Water contaminants and how
In a review of more than 22 million tap water quality tests, 260 water contaminants were found to be routinely served to the public. More than half of these contaminants are unregulated; public health officials have not set safety
Types of Water Contaminants and their Sources
Gasses, heavy metals, fluoride, and hard water minerals
Most dissolved gases are normal in water (oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen).
Gaseous Water Contaminants
Even though our modern technology has identified safer, more effective methods to disinfect water, chlorine is still the standard. Chlorine is a pesticide. It was used as a chemical weapon in World War II. Its purpose as a drinking water additive is to kill living organisms. When you consume water containing chlorine, it destroys cells and tissues in your body. The long-term dangers of
Dr. Joseph Price demonstrated the connection between water chlorination and arteriosclerosis. He noticed a high level of arteriosclerosis among soldiers returning from Vietnam where high concentrations of chlorine were added to the water. To substantiate his theory, Dr. Price conducted a controlled experiment. Two groups of several hundred chickens were observed throughout their life span. The group without chlorinated water grew faster and displayed more vigorous health. During the winter, the group with chlorinated water showed signs of poor circulation, drooped feathers, and a reduced level of activity. When autopsied, every specimen in the group that was raised on chlorinated water showed some level of heart or circulatory disease. The group without chlorine showed no incidence of disease.[i]
Heart disease is not the only problem that chlorinated water is suspected of causing.
The chlorine in water enters your body in more than just the water you drink.
Chloramines are a more recent water treatment now being used in many water treatment facilities. A combination of gasses (chlorine and ammonia), chloramines are used in addition to, or in place of chlorine because their effects are longer lasting. However, numerous difficulties have been identified with the use of chloramines as a water disinfectant:
When chloramines were put into use in Washington DC, lead levels 3,200 times EPA’s “action level” were found in drinking water. When several cities in California switched to the use of chloramines, kidney dialysis patients suffered serious consequences.
Carbon filters have a very limited capacity to remove chloramines – it takes much more carbon and much more contact time to do the job. Using a simple carbon filter to remove chloramines, would require frequent replacement; it would not be economically feasible. A reverse osmosis (RO) system cannot be counted on to remove chloramines either. The filtration membranes in a typical RO system do not filter out chloramines. Most RO systems have a carbon pre-filter, but that will not last long in the presence of chloramines.
The removal of chloramines requires a special type of catalytic carbon filter. Most of these devices are tanks designed to filter the incoming water for the whole house. Vitamin C has also been shown to neutralize chloramine,[iv] but this method is only realistic for smaller applications such as shower filters or
Hydrogen sulfide is a naturally-occurring gas that gives a rotten egg odor to water. It is more common in wells. Hydrogen sulfide is corrosive to plumbing fixtures even at low concentrations. Chlorine is currently used to eliminate it. Activated carbon filtration must then be used to remove the excessive chlorine.
A better solution for removing the sulfur smell and corrosive effects from water that contains hydrogen sulfide lies in the use of magnetic or electromagnetic fields. These devices have received dubious reports over the years as a variety of technologies have been marketed. However, in 1998, the U.S. Department of Energy released a report designed to speed the adoption of these energy-efficient technologies. One of the benefits of the technology (aside from the reduction of hard water deposits and scale on heating and cooling equipment) is a reduction of corrosion and the reduction of algae and hydrogen sulfide odors.[v]
Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown (radioactive decay) of radium. The primary source of radon in homes is from the underlying soil and bedrock. However, radon can also be found in the water supply, particularly if the house is served by a private well or by a small community water system. Since radon is a gas, it can be inhaled during showers or while bathing. It is easily removed by carbon filtration.
The solubility of aluminum in water is so low that it is seldom a concern in municipal or industrial water systems. Aluminum in drinking water comes from the use of aluminum sulfate (alum) as a coagulant in water treatment plants. Reverse osmosis will reduce the aluminum content by over 98 percent. Distillation will reduce aluminum by more than 99 percent.
Arsenic is highly toxic. It is used in pesticides and various metal alloys. When found in a water supply, it usually comes from mining operations or from runoff in agricultural areas. Filtration through activated carbon will reduce the amount of arsenic in drinking water by 40 to 70 percent. Reverse osmosis has a 90 percent removal rate. Distillation will remove 98 percent.
Cadmium makes its way into water supplies as a result of the deterioration of galvanized plumbing, industrial waste, or fertilizer contamination. Reverse osmosis removes 95 to 98 percent of the cadmium in water.
