Why Filter Your Water?
Most of us are fortunate enough to have easy access to treated water, but is the water that comes from our taps really safe? Our water supply is dirtier than ever thanks to contamination from agriculture chemicals, industrial dumping, household cleaning products, and runoff from waste disposal sites. In fact, studies have found over 700 synthetic
organic compounds in various U.S. water supplies. So while modern water treatment techniques do a lot to remove contaminants, there are still chemicals and organisms that can slip through water treatment facilities and into your home.
Common contaminants in tap water
Lead: Lead is a heavy metal known to cause a range of health problems, mostly affecting the brain and nervous systems. It is especially dangerous to children because it can interfere with development and lead to learning disabilities. Most lead enters the water supply after it has left treatment facilities – the main source of lead contamination is plumbing fixtures like pipes and faucets, although lead can also leach into groundwater from natural deposits. While the use of lead in plumbing has been regulated since 1986, older fixtures still pose a risk, and even newer fixture can contain a small amount of lead. The EPA estimates that 10 to 20% of human exposure to lead comes from drinking water.
Chlorine: Chlorine is added to drinking water to kill water-borne diseases, but because chlorine is so reactive it can actually add new dangerous chemicals into the water supply (known as disinfection by-products). When chlorine mixes with organic waste in water it creates trihalomethanes (THMs), which are thought to be one of the reasons chlorinated water has been linked to bladder and rectal cancers as well as reproductive problems in women.
Giardia and Cryptosporidium: Giardia and Cryptosporidium are both water-borne parasites that cause gastrointestinal illness whose symptoms include diarrhea, gas, nausea, and abdominal cramps. Healthy people will usually clear the infection on their own in a week or two, but the parasites can be very dangerous for anyone with a weakened immune system. Cryptosporidium is resistant to many typical water treatment methods, including chlorine, and is difficult to test for.
Phthalates: Phthalates are chemicals added to plastics to increase their flexibility and durability that can leach from plastic products into food and water. While most phthalate exposure comes from diet, these compounds can leach into the water supply from PVC pipes. Phthalates are an endocrine disrupter that have been linked to changes in hormone and insulin levels in laboratory experiments.
Fluoride: Fluoride has been added to the U.S. drinking water supply since 1945 as a way to prevent cavities and tooth decay (it is currently the only chemical added to water solely as a medical treatment and not for improving water quality). There is considerable controversy over how effective fluoridated drinking water is at promoting dental health as well as concerns about its safety. Studies have linked high fluoride intake to issues with hormone levels, bone density, and brain function.
If you want to find out what’s in your drinking water, you can use a mail-in water testing kit to identify heavy metals, bacteria, and other contaminants.
How can I make sure my water is clean?
The best way to ensure the safety of the water you use is to filter it at home. You can install filters on sinks that will eliminate the contaminants listed above, and you can also use showerheads and sink faucets that will specifically eliminate chlorine and lead. If you’re looking for something a little easier, look for pitchers and water bottles with built-in filters to keep your drinking water clean. Just be sure not to rely on bottled water – regulations for bottled water don’t require it to be treated any differently than regular tap water, so there’s no guarantee you’ll be getting high-quality water.