Sometime this spring I started wondering "What's in my water?" and it sent me on a research mission. I already knew that we had lead in our water from old pipes - the water runs slightly orange every morning and very orange if we've been gone for a couple days. We had a Brita filter on the kitchen faucet and a PUR water pitcher in the refrigerator for this reason, but I started to wonder about the bigger water filtration systems and what was different about them.
I started by looking at the Brita and PUR websites and what contaminants their filters remove from the water. Brita simply states that "The Brita Faucet Filter removes microbiological cryptosporidium and giardia. It also reduces lead, TTHM, VOCs, lindane (pesticide), 2, 4-D, alachlor, atrazine (herbicide), chlorine (taste and odor) and sediment." PUR provides a more extensive PDF file comparing the different filtration options they offer and what contaminants each removes.
I then looked at other filters - Multi-Pure was one that first caught my attention. The list of contaminants that their filters remove was much longer than Brita or PUR's. You can see the performance data sheet here. Here is some technical data about the contaminants removed by Berkey water filters, another brand I was looking at. As you can see, there are some gaps when you start comparing lists - Brita and PUR just don't remove as much. I wasn't thrilled that there were all of these potential contaminants that could be floating around in my water because my filters weren't strong enough.
I also learned that how the water is filtered can make a difference. One website I was reading called water pitchers and faucet mount pitchers "feel good filters" because the loose carbon particles inside of them can become ineffective. The water creates a path through the carbon particles and therefore doesn't get filtered effectively anymore. The rate of flow through a filter can also affect what is filtered out. Water that is forced through a filter (like a faucet mount filter) at high rates of speed just doesn't get filtered as effectively. Filtration in something like a Berkey water system is designed in such a way that the water is in contact with the filtration media for long periods of time in order to be most efficient at capturing contaminants.
Looking at the different types of water filters, there are a few options that I knew wouldn't work. Reverse osmosis and distillation both remove beneficial minerals from the water and can be wasteful in the amount of water they use or cost a lot in electricity. Bottled water has been found to be no different than tap water and even less regulated (see the EWG research on this here). I've already said that I was unhappy with my faucet mount and pitcher filters.
I also began to wonder if I was making all of this up. I could look at lists of contaminants and choose the most effective filter available... but were all of these contaminants theoretical or was it really something to be worried about? I get a brochure from my water company every year that talks about how clean my water is and explains testing that occurs and that they have not had any violations of standards for clean water.
I eventually came across the Environmental Working Group's National Tap Water Quality Database. According to the EWG report, although a water company may be fully compliant with EPA standards, there were still 141 contaminants with no enforceable safety limits found in our drinking water. Furthermore, I can look up my water company and see a report of exactly what contaminants are in MY drinking water. Its definitely shocking to look at a list of industrial pollutants, water treatment byproducts, and unregulated chemicals that I've been drinking. The EWG Tap Water Database allows you to search by city for your water company and look at the report, click on contaminants, and learn about their health hazards. Comparing the list of what was in my water with the list of what Brita and PUR remove, it was clear that those filters were not doing the job I needed them to do.
Around the time of my research on this topic, I became pregnant with our third child. Being pregnant and having two little ones at home just made this issue all the more important to me. If a toxin is going to affect someone, its going to be the littlest people - my kids, and the tiny person growing inside of me. I'll end part one now and post again later this week with more about which filtration system we chose, cost comparisons I did, and lots more information.