Lead can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system, and red blood cells. Lead in drinking water is primarily from the corrosion of the lead solder used to put together copper piping. Lead is released from plumbing when chloramines are used as a disinfectant in the water supply. Activated carbon filtration can reduce lead to a certain extent. Reverse osmosis can remove 94 to 98 percent of lead in drinking water at the point of use. Distillation will also remove lead from drinking water.
Mercury is unique among metals. It can evaporate when released to water or soil. Activated carbon filtration is very effective for removal of mercury. Reverse osmosis will also remove 95 to 97 percent of mercury.
Fluoride is a trace mineral found in varying concentrations in food and in water. Small amounts of fluoride are present in all water sources. However, naturally-occurring fluoride is much different than the fluoride compounds used in toothpaste and to fluoridate water.
Water fluoridation for the prevention of dental cavities is still a hotly contested subject. However, those who are willing to look beyond the politics and the money will find a vast array of evidence against fluoridation. The National Medical Library has more than forty articles on the toxicity of fluoride. Half of the articles indicate that fluoride promotes cancer. According to the largest study ever conducted on fluoridation and oral health, there was no statistical difference in tooth decay rates between fluoridated and non-fluoridated cities. The toxicity of fluoride has caused many countries to rethink allowing fluoride to be added to water. Those countries now banning fluoride are Sweden, Norway, Denmark, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Austria, France, and the Netherlands.
Not only does fluoride not prevent cavities, the irony is that when you get too much fluoride, your teeth can become discolored and crumble. It’s called dental fluorosis – a mottling and deterioration of the enamel on teeth. In 1940, this mottling condition occurred in 10 percent of children’s teeth. Today, it is as high as 55 percent.
Dental fluorosis is one of the first indications that the body is getting excess fluoride. Bones also collect fluoride and can develop skeletal fluorosis. Since 1990, numerous studies have reported an association between fluoridated water and hip fractures. Fluoridation is also known to increase osteoporosis (brittle bones).
Children under three should never drink fluoridated water. Mothers should never use fluoridated water to prepare baby formula. Children should not use fluoridated toothpaste.
Carbon filtration does not remove fluoride. Reverse osmosis will remove 93 to 95 percent. If your water is fluoridated, you should consider purchasing a special fluoride filter but be careful because many point of use fluoride filters have been determined to be effective for only a short period of time.[vi]
Nitrates and Nitrites
Nitrates and nitrites are nitrogen-oxygen chemical units that combine with various organic and inorganic compounds. Because they are highly soluble and do not bind to soils, nitrates/nitrites migrate to ground water. Excessive levels of nitrate in drinking water have caused serious illness – especially for infants. This is due to the conversion of nitrate to nitrite by the body, which can interfere with the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. Ion exchange (similar to water softening) and reverse osmosis removes nitrates/nitrites.
Hard Water Minerals
Calcium and magnesium ions in drinking water can be beneficial when they are biologically available. However, in the form of calcium carbonate and magnesium oxide (found in most hard water) they are not only biologically unavailable but they cause scaly deposits on faucets and in pipes and water heaters. They can do the same inside your body! Hard water minerals can be removed by a variety of water-conditioning techniques:
Ion exchange water softeners
Traditional water softeners work on the principle of ion exchange where hard water minerals are exchanged for sodium. Although this eliminates hard water deposits and reduces wear and tear on equipment, you cannot drink the water. The other problem with traditional water softeners is that tons of salt from water softeners are emptied back into water supplies every year, creating water treatment nightmares. Water softeners that use potassium rather than sodium are much more environmentally friendly and much better for your skin. These are available from many water treatment companies.
Magnetic water conditioners
Magnetic technology has developed to the point where magnetic and electromagnetic devices can successfully reduce or eliminate the hard water problems in a home and in a commercial setting. According to a Department of Energy publication, these technologies can be used as a replacement for water-softening equipment.[vii] They are a one-time purchase (often they cost less than a water softener) typically installed on the outside of the incoming water line. There is no maintenance, they are environmentally friendly, and they can provide health benefits by structuring the water. Click here to read more about structured (hexagonal) water.
Magnetic water conditioners work based on the physics of the interaction between a magnetic field and a moving electric charge (the ions in the water). When ions pass through a magnetic field, they are forced to spin. Hard water minerals collide more often and more forcefully. Large particles break up, forming a silty precipitate that is less likely to adhere to pipes or equipment. Hard water minerals are not exchanged as they are when using a water softener; they are not physically removed from the water. However, because they do not collect in pipes and on equipment, there is a considerable savings on heating and cooling costs, as well as easier clean-up of sinks and tubs. The effects on skin in the shower and bath are also noticeable.
