Tap Into the Truth About Your Water

August 2, 2011

Coast-to-coast I've heard people say "my tap water is fine, the best in the country". While the source may be pure, the end result often is not.

For example, San Francisco's water comes from Hetch Hetchy which is in Yosemite. It's a pristine source, but we aren't drinking from the source. It has to go through plenty of miles of toxicity before it ever comes out of the tap.

Recently, I got a counter top system for my Brooklyn apartment, and about two months later the flow was very slow. The company asked me if I lived in NY, and I asked them how they knew that. Well, it turns out we have the largest amount of dirt and sediment of anywhere in the US. They sent me some new filters and a different attachment to filter sediment. I was grossed out by how filthy the filter was after such a short time.

Then there is the fact that most water is contaminated with pharmaceutical drugs. I doubt your Brita filter is remotely equipped to handle this level of toxicity. Speaking of those pitcher systems, they really don't filter out much. They do improve the taste, but the chlorine or chloramine, fluoride, and heavy metals remain.

So what type of filters do remove contaminants? Well, reverse osmosis gets everything out, but the water is then devoid of beneficial minerals. The RO systems are expensive and they waste a lot of water.

Carbon block filters (like Brita, but bigger) come in many shapes and sizes, and they can remove most contaminants without getting rid of all the minerals. Ceramic pitchers are another effective method.

Check out, Aquasana, Multi-pure, and General Ecology.



Elizabeth's picture

I live in Upstate NY. I lived in Glens Falls for about 12 years. my pur water filters conked out in about 2 months as well. Some less. And I bought the more expensive, blue ones that were supposed to take out a lot more garbage than the average ones.
What about those big ones that you put on to the outside of your home so that all water in the home is filtered first? Those should be good. Yes? My cousin recently moved to a trailer park and her second week in, they had a boil water advisory. The water tastes bad anyway. I suggested she get a large housewide filter. Have any research about those?

Thank you :)

shoshanna levy's picture

Whole house filters are great because they cover the shower. That's another article. CHlorine kills our good bacteria and inhaling the fumes isn't good for us either. Definitely, check into it. I've included some links of good companies.

Ginger Ashdown 's picture

I purchased a steam distiller from WaterWise 2 1/2 years ago. I love it! I wouldn't be without it!

Aaron Ayer's picture

This is a very thin piece that unfortunately stands to misinform.

The tap water in the US IS of very high quality. New York City water is among the very best. What it DOES contain is a comparatively high level of sediment (just grit), which is why filters deployed in NY require a sediment trap less they get expended very quickly - the sediment blocks the water flow. What NY water lacks is any material content of dangerous contaminant.

If you want actual information about the content of your water, go to www.ewg.org. There you can find testing results for every municipal water district in the country. But be careful in your interpretation - because you WILL read of chemicals in the water. They're always there, but in minute concentrations. Very rarely of actual concern.

The benefits of our public water system are that formal testing is required - as is disclosure. The "pure water" that Poland Springs, Deer Park and the like market has no testing requirements, is as often as not simply filtered tap water, and under testing stands up no better (in fact, often worse) than the publicly available test results demonstrate for tap water. And bottled water is an environmental disaster.

Tap water often does not taste particularly good, usually as a result of the chlorination used to bar bacterial growth. That's why we use filters - though, because of the fear media articles about contamination are able to incur in the bulk of the population without the specific background to understand the real lack of danger, we actually think we're using them to protect us.

There are three types of filtration available. Activated carbon (basically, finely ground charcoal), reverse osmosis, and distillation. Easy way to think about it: AC traps contaminants, RO blocks them, and distillation leaves them behind.

Be aware that different filters have different levels of efficacy, but NONE of them "block everything". Complete fallacy. They only reduce levels of contaminants to various degrees.

AC is very widely used. It's inexpensive and effective enough for most purposes. The activated carbon adsorbs (or makes molecules stick to it's surfaces), and is particularly effective with organic molecules that lead to off tastes. Please note, they are NOT "block filters" - they're fine powder.

RO works by forcing water through micron-sized pores in a plastic membrane. Contaminants stay behind in the "brine", which has to be drained. Typically more than a gallon of brine goes to the drain for every gallon used. RO is great at blocking inorganic contaminants - heavy metals - but not so great at inorganics (benzene, toluene, etc.). It is also damaged and broken down by chlorine in the water, so it requires an AC pre-filter to protect it.

Distillation works by boiling water - H2O rises in steam, contaminants remain behind in the brine and are drained. Distilled water can be of the highest purity of any method. But it's slow and uses a looooot of energy to boil that water. Some contaminants are always carried over in the steam - nothing's perfect. Since hot water holds little absorbed gas, distilled water can be very flat-tasting.

Whole-house filters are sometimes required, but are a very expensive and wasteful option. You certainly don't need to filter your toilet water. The amount of water in one toilet flush is equivalent to a lot of glasses of water.

We do not need to live in fear of our water supply; it's not rational, nor is it scientifically supported.

Filter your water for taste. Filter it if you're actually in an area with water concerns - they do exist. But never buy bottled water unless you're under a tap-water drinking ban.

Katherine's picture

Nice post Aaron.

You wrote-"Filter your water for taste. Filter it if you're actually in an area with water concerns - they do exist. But never buy bottled water unless you're under a tap-water drinking ban".

Great advice! The US water supply is considered to have some of the cleanest water on earth. This article shows the troublesome states that still need improvement. The water supply is much better than it was before 1970. http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/translating-uncle-sam/stories/how-polluted-is-us-drinking-water.

I would certainly use filters if I was pulling my own well water or lived in a state with known issues. Before I invested in expensive water filtration for my home I would ask for a water analysis from my water utilities and then decide if it is really worth it.

The home filters are not without risk either. If you are not fastidious about changing the filters the water may be of a lesser quality than the original tap water.