Every day, millions of people all over the world mindlessly turn water faucets on and off, unaware of what goes into making sure that this vital element of life is made possible to us. However, many places throughout the world are not as fortunate to have this luxury of water being delivered to every home and business. As fortunate as we are in the United States to have advanced water systems, it is a sad fact that the quality of our water supply is decreasing due to the amounts of toxins, wastes, and chemicals coming into contact with our water. As a result, more and more treatments are needed in order “clean” the water supply here in the U.S., many times at the expense of our health. While I am grateful to live in a developed nation with such resources available, I am also extremely concerned with the quality of those resources and how they can adversely impact my health and the health of my family. Without water, we would not be able to sustain life, as the human body is composed of mostly water and it requires more water for nearly all of its functions. To digest and eliminate, the body requires water. Anything else doesn’t do what water can do. In fact, most of the time instead of drinking water, people drink sodas, coffee, alcohol, energy drinks, which can all cause dehydration in the body (amongst other unhealthy reactions)…and definitely should not be the model set for our children.
If we don’t drink enough water, the body can’t properly flush the kidneys or liver, the colon can’t properly move waste and bowels, and this allows the body to retain the unhealthy toxins it takes in. As waste remains too long in the human body, this allows for more time to reabsorb the toxins back into the bloodstream and thus circulate these harmful chemicals to every organ in the body. Water is required for digesting and expelling everything, including the alternative beverages one may choose to drink. Therefore, it is extremely important that the water we put into our bodies is as clean and pure as possible.
For those people who do make an effort to drink as much water as possible, the right type of water may not be chosen. I was always one of those kids in the summertime that drank out the hose in our yard whenever I got thirsty. I never thought twice about it, and neither did my parents. The water always tasted clean and refreshing. Nowadays, if my son wanted to drink out of the hose, I would probably have a minor panic attack before I rushed to grab it out of his mouth. “What’s the big deal?” I often get asked. “Tap water is safe because the government is watching it, right?” I’d have to honestly say no to that one. There are more than 80 “regulated” contaminants and more unregulated toxins, like the rocket fuel component perchlorate which are present in most tap water. Our house is now armed with numerous water filters attached to showers, kitchen faucets, and water filters we then filter filtered water with. On some occasions, I even buy distilled water from a water store that ultra purifies drinking water. This may sound extreme and crazy, but I’d rather make sure that the element we ingest in great quantities throughout the day is as free from potentially hazardous materials. Some people exclusively drink bottled water thinking that that is the safest alternative, but it many cases, it’s not. Just because water comes in a bottle and it cost money at the store does not guarantee that it’s free from the toxins I am about to speak of. While many bottled waters are of high quality, you still have to read the fine print. Many times, deceptive labeling goes on even in the bottled water industry. If you’re going to drink the bottled water, then you have to do the research. Review the label closely, and check out the manufacturer as well. Do your best to find out if they have satisfactory standards.
So, without further ado, what are these “hazardous” materials I speak of? Well, here’s a run-down of common things that pop up in public water supplies, despite being heavily treated. Most water contains arsenic, fluoride, chlorine and a host of other unhealthy toxins. So when we drink it, we are actually ingesting water that contains a mixture of toxic, poisonous chemicals that wind up overburdening our bodies rather than cleansing our system. The following information is provided by Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND:
Arsenic is a very toxic heavy metal classified by the International Academy for Research on Cancer (IARC) as a Category I carcinogen, which means it is definitely a cancer-causing agent. Arsenic occurs naturally in the environment, but humans have a hand in its presence as well. The EPA set the acceptable standard for arsenic at 10 parts per billion in tap water. Several US states in the Midwest, New England, and western area exceed this standard from time to time.