Although reverse osmosis (RO) will remove 95 to 98 percent of the calcium, magnesium, and other hard water minerals in water, RO is not a recommended solution for hard water. Hard water will significantly shorten the life of any RO membrane. Many families with hard water (especially where the source of water is a well) use both a water conditioner and a purification system. This removes hard water minerals and maximizes the life of the RO unit.
Organic compounds are those that contain the carbon atom. They are usually associated with living matter (or matter that was once living) such as leaves and other debris that make their way into water. However, a growing list of synthetic organic compounds is being produced by modern technology. Many of these also end up in water. They include pesticides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), trihalomethanes (THMs), pharmaceuticals, and others. Organic compounds (especially those that are synthetic) comprise the longest list of potential water contaminants – in the thousands.
Many of these organic contaminants in water are presumed to increase the risk of various cancers in humans – often after many years of low-level exposure. Others may affect the nervous system, increasing the incidence of diseases like Parkinson’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease; some can cause hormonal disruptions, including infertility and impotency. Still others can cause autoimmune syndromes such as lupus and fibromyalgia. Organic contaminants are even suspected of having a relationship to emotional and sociopathic disorders.
Pesticides are common synthetic, organic contaminants in water. They reach surface and well water supplies from the runoff in agricultural areas. Some pesticides decompose and break down as they perform their function. However, many take years to break down. There is no EPA maximum contamination level for pesticides as a total; each substance must be considered separately. Most go unregulated in water. Activated carbon filtration will remove most pesticides. Reverse osmosis will remove 97 to 99 percent of pesticides.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
The best choice for removing VOCs from water is activated carbon filtration. The adsorption capacity of the carbon will vary with each type of VOC. Reverse osmosis will only remove 70 to 80 percent of the VOCs in the water.
MTBE (Methyl tertiary-butyl ether) is one of the common non-regulated VOCs found in water. It is a gasoline additive that has contaminated drinking water across the country. Made from methanol and from a by-product of the oil-refining process, it was added to gasoline in an attempt to maintain octane ratings during the phase-out of lead in gasoline. It was also intended to make gasoline burn cleaner, but studies show that it has had little effect on curbing air pollution. MTBE is very soluble in water, and it is resistant to biodegradation. It has been found to persist in groundwater for decades – and it has been found in the water in all 50 states.
The EPA considers MTBE to be a potential human carcinogen. Limits have been
Carbon filtration is the best way to remove MTBE. However, the contact time for removal needs to be longer than for most contaminants. This means you will need a larger carbon filter and you will need to pay particular attention to timely filter replacement.
When chlorine reacts with organic matter in water it produces hundreds of chemical by-products, several of which have been proven to be carcinogenic. THMs make up the bulk of these cancer-causing by-products. The level of THMs in water is usually greater in water systems where surface water is the source. Levels vary seasonally with the organic content of the water. THMs are associated with increased risk of bladder and rectal cancer. Even drinking water with low-level THM contamination over a forty – to fifty-year period may increase the risk of cancer. Currently, carbon filtration is the best way to remove THMs and other dangerous chlorine by-products.
Americans take a lot of prescription medications. They take even more over-the-counter drugs. The body absorbs some of these medications, but some of them pass through and are flushed away. Unfortunately, wastewater treatment facilities are not set up to remove drug residues. This means that if you are drinking tap water or using it to cook with, you may be exposed to other people’s medications in your water. Even bottled water (often just filtered tap water) and water from wells may contain drug residues. Medications pose a unique danger because, unlike most pollutants, they are designed to act on the human body at extremely low concentrations. The EPA has set no safety limits for pharmaceuticals in water and admits that there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove them. Officials in Philadelphia said testing discovered fifty-six pharmaceuticals or pharmaceutical by-products in treated drinking water. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or their by-products were found in the city’s watersheds.[viii]
A number of advanced water treatment technologies have been evaluated for their ability to remove or neutralize the most common pharmaceuticals from drinking water. Some drugs, including widely used cholesterol medications, tranquilizers, and anti-epileptic medications, are completely resistant to current municipal wastewater treatment processes. Chlorine is only marginally effective. In fact, there is evidence that the addition of chlorine makes some pharmaceuticals more toxic.[ix] A combination of ozone and ultraviolet (UV) light is quite successful. Ultra-filtration and reverse osmosis offer the most promise for the complete elimination of pharmaceuticals.
Pathogenic bacteria cause illnesses such as dysentery, gastroenteritis, infectious hepatitis, typhoid, and cholera. The most common and undisputed method of removing bacteria from water is chemical oxidation and disinfection. The injection of ozone into a water supply is one form of chemical oxidation and disinfection. Chlorination is another. Reverse osmosis will also remove more than 99 percent of the bacteria in a drinking-water system.
