Introduction to improving indoor water quality
If our municipal drinking water were pure, it would still contain chlorine and chlorine by-products. These chemicals have been associated with cardiac concerns as well as linked to increased risk for cancer of the bladder. Even to remove chlorine alone, water filtration is recommended. But there is more than chlorine. There can be dissolved heavy metals in drinking water, from several potential sources, including older fixtures, plumbing pipes, and lead solder, as well as coming in from sources upstream of your home. There can be parasites and bacteria, even bacteria that live in rough areas of your own water pipes and which chlorine does not kill. There also may be carcinogenic by-products of chlorine to be removed. These by-products (including Mutagen X, chloroform, and trihalomethanes) are formed when chlorine is in contact with organic material, such as bacteria in water pipes. In addition, there may dissolved volatile organic gases. If you have well water and live in a radon area, there is risk for radon/uranium in the well water. Most water purifiers do not remove dissolved heavy metals. The brochures attached to them may say something like, “removes 99.9% of lead,” but they refer to lead by weight. If a piece of pipe solder breaks off, it will be caught by the purifier. The 0.1% that isn’t removed is the significant part, i.e., the dissolved lead and other heavy metals. Many houses with public water have electrical current on the water pipes. This current sets up electrolysis which releases other minerals from metal pipes, such as copper or aluminum, moving them into the drinking water. Further, the body can absorb even more toxins from shower water than taken in through drinking water. The book, A Civil Action, by Jonathan Harr, makes this point. If someone in the Massachusetts community where contamination caused such health problems had ordered a water test kit and tested the water, the problems with the water could have been found long before cancer and other health conditions showed up. I was originally taught that the best water is water from a pristine spring or well. Later, this approach raised a question, because the minerals in spring or well water typically are ground rock. We can’t absorb ground rock, and it is a stresser on the kidneys. The alternative for drinking is to use a purification method that removes contaminants, plus ground rock, at least for drinking water. Ground rock in shower water doesn’t matter, though you don’t want too much sediment coming through. But then, this sort of purification method would result in stripped-down water, or “aggressive water,” or “demineralized water.” Aggressive water attracts other substances, such as metals, to it. If you had aggressive water through your water pipes, the pipes would become pitted and start to leak. Aggressive water is used by some folk during detoxification treatments. Aggressive water is also acidic water. Maybe we would do well add back some electrolytes to drinking water, to turn it slightly alkaline. There are 2 articles on demineralized water at the website of the World Health Organization, www.who.int, suggesting that long-term use of demineralized water is not advised. However, the bottom line may be that you have to remove everything from the water in order to remove the undesirable substances – and then add back electrolytes. According to one of the WHO papers, we really don’t know what the healthiest water is – because it differs in different locations. Maybe we could add a tiny pinch of Himalayan sea salt, or some liquid trace minerals, etc.
Water testing for improving indoor water quality
- The EPA lists 93 contaminants in drinking water (though there are potentially thousands more). WaterCheck offers test kits for the contaminants on their list, plus MTBE (the controversial gasoline additive). This test kit is available from National Testing Labs, www.ntllabs.com, 800-458-3330. Request that MTBE be included. The test panel costs about $150 and takes several weeks for the results. These tests are recommended for both well and municipal water.If you have public water, you can also contact your water company for a copy of monitoring tests. Usually these are trustworthy, though occasionally there are complaints of omissions – such as with reported levels of lead some years back in some NYC samples.
- If you have an older well, order one of these test kits. Some older well pumps (even 30-35 years old) contain carcinogenic PCBs.
- Test kits for lead in water are also available, such as from National Testing Laboratories, 800-458-3330, or Hybrivet, 800-262-LEAD (5323). Do 2 tests:
- Test the first draw of water from the faucet in the morning to see if lead is coming off your faucet and older pipe solder.
- Test again after running the water for 5 or more minutes. This gives an indication whether the water entering your home contains dissolved lead.
- If air levels of radon are, or ever were, elevated at your home, check your well water for radon. Even if your home was never checked for radon but was constructed with a radon system installed, check your well water for radon levels. Kits for radon-in-water can be order from www.radon.com.You might also learn the radon levels in public water from calling your local water company and asking to speak with a technician. There is generally less risk of radon in public water than in well water.If radon levels turn out to be high, speak with a water purification consultant regarding options for reducing these levels. Radon in water is linked with a moderately elevated risk for stomach cancer.
