pathogens
• Industrial and agricultural contaminants
• Unintended consequences of disinfectants
The following recent emergencies and disasters have occurred as a result of the factors above:
• Milwaukee, WI, 1993: Cryptosporidium, more than 400,000 ill, more than one hundred deaths.
• Walkerton, Ontario, 2000: E. coli, 46 percent of population sickened; seven deaths.
• New Orleans, 2005: Hurricane Katrina, water plant devastation and epic humanitarian crisis.
• Toledo, OH, 2014: Microcystins algae: drinking water ban affecting 400,000 people.
THE SANDS OF TIME ARE SLIPPING BY!
Time is running out! We cannot wait for the government and its agencies to get it right and provide us with top quality water in our homes. It’s analogous to food whereby you would not depend on the FDA or the USDA to guide you properly as to what to feed your family. Similarly, you can’t rely on the EPA to determine what is optimal water for you and your family. Our overall wellbeing depends on it.
Did you know?
• Our blood plasma is 90 percent water.
• Our bones average about 30 percent water.
• Our brain is mostly water.
• Our bodies consist of 55-65 percent water.
• Babies are 75 percent water.
Clean water means taking charge of our health! It’s about peace of mind. Maybe we can’t change the world but we can change our piece of the planet within our homes! And most importantly, it’s about our next generation.
INTERESTING WATER FACTS
• Water is the most common substance found on earth.
• Water is the only substance found naturally in three forms: solid, liquid, and gas.
• Eighty percent of the earth’s surface is water.
• Ninety-seven percent of the earth’s water is saltwater in oceans and seas. Of the 3 percent that is freshwater, only 1 percent is available for drinking—the remaining 2 percent is frozen in the polar ice caps.
• Water serves as nature’s thermometer, helping to regulate the earth’s temperature.
• Once evaporated, a water molecule spends ten days in the air.
• An acre of corn gives off 4,000 gallons of water per day in evaporation.
• Forty percent of the atmosphere’s moisture falls as precipitation each day.
• People need about 2.5 quarts of water a day to maintain good health. A person can live without water for approximately one week, depending upon the conditions.
• While usage varies from community to community and person to person, on average, Americans upwards of 100 gallons of water a day for cooking, washing, flushing, and watering purposes. The average family turns on the tap between 70 and 100 times daily.
• About 74 percent of home water usage is in the bathroom, about 21 percent is for laundry and cleaning, and about 5 percent is in the kitchen.
• A clothes washer uses about 50 gallons of water (the permanent press cycle uses an additional 15 gallons).
• It takes 12 – 20 gallons of water to run an automatic dishwasher for one cycle.
• About 2 gallons of water go down the drain when the kitchen faucet is run until the water’s cold.
• About 2 gallons of water are used to brush our teeth.
• Flushing a toilet requires two to 7 gallons of water.
• A ten-minute shower can take 20 – 50 gallons of water. High-flow shower heads spew water out at 6 – 10 gallons a minute. Lowflow shower heads can cut the rate in half without reducing pressure.
• About 25 – 50 gallons are needed for a tub bath.
• A typical garden hose can deliver 50 gallons of water in just five minutes.
• It takes about four times the amount of water to produce food and fiber than all other uses of water combined.
• About 4,000 gallons of water are needed to grow one bushel of corn, 11,000 gallons to grow one bushel of wheat, and about 135,000 gallons to grow one ton of alfalfa.
• It takes about 1,000 gallons of water to grow the wheat to make a two-pound loaf of bread, and about 120 gallons to produce one egg.
• About 1,400 gallons of water are used to produce a meal of a quarter-pound hamburger, an order of fries and a soft drink.
• About 48,000 gallons are needed to produce the typical American Thanksgiving dinner for eight people.
• About 1,800 gallons of water are needed to produce the cotton in a pair of jeans, and 400 gallons to produce the cotton in a shirt.
• It takes 39,000 gallons of water to produce the average domestic auto, including tires.
• Producing an average-size Sunday newspaper requires about 150 gallons of water.
• Water makes up almost two-thirds of the human body, and 70 percent of the brain.
• Four hundred gallons of water are recycled through our kidneys each day.
• Water makes up 80 percent of an earthworm, 70 percent of a chicken, and 70 percent of an elephant.
• Water makes up 90 percent of a tomato, 80 percent of pineapples and corn, and 70 percent of a tree.
• About 60,000 public water systems across the United States process 34 billion gallons of water per day for home and commercial use. Eighty-five percent of the population is served by these facilities. The remaining 15 percent rely on 13 million private sources.
• It can take up to 45 minutes for a water supplier to produce one glass of drinking water.
• You can refill an 8-ounce glass of water approximately 15,000 times for the same cost as a six pack of soda pop. And, water has no sugar or caffeine.
• An average of 800,000 water wells are drilled each year in the United States. That’s tapping into our underground water supplies at approximately 100 times each hour for domestic, farming, and commercial needs.
• The United States and Canada have about one million miles of pipelines and aqueducts – enough to circle the planet 40 times.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2015