There are more than a hundred types of enteric viruses. The test for coliform bacteria is widely accepted as an indication of whether or not water is safe to drink. Therefore, tests for viruses are not usually conducted. As with bacterial contaminants, chemical oxidation or disinfection is the preferred treatment for viral populations in water. Chlorine, followed by activated carbon filtration, is the most widely used treatment. Ozone or iodine may be utilized as oxidizing agents. Ultraviolet sterilization and distillation are also effective methods for the removal of viruses.
Protozoans, cryptosporidia, and giardia are single-celled organisms that lack a cell wall. They form dormant cysts that are resistant to typical levels of chlorination. Cryptosporidia and giardia cause nausea, abdominal cramps, and low-grade fever. For people with compromised immune systems, an infection can be fatal. Filtration is the most effective treatment for protozoan cysts. Filters rated at 0.5 microns are designed for the removal of protozoans.
Two Ways to Find Out
1. Read the annual water quality report from your municipal water company. Your water company is required by federal law to provide reports listing the measured levels of the most common and/or harmful water contaminants.
2. Test your water. If you have a private water source (well, spring, or surface water), you are responsible for the safety of your home’s water supply.
Water filtration and purification methods
Once you know what is in your water, you can select the type of filtration/purification technology for your needs. If you are looking for broad spectrum filtration, try an activated carbon filter. If bacteria are your concern, consider ultraviolet light. If you have concerns about contaminants that are very small (such as fluoride), purchase a fluoride filter or a reverse osmosis system. The very best water treatment systems on the market today use a combination of technologies to remove as many different types of pollutants as possible. In our toxic environment, several methods are typically required for the purest water possible.
Depending on your needs, there are a number of types of filtration systems available. When your water is treated with chloramines or is fluoridated, get a system that will address these circumstances. Most filters will not routinely filter out these contaminants.
Water filters use substances such as carbon that remove contaminants by keeping them from passing through a physical barrier. Purifiers (reverse osmosis, distillers, and ultraviolet devices), use methods other than filtration to reduce the level of contaminants in water.
Although there are many variations, the current filtration and purification methods for water are listed below. Singly, or in combination, they are incorporated in a wide variety of devices – everything from pitchers to faucet-mounted devices to under-the-counter and whole-home systems. At the very minimum, everyone should use a water purifier in their kitchen for drinking and cooking, and a shower filtration device in the bathroom. Install a whole-home filtration system on the incoming water line to your home, if possible. Maintain your unit on a regular basis and replace filters as recommended.
Reverse osmosis (RO)
Reverse osmosis (RO) draws water through a fine membrane that acts like an extremely fine filter. Pressure must be applied to stop, and then reverse, the osmotic process. It generally takes a lot of pressure and is fairly slow. The RO
Distillation rids water of nearly all impurities-except VOCs. However, the distillation process is very slow. Approximately five gallons of tap water are required to produce one gallon of distilled water.
In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of distilled water’s effects on the balance of minerals in the body. Distilled water, like RO, is highly acidic and aggressive. It has been shown to pull minerals from the piping that water is delivered through. Significant evidence suggests that it does the same thing in the human body. A certain number of dissolved minerals in water serve an important function in supporting the body’s metabolism. Long-term consumption of distilled water may not be in your best interest. If you use distilled or RO water, consider adding some form of ionized mineral complex to the water you drink.
Ceramic water filters come as a cartridge that fits a filtration device. At the core of
Charcoal (carbon) filters
Carbon filters of many different kinds comprise about 95 percent of the filters in use domestically. Carbon filters effectively remove odors, chlorine, and chlorine by-products, VOCs, pesticides, radon, and most biological contaminants (bacteria, viruses, and protozoans). But they do not remove minerals – including fluoride. A carbon block filter is a pressed form of carbon. It will remove heavy metals and most particles down to 0.5 microns in size. Some carbon filters are enhanced by the use of activated nano-silver, which provides extra antibacterial protection. When looking for a carbon filter, make sure it is made of coconut shell carbon rather than carbon from coal. Some carbon filters made in China are made from coal and are contaminated with arsenic.
KDF filters use a granular media for eliminating chlorine and reducing bacteria and for precipitating some heavy metals, like lead. The KDF media works well with hot water and is often used in shower filters and in combination with activated carbon in household filtration systems.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation systems
Ultraviolet (UV) systems use high-frequency light to irradiate water and to kill all living organisms. Although UV is an excellent sterilizing system, it is not recommended as a stand-alone water treatment because it does not reduce other harmful contaminants. It is a good option for providing additional protection when water is filtered by activated carbon or RO.
