Water is foundational to life itself. With increasing environmental degradation, the supply of clean, pure drinking water is rapidly diminishing. Over the last 100 years we’ve seen a lot of our natural water supply dry up, get diverted, or polluted. Toxic chemicals such as gasoline additives like MTBE (Methyl tertiary butyl ether), treated sewage sludge, agricultural fertilizers and pesticides, run-off from factory farms (including antibiotics), lead, mercury, radon, nitrates, pharmaceuticals, and may other pollutants end up contaminating our once pristine water supply.
Water straight from the tap is most likely not safe to drink. Considering that there are Maximum allowable contamination levels (MCLs) for about 80 toxic substances present in our drinking water, makes you wonder. A 2002 study done by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit environmental research organization, on tap water in 42 states found unacceptable violations of Primary Drinking Water Standards. Here are some of the findings:
- For more than 12 months, more than 16 million people had been served tap water containing chlorination by-products such as chloramines or THM.
- Above MCL contaminated water was found both in the drinking water of big cities like San Francisco, Washington DC, Philadelphia, as well as 1,100 other small surrounding towns.
- In many cases, the levels of chloramine contaminants were more than 5 times the allowable limit.
Depressed yet? Ugh. We know that drinking the right amount of water is essential for optimal health. It is recommended that we consume 1.5-2 quarts of water daily. Unless you have access to pure spring water (yay if you do!), some kind of home water filtration system is going to be necessary. The following information is intended to help clarify the differences between the types of water filtration systems, so you can choose the kind that best meets your needs.
Carbon has been used for centuries for filtration, and activated carbon (AC) is the most common type of filter. There are two types of carbon filters: granulated and solid block. Granulated carbon filters have air spaces between the between the granules of carbon to trap bacteria and remove it from the water. The trouble with this is that the bacteria can actually grow within these spaces. For this reason, silver is used in most of these granulated carbon filters to inhibit the growth of bacteria. However, there is concern about silver toxicity and possible ineffectiveness. For this reason, granulated carbon filters (like the common countertop filters) are not highly recommended.
Solid block filters do not have the air spaces that breed bacteria; they are dense providing very little opportunity for germs to thrive. Research has demonstrated that these units also trap more chemicals and pollutants. Some popular solid carbon block filters are Multi-pure, Omnipure, Aquasana, and Berkey. An efficient carbon block filter would have a micron rating of no greater than 1 micron. The micron size filters out bad microorganisms mechanically. The activated carbon actually removes most chemicals by absorption (by electromagnetically attracting the pollutants to the block itself).
Reverse Osmosis filters purify water by flowing water through membranes with tiny holes the size of a water molecule. RO filters take out nearly 100% of organic matter as well as all minerals. Fluoride and aluminum are removed by RO filters, while carbon filters do not. They usually have multiple levels of filtration, including a carbon filter, which is necessary to take out certain contaminants. The systems used to be very pricey, but now there are home systems that are relatively affordable. Some of the cons to RO units are: they are bulky in size, limited in amount of water able to be filtered, produce waste water, and they remove all minerals from the water. If you drink RO water exclusively, then you must add minerals back into your drinking water. A few popular and affordable brands of RO filters are: Brondell, Apec, and iSpring.
An important factor in your decision might be whether or not your tap water contains fluoride. Carbon filters do NOT take out fluoride. Reverse Osmosis filters do. If you haven’t given much thought about fluoride, I suggest educating yourself on the subject. Below I’ve posted a documentary that go into great detail about the dangers of fluoride. If you know your city puts fluoride in your water, then RO may be your best choice. Reverse osmosis is also the only filtration system that removes the presence of pharmaceuticals (which may contain synthetic hormones) in tap water.
The importance of our drinking water cannot be overstated. I hope this information helps you make an informed decision.