Water is vital to life and necessary for health. And, goodness, are we told to drink up! Getting a cold? Drink some water. Want clearer skin? Drink some water. Trying to lose weight? Drink some water. Stub your toe? Drink some water (OK, so that one is more of a distraction technique).
But while water is inherently healthy, it is an irony of modern times that most tap water is also a significant source of pollutants that are contributing to the increasing prevalence of chronic illness that is rampant in our society today.
So what’s in your water?
The Environmental Working Group recently conducted a three-year study that assessed 20 million drinking water quality tests performed by water utilities since 2004. They found a total of 316 contaminants in water that was supplied to 256 million Americans in 45 different states:
- 97 agricultural pollutants (including pesticides, chemicals in fertilizers, and manure-laden runoff)
- 204 industrial chemicals from factories and consumer products
- 86 contaminants linked to urban areas
- 42 pollutants that are byproducts of the water treatment processes
Of the contaminants, only 114 were subject to government regulation or safety standards as set by the EPA (Environmental protection Agency). Frighteningly, the other 202 were not.
The most common regulated pollutants found in the water samples included:
- Trihalomethanes (chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane): Disinfection byproducts that are associated with damage to DNA and the liver, and elevated risk of cancer.
- Haloacetic acids: Again, disinfection byproducts that are associated with damage to DNA and liver, and elevated risk of cancer.
- Nitrates: Commonly used in agriculture, nitrates convert hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying component of blood) into methemoglobin, which does not carry oxygen as efficiently. This results in a reduced oxygen supply to vital tissues including the brain. This is a particular threat to infants whose developing bodies cannot effectively convert methemoglobin back to hemoglobin. This can result cause “blue baby syndrome” (methemoglobinemia) which can result in brain damage or death.
The most common unregulated pollutants found in the water samples included:
- Bromochloroacetic acid: A disinfection byproduct that was found in the water supplied to 40 million consumers. It induces gene mutations and is associated with damage to DNA.
- Perchlorate: A rocket fuel ingredient that was found in water provided to 26 million people. It disrupts the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones needed for normal growth and development. Interestingly, the EPA considers it a “likely human carcinogen,” yet does not regulate its concentration in drinking water. Hmm.
- MTBE (methyl tert-butyl ether): This gasoline additive that is scheduled to be phased out nationwide was found in water supplied to 12 million people. It is associated with liver and kidney damage, as well as damage to the nervous system.
- Phthalates: These chemicals that are used as plasticizers (ugh, I hate plastic!) and solvents were found in water used by 5 million people. Phthalates have been linked to birth defects and reproductive toxicity. (They’re also rampant in personal care and home cleaning products.)
What’s scarier? The EPA has not set a new drinking water standard since 2001, even though the Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to assess the need for standards for at least five new chemicals every five years. Three-fourths of the current standards were set in the early nineties and have not been updated since.
Fluoridation, to boot
In addition to contaminants, there is something else contaminating our drinking water that is intentionally added: fluoride. 70% of the American water supply is fluoridated. This is essentially mass medication, as the intent of fluoridation is to benefit our dental health. This is not a practice that most other developed countries have not adopted, and growing amount of research suggests that fluoridated water contributes to arthritis, damage to the developing brain of infants and children, reduced thyroid function, and possibly osteosarcoma (bone cancer) in adolescent males. Ironically, it is also the primary cause of dental fluorosis, a discoloration of the teeth that is caused by excessive fluoride intake.
The bottom line
We need to protect ourselves! A water filter is an absolute must. Do your research and find the filter that is right for you. Make sure it eliminates as many pollutants as possible for your price range. Filtered water pitchers are good, but I personally can’t stand the idea of the water sitting in plastic (remember, BPA-free is a load of B(P)S!), so you may opt for a faucet mount filter. But you should know that these are very limited. Reverse osmosis systems are far more effective, and can be installed under your sink.
I splurged for a Berkey (which is a portable tabletop filtration system) and do not regret this investment in my health one bit, not when my credit card bill came in, and certainly not now as I am writing this. In fact, it is probably the smartest purchase I have ever made. I like to think of it as the Bently of water filters, and not just because it starts with a “B” and is so shiny! This video review and this video review (a little nutty but impressive – this baby takes it all out) are what sealed the deal for me. It is also the water filter of doomsday preppers and those guys do not mess around.
This Environmental Working Group Water Filter Buying Guide is a great start on your journey to find the right filter, but the options they provide are limited. In fact, I suggest consulting this guide specifically to see just how few contaminants the cheaper filters eliminate.
- EPA, Drinking Water Contaminants
- Environmental Working Group, National Drinking Water Database
- Scientific American, Perchlorate in Drinking Water Raises Health Concerns
- Fluoride Action Network, Water Fluoridation: Overview