This may cause a great debate, and I am not trying to make those of you out there who use fluoride for your families feel like you are criminals. Recent studies state that one of the most toxic substances we know of is fluoride, which is found in almost all brands of toothpaste. Many studies show that it’s added even though there is limited data to support its effectiveness in the fight against tooth decay (and many individuals debate this issue, which is fine….everyone has different views on this topic). Today, you can find fluoride in bottled water, and even baby formula. Tap water is actually fluoridated, meaning it’s added to water deliberately, which angers some people, as they consider it (based on test results) as poisonous as arsenic is, and more toxic than lead. This substance is considered so toxic in some areas that the fluoridation process has been banned in several countries. Even some U.S. cities have started rejecting the process of fluoridation since 1990.
Chlorine is added to water to kill certain bacteria. This chemical can be inhaled in gas form and absorbed through the skin, and therefore presents a danger even if you’re present in the room with it, to say nothing of drinking it. Once in the human body, it bonds with other compounds to form Trihalomethanes (THMs). These byproducts trigger the production of free radicals in the body and cause serious cell damage. In one research study, chlorine and chloramine was added to rats’ water supply and as a result, the rats developed tumors in the liver, kidneys, and intestines. Even after this study, which shows some of the dangers possible, the government continues to provide chlorinated drinking water to the public.
More importantly, chlorine has recently been associated with problems of eczema and thyroid function in individuals, especially children, as their systems are much more fragile and susceptible to reactions. My entire life, I suffered from eczema and thyroid problems. Coincidental that I was a swimmer my entire life, immersed in highly-chlorinated water for hours a day and then bathing in chlorinated bath water at home? I since have been using a water filter on my shower head, which has made my skin the best I have experienced in years.
Cyanobacteria and Cyanotoxins (source: Environmental Protection Agency)
The cyanotoxins included in the most recent CCL are produced by several species of cyanobacteria (cyanobacteria are known as blue-green algae). The most widespread of the cyanotoxins are the peptide toxins in the class called microcystins. There are at least 80 known microcystins, including Microcystin-LR, which is generally considered one of the most toxic. More than a dozen countries (including Canada, Brazil, New Zealand, and Australia) have developed regulations or guidelines for microcystins in drinking water and recreational waters. Most of the drinking water guidelines are based on the World Health Organization provisional value for drinking waters of 1.0 µg/L microcystin-LR. No federal regulatory guidelines for cyanobacteria or their toxins in drinking water or recreational waters exist at this time in the United States.
Check out more info on microorganisms in the water supply in the EPAs report here: http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/criteria/nutrients/upload/cyanobacteria_factsheet.pdf
Chemicals Used in Municipal Water Treatment
How water is actually “cleaned” requires treatment from many chemicals, which seems counter-intuitive. In many cases, the water winds up with more substances in it when it’s ready to be piped out to our homes and businesses than before it came into the plant. In areas where water is in shortage (like desert areas or highly populated areas where rainfall is not frequent), the treatment requires even more chemicals, and these build up over time. When we lived in Monterey, CA, our water readings out of the tap read 890 parts per million!!! (for comparison, the readings of water at my family’s home in Naples, FL was 121 parts per million). I recall our water in California smelling like I was standing on the pool deck at swim practice, there was so much chlorine and God-knows-what-else in it. Check out this document to see what chemicals are routinely used to “clean” your water:
The newest acknowledgment of prescription drugs in waterways is one more toxin added to an already contaminated water supply. More concerning is the fact that prescription medications are not easily filtered. The drugs are not present in large quantities, but they are a contaminant. This means you may be ingesting them continuously over a period of years and we don’t yet know what the long-term effects of such intake will be. Studies are showing that the effects are already manifesting in fish (male fish producing female egg yolk proteins) and even earthworms and zooplankton. Antibiotics, for example, are less and less effective as treatments for ailments in humans, due to excessive prescribing practices. Bacteria have the ability to adapt to the antibiotics. Antibiotics in open water give bacteria more time to mutate. In America, traces of drugs are found in nearly every source of drinking water, including:
- Bottled drinking water – many bottlers do not test water for drugs right now and many just repackage tap water.