Which type of Filtration/Purification for you?
Pitcher-type water filters are popular and inexpensive – especially for apartment dwellers – but they are limited in what pollutants they can filter. This type of filter typically uses a simple carbon filter for a broad spectrum of contaminants. Some units offer multistage filtration and water enhancements.
Water filters that are designed to hook to the faucet are a little more convenient but also limited in what they can remove. They usually offer simple carbon filtration with a variety of enhancements, depending on the technology.
Countertop units are a little more sophisticated and can offer multistage filtration for the removal of a wider variety of contaminants.
Under-the-counter filtration units offer multistage filtration for the removal of many types of contaminants. They require plumbing expertise to install in the plumbing line.
Whole-home systems have the greatest potential to provide clean water throughout the house. They are recommended whenever possible. One of the biggest problems with a whole-house filter is neglect. The filtration components of these systems need to be replaced as recommended. Make sure you follow recommended filter changes and other maintenance.
With today’s polluted water, taking long, hot showers can be a health risk. Showering and bathing in contaminated water leads to a greater exposure from toxic chemicals than drinking the water. Individuals can receive six to one hundred times more chemicals by breathing the air during a hot shower or bath. Most shower filters only remove chlorine, chlorine by-products, and a few contaminants. Only those that use vitamin C are capable of neutralizing chloramines.
If you absorb a lot of chlorine standing in a shower, imagine how much more you
Products referred to as Crystal Balls or Bath Balls also remove more than 90 percent of the chlorine from bath water. The balls hang from the bath faucet so that water pours over or through the ball on its way into the tub. These products are designed for use in any bathtub, Jacuzzi, or spa. They typically contain quartz crystals for water softening and a replaceable KDF media that lasts for two hundred to three hundred baths. Place the ball in the tub for a minute or two
Filtration — Best Options
For most people, drinking tap water is not an option. The difficulty lies in identifying what is in your water so that you can select an appropriate technology for contaminant removal. If you are looking for broad spectrum filtration, try an activated carbon filter. If bacteria are your concern, consider ultraviolet light. If you have concerns about contaminants that are very small (such as fluoride), purchase a fluoride filter or a reverse osmosis system. The very best water systems on the market today use a combination of these technologies to remove as many different types of contaminants as possible.
Depending on your needs, there are a number of types of filtration systems available. When your water is either treated with chloramines or is fluoridated, pay special attention to get a system that will address these circumstances. Most filters will not routinely filter out these contaminants.
When it comes to filtering or purifying your water, the best option is to get a high-end filtering system for the entire house. It needs to remove all contaminants (bacteria, heavy metals, fluoride, etc.), not just chlorine. ($1,500-$2,500, on average).
For most people, a good point of use water filter can do the job, but “good” requires several stages and several different kinds of media to remove chlorine, bio-chemicals, drug residues, fluoride, heavy metals, and ultra-small pathogens such as Cryptosporidia. The self-contained filters that mount on your faucet and the popular filter/pitcher combinations won’t remove fluoride and many other types of contaminants. They may improve the taste of the water, but they don’t offer enough contact time for water and the filtering medium. They won’t protect you from all the contaminants in your water.
R/O systems also produce good quality drinking water but you will want to add liquid trace minerals to your water before you drink it. A good water distiller will provide clean water, but you need to be sure it incorporates a venting system and a charcoal filter. And, if you drink distilled water, remember to add liquid trace minerals before you drink it.
Clean water? – What’s the next step?
Once you have clean water, there are many things you can do to re-energize it. Municipal water treatment take its toll on water. When it arrives to your home, it is weak and devoid of energy. One way to enliven your water is to treat it in the Vitalizer Plus.
The Vitalizer Plus uses Nature’s forces (movement and magnetism) to enliven water, giving it oxygen and many healthful qualities that are missing in today’s water. Read about the Vitalizer Plus.
[i] Price, Joseph M. Coronaries/Cholesterol/Chlorine Jove Book, Alta
[ii] Villanueva, C. M. et al. Bladder cancer and exposure to water disinfection
[iii] Plewa, M. J., E.D. et al. Chemical and biological characterization of newly
[iv] San Francisco Water Quality Bureau bench test lab results, memo issued July
[v] Dept of Energy, Non-Chemical Technologies for Scale and Hardness Control, 1998,
[vi] Michaud, C. & Slovak, R. Unpublished report released at the 2009 annual
[vii] Dept of Energy, Non-Chemical Technologies for Scale and Hardness Control, 1998,