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Drinking Water Choices

by Dr. Randy

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Once upon a time it was so simple. Either the water was safe or it outright killed you. Along came chlorine and water became a lot less questionable and life-threatening. Or so we thought. In today’s world, with life expectancy in the eighties and beyond, we would like to stay healthy for as long as possible. Long-range effects of toxins become more important, and thus our newfound concern with pesticides, poisoned fish, vaccines, and water. Much ado about preventing cancer, eating organic, and environmental paranoia. One would think the lowly H20 molecule would be a no-brainer, but alas the water from taps (coming as it does through questionable pipes) and the bottled stuff in stores (coming from multinational corporations) must be scrutinized. Who will scrutinize it? Only us lowly plebeian, consumers whose bodies are composed of 90 percent what? You guessed it.

Luckily for us, we only have two choices. Drink it out of the tap or get it from a bottling company, unless you happen to have your own non-polluted stream (would that there were such a thing) or a handy rain barrel. So for most of us the choice is simple. Take your chances or try to make what we have as safe as possible.

The first step may be to test your water. This would be advisable if you live in farm country or have well sources. Be advised though, that the testing is only good for the day on which the sample was taken. Tomorrow may be a different story. Others who are curious about your tap water, bottled water, or the efficiency of your filter may want to get tested too. A quality water testing service is www.aquamd.com or AquaMD at 1-866-278-2634. Testing will determine whether you will need two distinct kinds of filters.

What not to drink?

First let’s eliminate one other possibility. Do not drink distilled water. Distillation may not remove all contaminating chemicals. It does remove minerals that are essential to health. The water will then leach minerals from your body, causing deficiencies. This will eventually cause an abnormally acidic environment, which can cause serious chronic disease.

Tap water

The problems with tap water are numerous. This is unavoidable. The federal government and the EPA set maximum levels of various contaminants in drinking water. Municipalities must conform to these requirements. If these levels are exceeded, what happens? Nothing. If people are getting sick, you will be notified to boil your water.

Here are the problems. Chlorine easily reacts with other molecules to create chlorinated chemicals (chloroform, formaldehyde). Chlorine byproducts from water treatment have been associated with bladder and rectal cancer. Chlorine in water can also initiate and aggravate allergic reactions and skin irritation. It also reacts with water-borne decaying organic matter creating trihalomethanes (THMs), one of which is formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Chloramine does not create THMs and has increasingly replaced chlorine as a disinfectant, but greater concentrations need to be used compared to chlorine, and chloramine has been shown to cause similar reactions. It also kills fish if added to a fish tank. Tap water may be relatively clean when it comes from the processing plant, but it has a long journey through some, possibly, very old pipes. The pipes themselves may add lead, asbestos, copper, or PVC breakdown products to your water, all of which are toxic. The pipes may also be decayed and have holes that allow bacteria to proliferate or ground contaminants (pesticides, arsenic, and other petrochemicals) to seep into the pipes. Cysts of protozoa (giardia) can persist even in chlorinated water. Do not drink tap water unless it is filtered. Never give unfiltered tap water to infants.

What kind of filter?

Bottom line, only one type of filter, a solid carbon block water filter, will work. Here are the details. The three common types of filters use loose granular activated carbon, reverse osmosis, or solid carbon.

Carbon absorbs impurities. Activated carbon has a slight electro-positive charge added to it that attracts chemicals and impurities. Loose granular activated carbon filters have a filter like loose sand. They are the most common types of filters one can buy in hardware and discount stores. This is not an adequate method of water filtration. Bacteria can proliferate within the filter, and much of the water that passes through does not come in contact with the carbon. These filters will not remove chemicals.

Reverse osmosis filters force water through a semi-permeable membrane. The membrane blocks minerals, so the water will be mineral-deficient, causing mineral deficiencies in those that drink it. Reverse osmosis does not remove chemicals or other contaminants, so a carbon filter is often added.

A solid carbon block filter does what it sounds like, forces water through a solid block. This prevents channels of water from bypassing the carbon. The technology and construction of solid carbon blocks differ with various companies depending on the density of the block and the nature of the outer membrane surrounding the block. However, consumers can rely on the NSF ratings of these filters. Solid carbon block water filters are the only filters that pass the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) Standard #53 for health effects. This standard includes removal of chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, cysts, lead, asbestos, and radon. Some filters are now also rated for the gas additive MTBE filtration. Websites and literature of filter manufacturers should list the substances each filter does remove. Standard #42 rates chlorine removal. Class 1 means 75% or greater chlorine removal.

These filters come in different arrangements: on the counter, under the sink, inline, or entire house systems.

Solid carbon block filters will not remove nitrates and sulfides (byproducts of agricultural fertilization). If you live in an area with extensive farming, you may want to have your water tested for these products. If they are present, then you will need an additional reverse osmosis filter to remove them. Remember that this water is then deficient in minerals, and everyone in the family will need to take a good multi-mineral supplement.

Only buy a carbon block filter that passes the NSF standards #53 and #42. The warranty of these filters should be three to five years. Filters should last for a year with normal use, and consumers should investigate the cost of filter replacement before their purchase.

Bottled Water

In reaction to a damning report issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council entitled Bottled Water: Pure Drink or Pure Hype?, the International Bottled Water Association replied in their own report that bottled water met equal standards for contamination as tap water. This is not very reassuring since I have just told you not to drink tap water. Here are the two reports for your perusal.

http://www.nrdc.org/water/drinking/nbw.asp

http://www.bottledwater.org/public/BWFactsHome_main.htm

Bottled water comes from various sources. At least 25 percent of bottled water is actually bottled tap water. “Purified water” probably means tap water that has been filtered in some fashion. Many bottles labeled spring water come from underground wells or aquifers that may be in close proximity to industrial sites. A call to your bottled water provider will tell you where the water comes from and may give you reassurance. It will not tell you what is in your water no matter what their testing reports say. Our vision of bottled water is crystal pure mountain snows and glaciers delivered in their pristine state for your pleasure and delectation. The bottled water industry encourages this utopian vision, even as they defend lawsuits about misrepresentation of the sources of “spring” water.

Bottled water suffers from other problems. Although it is not run to your house through old, decaying pipes, it is packaged in plastic. Most clear plastic bottles seem to be safe, especially those labeled 1, 2, and 4. However, water that is delivered in five gallon polycarbonate bottles (number 7) that have been reused may leach bisphenol A into the water. The plastics industry insists that bottles do not leach bisphenol A (BPA), and that bisphenol A does not cause problems www.plasticsinfo.org . Others would differ, since BPA has been linked to chromosome damage and hormone disruption. Limitation of our exposure to estrogenic plastics seems essential because of the carcinogenic nature of estrogen. Whether we get significant amounts of these xenoestrogens from water bottles remains unclear. If we do, then children would be especially at risk.

For a more complete review of plastic bottles, see my previous newsletter article on plastics.

Plastic bottles also have a significant impact on the environment. Even if they are recycled, energy must be used to remold them into new bottles.

The water cooler represents another potential reservoir for contaminants when considering delivered bottled water. Running boiling water through your water cooler once a month seems like an excellent idea to prevent the buildup of bacteria and algae.

Summary

Filter all tap water for drinking through a solid carbon block filter. Change the filter as advised by the manufacturer. If you use bottled water, do some investigation about the source of the water that you buy. Clean the water cooler with boiling water periodically. Do not reuse plastic bottles because of the danger of bacterial contamination and the possible leaching of plastics after washing with detergents.

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