Whole Home Detox

How Safe Is Your Drinking Water?

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This week for the whole home detox, we’re going to talk about water filtration systems. I would argue that this is probably the most important thing we’ll talk about over the course of the 12-week whole home detox. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve heard about contaminated drinking water in major cities in the last several years. Here are just a few of the most recent stories:

January 19, 2018: U.S. Air Force finds 20 contaminated water wells at former Reese Air Force Base

January 11, 2018: 170 Million Americans have cancer-causing, radioactive elements in their drinking water

August 15, 2017: Schools fail lead tests while many states don’t require testing at all

November 18, 2017: This just isn’t normal: Why Erin Brockovich is fighting for an Indiana town

January 13, 2016: How tap water became toxic in Flint, Michigan

That’s worrisome to me and not just because I’m paranoid about a lot of things.

But, “I have a filter on my refrigerator” or “we drink bottled water”.

First let’s talk about filters on the refrigerator. Having your water filtered in some way is certainly better than nothing. Most built-in refrigerator filters use activated carbon as filtration medium. Activated charcoal removes chlorine, volatile organic chemicals, radon, benzene, and many other man-made chemicals, as well as bad tastes and odors. Activated charcoal alone, however, isn’t enough to remove all waterborne contaminants.

Carbon filters offer little to no protection against a wide range of inorganic contaminants and heavy metals, including threats such as:
• Arsenic
• Barium
• Beryllium
• Cadmium
• Chromium
• Copper
• Fluoride
• Mercury
• Nickel
• Selenium
• Sulfates
• Thallium

Highly specialized activated charcoal filters can remove lead, but such filters are rarely found in refrigerator units. Minerals, lead, and other heavy metals can be removed by reverse osmosis filters.

Now let’s discuss why bottled water isn’t such a great idea. For starters the environmental impact of plastic is immense. More than 5 trillion plastic pieces weighing over 250,000 tons are afloat at sea. Remember my post on the issues with plastic?

Need I say more? But there are other considerations, bottled water has its own share of issues. It’s not necessarily any safer than tap water and the U.S. is exempt from the FDA’s rigorous water standards because the FDA says its rules do not apply to water packaged and sold in the same state. Federal law mandates that cities must release annual “right to know” reports about the contents of drinking water; bottlers are under no such obligation.It takes three times as much water to make one plastic bottle as it does to fill it.

So how do you protect yourself from what could be lurking in your drinking water while also saving yourself (and the environment) from the cost of bottled water that isn’t any better?

EWG Water Guide

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a convenient tap water guide, simply enter your zip code and you will be directed to a page with utilities that serve your area. 

Choose your water company and you will have access to EWG’s drinking water quality reports showing the results of tests conducted by the water utility and provided to the EWG by your state environmental management and the EPA.
There is a section that shows what contaminants were detected above health guidelines and those that were detected (but within the allowable limits). Speaking of allowable limits, the EPA identifies contaminants to regulate in drinking water to protect public health. The Agency sets regulatory limits for the amounts of certain contaminants in water provided by public water systems. An MCL is the maximum allowable amount of a contaminant in drinking water that is delivered to a consumer.

The EWG also offers a water filter buying guide and can direct you to where you can purchase those here.

Carbon filters are going to be the least expensive option, these can be pitcher style filters like the Brita pitcher, to something a littler more involved like a countertop system.

However, the most effective filtration system you can get is a reverse osmosis system. When it comes to water filtration and getting the best quality water to drink, reverse osmosis can really make a difference. Reverse osmosis systems work to help remove minerals that may cause hard water, bacteria, sediment and other impurities.

There are many benefits of reverse osmosis water. For example, when you drink reverse osmosis water you can minimize the risk of drinking water that may contain lead, arsenic or chlorine since a reverse osmosis system can help effectively remove these contaminants. Additionally, the fluoride is filtered from the water with the RO system.

This is the system we have which was installed by our local Culligan Water. They came out, tested our water for free and gave us an estimate on the unit. Once we decided to go for it, they came out and installed it.

This filters the water that comes from a small spout on our sink and the water that runs to the refrigerator for ice and drinking water (you no longer have to worry about that filter in the refrigerator!).

Additionally we added a whole home filter to our water softener.

Why would this matter if we already have our drinking water covered? Well for one, my kids bathe in that water and well, they’re kids so sometimes they also drink it! 

Additionally, when you shower you are inhaling vapors from the warm water. Trihalomethanes are chemical compounds formed as a by-product in water that has been disinfected with chlorine. Chlorine is manually added to public water systems and functions as a disinfectant to eradicate waterborne disease. 

There is some evidence to suggest that inhalation of vapors containing THMs in the shower may pose a human health risk. You can take this with a grain of salt because to be honest I was hard pressed to find a robust epidemiological study to confirm the dangers of THM inhalation from the shower, but why risk it? I don’t know about you, but if I wouldn’t want to drink it, I probably wouldn’t want to bathe in it either. 

PWhile the whole home filter isn’t nearly as effective as the reverse osmosis system for the drinking water, it still adds a layer of security and is pretty low maintenance (Culligan comes out to change the filter for us).
If you’d like to go a step further and have additional questions or would like to find a state certified lab in your area to have your water privately tested, you can call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.