Drinking water in its purest form is the cornerstone of good health, so understanding what is in our tap water is of the utmost importance. Cities and towns create complex water infrastructures to provide clean water. Their job is to remove all acute toxins and keep chronic toxins below a certain level, and yet the end result is that our tap water is not completely, consistently pure. It still contains toxic substances — many of which have a profound and direct effect on our health. So what are the various contaminants that may be found in our tap water?
- Pathogens: Bacteria, viruses, and parasites are the pathogens commonly found in drinking water.
- Toxic Minerals and Metals: Aluminum, arsenic, asbestos, barium, chlorine, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, lead, mercury, nitrate, nitrite, selenium, and silver are known toxic inorganic substances found in our drinking water.
- Organic Chemicals: Herbicides, paints, plastics, and pharmaceutical drugs are among the many kinds of organic chemicals found in our drinking water.
- Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS): Also referred to as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are long-lasting, man-made chemicals that break down very slowly over time. There are thousands of PFAS in consumer products and the environment. These persistent chemicals can find their way into our drinking water.
- Additives: Water treatment plants add a variety of chemical agents to disinfect water. Chlorine is the most commonly used but is not properly removed. Fluoride is another common additive.
- Radioactive Substances Radioactive minerals and radioactive gas can be present in tap water.
Chronic exposure to each of these toxins increases the risk of a variety of acute and chronic health problems over time.
What Can You Do to Get Purer Tap Water?
Here are the basic strategies for filtering tap water at your home:
- Pitcher-Style Filter/Refrigerator Filters provide minimal purification. Most of these do not remove a significant amount of tap water contaminants.
- Ion Exchange Filter is highly effective at removing dissolved salts and “softening” water.
- Distillation Filter is highly effective at removing multiple contaminants; however it also removes some beneficial minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
- Granular Carbon and Carbon Block Filters are most commonly used to filter a wide range of contaminants.
- Reverse Osmosis Filter (ROF) is the gold standard of water home filtration. It is highly effective at removing multiple contaminants, including fluoride, especially when used with other above filter types. You can install one under your kitchen sink for “point of use” at your sink for drinking water or outside your house for “point of entry” to filter all the water coming into your entire home.
WFP’s Take-Home Advice
Here are some tips we believe are reasonable, cost effective, and address the majority of toxins in your home tap water:
- Spring water is nature’s gold standard for the water we are designed to drink. When drinking bottled water, look for spring water that’s preferably local and sold in glass rather than plastic bottles. Mountain Valley Spring Water, Poland Spring, and Ozarka Spring are examples of popular spring waters. Many companies can deliver five gallon glass water bottles straight to your house and this is a common strategy to avoid drinking tap water and to bring spring water straight to your house. Not all bottled water is spring water, though. Many of the bottled water brands on the market today are municipal tap water purified with reverse osmosis (e.g., Dasani and Aquafina) or distillation, like Glaceau Smartwater. The type of filtration or whether it’s spring water is stated on the back of all bottled water. Remember to recycle all plastic and glass and don’t store either in a hot environment, such as your car, as this increases the chance of chemicals leaching into the water. It is best to avoid the modern trend of bottled waters with added flavors, vitamins, and/or electrolytes when possible and keep the water you drink as close to how nature designed it.
- For a high-quality portable countertop filter that’s designed to filter your home tap water for drinking, use a Berkey water filter. This is one of the most convenient and cost effective ways to filter your tap water for drinking at home. Berkey water filters use three different processes including activated carbon and ion exchange to remove or reduce PFAS from drinking water including many other contaminants.
- You can also use an under-the-sink (aka under-the-counter) Reverse Osmosis Filtration System at home for the majority of your purified water. This is the gold standard of water filters. It combines multiple strategies in one unit including a sediment filter, carbon filters, and a reverse osmosis (RO) membrane. When looking for an RO filtration system, look for a brand that has been tested and certified to treat specific contaminants in drinking water. APEC Water Systems ROES-50 Essence Reverse Osmosis System is tested and certified by the Water Quality Association (WQA) and is an example of one that is consistently a top pick with consumers.
- There are also countertop versions of Reverse Osmosis systems along with whole house filtration systems that filter all water entering the house; however, these whole house systems are more expensive.
- Use a shower filter at all times. It’s simple to use and screws directly onto the showerhead. Some of the best quality and most cost effective shower filters are from a company called Sprite. This will keep the many contaminants in tap water off your body, for healthier skin and hair.
- Remember to use filtered water or spring water not only for your drinking water but also for brewing coffee and cooking. Using regular tap water for washing clothes and dishes is generally considered low risk and not a problem.
- If you would like to know what kinds of contaminants are in your tap water, search online for a local, reputable water expert who can provide a water analysis and consultation for water purification solutions in your home or business. You can also request a local water annual report from your local municipality. A Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), or a drinking water quality report, provides information on your local drinking water quality. These annual reports can be requested and will be provided by your local community water supplier.
Sources and References:
Ingram, C. (2006). The Drinking Water Book: How to Eliminate Harmful Toxins from Your Water (2nd ed.). Berkeley/Toronto: Celestial Arts.