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Water ~ it is what you can’t see that may damage your health

By Tammera J. Karr, PhD

How much time have you spent thinking about water?

If you are a rancher, farmer or avid gardener, odds are more than the average person. As I drove down the North Umpqua following several days of down pouring rain on snow, I thought about the milk chocolate water and gave thanks for how clean my home area watershed is, despite the turbidity of spring runoff.

This isn’t the case in many areas of not only my home state but of many regions of the world, especially the continental USA. These turbulent waters from natural and manmade events, often times carry chemicals, that are far from friendly to all health. In areas with mining the levels of cadmium, mercury and arsenic are often well above safe levels. Naturally occurring sulfur, iron, copper, phosphorus, sodium, zinc and uranium, are also present in runoff water used for municipal drinking water. [1]

In our efforts to keep or regain health we fall short of the goal if we neglect to address water contamination in our daily lives. The human body is made up of 60% water, the brain and heart are composed of 73%  water and the lungs about 83% water. Our health depends on clean water – water clear of prescription drugs, petroleum, agriculture runoff, and heavy metals.

Most of us turn on the tap, and the flow rushes forth in hot, cold or between, based on our manual adjustment of the knobs. The convenience of free-flowing clear water in our homes and places of business is an overlooked and undervalued resource that makes life possible. Tap water provides valuable minerals in the diet dependent on where you live and the age of the municipal water plant and infrastructure. [2]  Seldom do we think about what is in our water, it looks clear and smells of chlorine if it is city water or if it is well water it may have no odor or a slight sulfur smell from bacteria or minerals. The World Health Organisation report on “Essential Nutrients in Drinking Water.” states in the Introduction: [3]

 

Chemical composition of drinking water also depends on the contaminating effects of industry, human settlements, agricultural activities and water treatment and distribution.

Leaching of minerals from metal components used in water treatment plants and plumbing materials occurs when ph and hardness of water are not adjusted. Some of the main sources of dissolved metals include: for cu- copper or brass plumbing system; fe- cast iron, steel, and galvanized plumbing system; zn- zinc galvanized pipes; ni- chromium-nickel stainless plumbing system; pb- derived from tin-lead or lead solder; and for cd- as an impurity in zinc galvanized pipes or cadmium containing solders.

Essential Nutrients in Drinking Water – World Health Organization

 

Clear water especially if there is a slight chlorine smell, induces us to believe the water is “clean” free of contamination. Yet the reality is far different as the residents of many cities across America have learned, Flint Michigan is just one of what is a growing list of towns with contaminated drinking water. Thousands of residents of Nebraska will be facing water contamination for months and possibly longer due to the devastating floods of 2019.

But I drink only bottled water, so I’m good – you might say….

First, let’s look at the “Raw Water” movement in some parts of the US. Yes, you read that right, it isn’t a typo. While doing research for this article, I came across The Strategist site and an article by Maxine Builder titles “Is There Anything Wrong With Tap Water (and What You Should Buy to Filter It)?” Until reading this article, I had been blissfully ignorant to the virtues and cost of “raw water.”

According to the author: “The raw-water trend really stems from a concern about chemicals in municipal tap-water supplies. As the founder of Live Water, the company bottling and marketing this untreated, unfiltered water, told the New York Times, “Tap water? You’re drinking toilet water with birth control drugs in them … Chloramine, and on top of that they’re putting in fluoride. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but it’s a mind-control drug that has no benefit to our dental health.” And his fellow raw-water acolytes agree”.

Ok here is the deal, there are countless parasites and pathogens found in water, Giardiasis or commonly called beaver fever is found in mountain ponds, springs, streams and depressions here in the Pacific Northwest, California, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Colorado. Giardia, along with cholera, typhoid fever, cryptosporidium, and bacillary dysentery are the fun-filled illnesses available to unsuspecting hikers who do not use suitable water treatment or filtration when collecting water. [4]  In response to the growing “Raw Water” trend, food-safety experts are flagging all the disturbing substances in the natural water supply including, but not limited to, animal feces and the parasite giardia.

Bottled water is far from perfect and contributes to the growing mountain of plastic refuse that is not recycled. Bottled water may also be a leading cause of chemical contamination from PCB’s, PBDEs, BPA, and Polyethylene Terephthalate associated with reproductive problems including miscarriage, increased cancer risk, attention and cognition problems. Growing awareness of what constituents of drinking water have adverse effects on health, consumption of tap water in North America has decreased, and bottled water use has increased. [5], [6], [7], [8]

“Almost all commercially available plastic products we sampled—independent of the type of resin, product, or retail source—leached chemicals having reliably detectable estrogenic activity, including those advertised as bpa free. In some cases, bpa-free products released chemicals having more estrogenic activity than did bpa-containing products.”