Recommended water treatment options
Whole house treatments
- To remove chlorine and chlorine by-products in municipal water (not from your own well), install a whole house dechlorination unit.This is installed where the water service supply pipe enters the house. Such a filter eliminates the need for shower filters (which have questionable effectiveness, anyway). The filter must be maintained according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. A local water filtration company may offer a service contract.Tip: Call your water company to inquire if MTBE (methy ter-butyl ether) has been detected in the water supply. If so, make sure the whole house dechlorination unit will remove MTBE. The question to ask is: Does this unit contain Centurion catalytic carbon from the Calgarn Co. or another NSF-approved carbon that removes MTBE? The unit sold by Ozark Water does. Ozark’s number is 800-835-8908. If radon levels are elevated in your well water, then a one-year filter (possibly with aeration) may be a better option than a five-year filter. You do not want to start your own little radioactive waste site in your carbon filter.
Point-of-use (kitchen sink) treatments
- At the kitchen sink, install reverse osmosis (RO) filtration to remove pollutants, such as dissolved heavy metals, that the whole house dechlorination unit does not remove.You can get an under-counter reverse osmosis unit. Filtered water is stored in an under-counter tank (which conceivably could get contaminated with bacteria), while waste water goes down the drain.Because of the precious nature of water as a resource and because RO technology wastes 1-2 gallons of water for every gallon it produces, you might consider use of a portable unit. With a portable unit, you can make use of the waste water in a commode, washing machine, or on shrubs. With a portable unit, you collect treated water in gallon jugs. It takes about an hour (at your faucet) to process a gallon jug of RO water. With reverse osmosis, particulates are filtered out – including dissolved rock and dissolved heavy metals. This relieves the kidneys from having to process this sediment. The efficiency of a reverse osmosis unit can be monitored through the use of a simple TDS meter (total dissolved solids). A properly functioning RO unit should record in the single digits for total dissolved solids, meaning that the filter is removing almost all the particulates. Search on-line for a TDS meter. When dissolved rock is removed, the pH of the water is decreased, resulting in acidic water. There is controversy as to whether this is a concern or not, since the stomach itself is acidic. One counter argument is that we get plenty of electrolytes in fresh vegetables and fruit, to replenish any lost in filtered water. Adding an alkalinization agent to acidic water might neutral stomach acid, decreasing the efficiency of digestion. If you have any questions about this, please check with your health care practitioner. Tips: To minimize bacteria, have an ultraviolet light installed between the reverse osmosis unit and the spigot. Maintain the unit according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or filtered water could eventually get contaminated. If you have a water purification device installed in the kitchen sink cabinet, be aware that sometimes leakage can occur. Placement of a rectangular plastic box, such as a new kitty litter box, under the device may warn you of accumulating water in time to prevent water damage to the sink cabinet and below. Turning off the house water when heading away for an extended time is a good practice. Some supermarkets offer reverse osmosis water from a spigot, and this water is reportedly checked for purity monthly. If you are near such a service, you could buy glass gallon jugs from a brew supply store, like 4 for $20, and fill up your own jugs. That’s my route. The jugs fill up quickly.
- Distilled water is also acceptable but costs more in energy to produce than reverse osmosis water and also doesn’t remove dissolved VOCs (volatile organic compounds) to the extent that reverse osmosis would (unless the distiller has a carbon filter attached).
Other types of filtration do not remove contaminants as efficiently as reverse osmosis and distillation-with-attached-carbon-filter:
- Refrigerator water filters are not advised, because bacteria grow in carbon and because you cannot sanitize the inner areas or tubing of the filter.
- If you have a carbon water filter, run the water a few minutes in the morning prior to drawing it for drinking or cooking. This will help flush out any accumulated lead. Do not use hot water from the tap for drinking or cooking. These steps will reduce the risk of drinking dissolved lead, but carbon supports the growth of bacteria.
- If you cannot install a whole house dechlorination unit because you live in an apartment, then shower filters that remove chlorine and chlorine by-products are recommended if you have municipal water. They are not as effective as a whole house dechlorination unit, but apartment dwellers and renters may have no choice. Your shower filter should contain both lots of carbon and KDF or equivalent for chlorine by-products.If your municipality has a lot of sediment, shower filters can clog up easily, so rechargeable shower filters (with replaceable cartridges) are a better choice.