- Well-water – people dig these under the mistaken belief that this is a safe way to collect the most healthful drinking water.
- Home filtration systems – most don’t filter everything and they can get contaminated with drug residue.
- Aquifers which are deep underground water systems – they supply us with 40% of our drinking water in the United States and are also becoming effected in rural areas.
Other Dangers in Your Drinking Water (as reported from Dr. Mercola)
As reported in New Scientist, a comprehensive survey of U.S. drinking water reveals that your drinking water is also likely laced with a wide variety of pharmaceuticals and hormonally active chemicals. The 11 most frequently detected compounds were:
- Atenolol, a beta-blocker used to treat cardiovascular disease
- Atrazine, an organic herbicide banned in the European Union which has been implicated in the decline of fish stocks and in changes in animal behavior
- Carbamazepine, a mood-stabilizing drug used to treat bipolar disorder
- Estrone, an estrogen hormone secreted by the ovaries and blamed for causing gender changes in fish
- Gemfibrozil, an anti-cholesterol drug
- Meprobamate, a tranquilizer used in psychiatric treatment
- Naproxen, a painkiller and anti-inflammatory linked to increases in asthma incidence
- Phenytoin, an anticonvulsant used to treat epilepsy
- Sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic
- TCEP, a reducing agent used in molecular biology
- Trimethoprim, another antibiotic
Your best bet for ensuring your water does not contain DBPs and various pharmaceutical agents is to filter your own water, at home, using a reverse osmosis filter. While installing a filter to purify your drinking water is a wise decision, as it will eliminate virtually all of the drugs and DBPs, it may not be enough. Your skin absorbs both water and chemicals — as illustrated in the study on swimming pool contamination and cancer risk mentioned above – so you could still be exposing yourself to dangerous levels of contaminants when you:
- Shower or bathe
- Wash your hands
- Wash laundry
- Rinse fruits and vegetables
- Wash dishes, glasses, and other utensils
The biggest risk here is your shower. You can easily absorb as many toxins in one shower as you would by drinking tap water all week long.
Filters I Use
With many options available for you to choose to help make your water cleaner for drinking, bathing, and household use, here are a few that I have tested and even use in my home:
Shower/Bath: Aquasana; it’s easy to install and helps cut out many contaminants, namely reduce levels of chlorine (which helps with members of the house who have sensitive skin).
Drip Filters (Ones you add water to in order to filter, like a Brita): ZERO water filters work great at removing all particles (as shown with the tester it comes with [and it’s accurate]), but it tends to need to have the filter changed often because it removes ALL particles. I have used a Brita AFTER I get water from my tap once it’s passed through our 15-stage tap filter. Some people like PUR tap or canister filters. I’ve never used this brand, so I can’t comment from experience.
Tap Filters: New Wave Enviro – this is easy to install right to your tap and it’s a 10 stage filter that lasts for a decent amount of time before the filter needs to be changed. We have used one for several years now and have been happy with the results. There are also versions that can be installed for under-the-sink use so a filter is not taking up space on your counter.
Home Filter Systems: Rather than have individual filters hooked up to every faucet in your home, many people opt for a home treatment system that works from the main water pipe/water heater coming into your home and filters to all points in your home. This is a more expensive option, but one that is worth it if you decide upon it. I have not used one from experience, but there are some great reviews online for a system that would work for you.
Many people ask about the filters built-in to refrigerators. Personally, I think these are limited with what they filter out and the fact that the water sits in the water line until it is used concerns me, as it can promote bacterial growth, etc. I have run tests on various refrigerator filters and found that they do not remove many particles, so do not rely on these alone.
Distilled Water: For drinking, some people feel your best bet is distilled water (preferably from a water purification “store” where none of the water is stored, especially in plastic jugs). Distillation removes ALL particles. I myself drink distilled water as often as I can, but I add liquid trace minerals, as these are essential and normally found in natural water sources.