Environ Health Perspect. Jul 1, 2011

The National Toxicology Program, a division of the National Institutes of Health, says it has “some concern” about potential BPA exposures to the brains and prostate glands of fetuses, infants and children.

 

Water Filter manufactures advertise on their labels the sweet, clear water taste or the reduced contamination of chlorine. If you’ve ever used a pitcher-style water filter, it probably adjusted the taste and odor — the most noticeable of which is often chlorine.  On a review of several market places, it is easy to locate multiple varieties of water filter pitchers, bottles, straws, containers and countertop units, most contain only one filtration medium – charcoal.  Activated charcoal (AC) removes chlorine, and the taste, TTHM’s, some pesticides. According to Purdue University; “Activated carbon (AC) filters primarily remove taste and odors in-home water treatment systems. Taste and odor, although undesirable, are generally not considered health risks. In recent years, AC filters have been used to remove some of the contaminants discovered in water supplies”.

AC effectively removes volatile organic compounds, pesticides, and benzene. It can also remove some metals and radon. As with any treatment system, it cannot eliminate all possible drinking water contaminants.  AC systems are limited in the types of compounds they can effectively remove as single stage filters. The homeowner must determine which water contaminants are present before purchasing such a system. If you suspect a water quality problem, first, have your water analyzed by the local health department or a reputable laboratory.

Where a standard drugstore water filter won’t help you is when you’re trying to remove heavy metals from your water. Under the counter and whole house filtration systems promise the removal of chlorine, chloroform, inorganic arsenic, TTHM’s Trihalomethanes, Lead, PCB’s, pesticides, herbicides, and mercury. But how effective are they?

A reverse-osmosis (RO) system works best for removing fluoride, there are some downsides to using this kind of home water filter. [9] Reverse-osmosis systems are expensive and require installation under the sink.  Additionally, RO systems remove all minerals from water, demineralized water is “not considered ideal drinking water,” according to the World Health Organization, due to the loss of essential minerals like calcium or magnesium. [10]

For those with concerns over the drug and chemical contamination in drinking water, there are multi-stage systems that can be used in RV’s, Homes, and Offices that are affordable. We selected an Enviro 10 stage plus water filter for our RV this spring, after being on a job site with fouled city water due to area flooding. The unsavory flavor of the water was still present after passing through one AC filter at the connection.

The problem is many chemicals like benzine aerosol when heated making it easy for us to absorb them through respiration in showers, so even though we had a recommended water filter in place, this reminded me of all the chemicals and pathogens AC does not remove.

Most of the troublesome sediments, dust, and chemicals in the source water can be removed before they reach your house plumbing. With the help of a quality whole house water filtration system, you are able to shower, cook, and clean with as clean of water as possible living in metropolitan urban or rural areas. It is essential to do your research and have your water tested before investing thousands of dollars in whole home water filtration systems. By knowing what kind of water you have (hard or soft) and what needs to be filtered out you can save money by not falling into the trap of overkill. That said, never ever ever go for the cheapest when it comes to your health. As of the writing of this column, the Aquasana EQ-1000 received the best overall ratings for whole house filtration.

While modern technology may not be up to the task of removing prescription drugs from city water supplies, a quality home water filtration system will ensure you have reduced the volume as much as humanly possible.

So now when you think about water, consider what you need to do to ensure you and your family are getting the best water possible.

It isn’t what you can see in the water; it is what you can’t see that may damage your health.

 

Sources

[1] Chemicals and Minerals found in Drinking Water

[2] The Mineral Content of US Drinking and Municipal Water  

[3] Comparison of the Mineral Content of Tap Water and Bottled Waters

[4] Water Microbiology. Bacterial Pathogens and Water

[5] Polyethylene Terephthalate: The Safety of Bottled Water By Jill Culora

[6] Most Plastic Products Release Estrogenic Chemicals: A Potential Health Problem That Can Be Solved

[7] BPA Exposure in the NICU

[8] BPA Exposure shows Transgenerational Effects on Reproductive Health

[9] The effects of water filtration systems on fluoride: Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

[10] Health Risks From Drinking  Demineralised Water

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