- If having water delivered, it preferably would come in glass containers. The only company I know of that offers delivery in glass bottles is Mountain Valley Spring. Even the second best choice of hard polycarbonate plastic (number seven) may contain a toxic substance, BPA (bisphenol A), which should be avoided. BPA-free products are coming on the market, such as BPA-free baby bottles.BPA is a xenoestrogen, associated with breast cancer and other harmful health effects. For more information, search for “polycarbonate + toxin” or “BPA.” The ADA (American Dental Association) has come out against BPA in dental materials.
- Bottled water is an alternative, with pros and cons.I have read pros and cons about the recycle numbers in the triangles at the bottoms of store-bought bottled water. Rather than get into a discussion of whether or not chemicals leach into the water, just set aside an unopened bottle of water for 6 months, and then taste and smell it. Does it taste and smell like plastic?Most manufacturers have changed, or plan to change, to polyester bottles, which are less toxic. But the polyester is permeable, and the labels on the bottles and bubble pack material may still be the more objectionable polyethylene. Avoid those bottles. They also can last indefinitely in a waste site. Recent research suggests that much smaller amounts of plasticizers affect health than previously suspected – including effects on the sexual development of males and sperm counts.
- What about bottled spring water? Minerals in the spring water are dissolved particulates not usable to the body, especially for older folk who have less stomach acid than youths. With more stomach acid, children also absorb more dissolved lead and other heavy metals than adults. Plants take minerals out of the water and change them into a form our bodies can utilize.
- Alkalinizing water treatment units are available, but I have no experience with these, except for measuring one with a TDS (total dissolved solids) meter and finding it lacking. In other words, it wasn’t removing all the dissolved solids.
Fluoridation does not contribute to improving indoor water quality.
One contaminant not listed in the EPA list of water pollutants is fluoride, as in fluoridated water. Many communities with public water have this water treatment, theoretically to reduce dental caries by disrupting the enzyme process of decay bacteria. There are scientists who are of the opinion that our own enzyme processes can also be disrupted. Some individuals (including several I have come across on inspections) appear to have allergies to fluoridated water. I was clued in on this by reading, The Fluoride Deception, by Christopher Bryson. Another good source for information on fluoride is the Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org. If you have a choice, I would recommend purchase of a home in a fluoridation-free community. That would exclude many communities. Does topical application of fluoride reduce tooth decay? Apparently it does, to some degree, though statistics suggest that indulging in candy and soft drinks can override the effects of the fluoride. The controversy centers more on what might be the long-term effects of fluoride accumulation in the body’s tissues. To remove fluoride from drinking water, you need demineralizing water treatment at the kitchen sink, such as reverse osmosis. I don’t have a clear sense if anything might remove fluoride from bath water. One old-timer water consultant told me that nothing will remove the fluoride from bath water. There are very expensive filters that attempt to do this (several thousand dollars), but several sensitive individuals have been dissatisfied with the results. Some symptoms mentioned by a couple of the apparently fluoride-sensitive clients are skin turning red in contact with bath water, breathing difficulties, and joint pain. Medical tests can confirm fluoride sensitivity. Check with your physician for recommendations. I’ve heard terms such as an IgE test for allergens causing immediate reactions, the ELISA/ACT test, and Sage Systems, 800-491-9511, FL, which does extensive food and chemical allergy testing, including for delayed reactions to fluoride, with your physician submitting blood samples to Sage. I am not a medical practitioner and do not know which are the best labs or tests. Consult with your physician.
Swimming pools and spas
Explore ionization or other alternative technology for sanitizing a swimming pool, hot tub, or spa – whether at your home or one that you or your children frequent. In such a treated pool, the amount of chlorinated bleach will be vastly reduced. Avoid bromine water treatments totally. Epidemiological research is pointing to increased risk of asthma from exposure to chlorinated indoor swimming pools.
Cuno and Krudico have been referred to me as quality manufacturers. To find a local distributor for Cuno, go to www.cuno.com and find your way to Residential Water, Contact, Choose a Product, Seek a Distributor. In the top upper right, you will see either your zip code or a place to put your zip code. If you use the company that appears, please give me feedback on your experience with them.
Batmanghelidj, F., M.D., Your Body’s Many Cries for Water (Global Health Solutions: Falls Church, VA), 1992. Click here to join me at the Electromagnetic Field tab.
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