Tens of millions of Americans filter the tap water they drink. Those that don’t may question the importance of water filtration. The assumption is that our tap water has undergone treatment, so filtration is an unnecessary step as homeowners believe they have clean water. However, there are steps that can be taken to improve the quality of your water much further.
Do you need a water filtration home system? While it is true that municipal water suppliers treat the water that they pipe through their systems, those treatment methods don’t capture all of the contaminants that are in the water. Meaning, their water is not the cleanest water to drink. The chemicals used to treat the water may pose a health risk, and aging water delivery systems can also be a source of contamination.
Minimizing the risk of drinking contaminated water requires understanding precisely what contaminants are contained in your water and adopting a filtration method or multiple filtration methods that will capture and remove those contaminants.
If you receive your water from a municipal or community water supplier, your water undergoes several treatments before it reaches your house. In theory, the tap water flowing in your home should have had many of the most harmful contaminants removed. There are even regulatory structures in place to ensure that this occurs, the most notable of which is the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
The SDWA was a landmark regulation that sought to create a set of health standards for owners and operators of community water supplies. The SDWA outlined standards and placed enforcement of those standards under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Currently, the EPA has limits on over 90 contaminants that may be found in drinking water. Public water agencies must adhere to those limits, as well as follow the schedule and methods for water testing provided by the EPA. It is worth noting that states can enact drinking water regulations as well, provided the regulations are at least as strict as the EPA standards.
Given the length of time that the SDWA has been in place and the wide scope of the regulations, it might seem unlikely that contaminated water would continue to be piped to our homes and businesses. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.
A fairly recent study found that between 3-10% of community water systems violate the standards for drinking water. While that number may seem insignificant, it was found to affect between 9-45 million people each year between 1982 – 2015.
The most notable violations of drinking water quality are noteworthy in their scale. The crisis in Flint, Michigan during 2014 – 2015 captured the nation’s attention. As residents believed they were receiving quality, filtered, drinkable tap water, the people of Flint were exposed to many contaminants. Flint residents were exposed to extremely high levels of lead, as well as by-products of water disinfection, E. Coli, and Legionella bacteria. These issues with Flint could have been avoided if people were provided drinkable filtered tap water; however, due to poor water purification regulations, they were burdened to drink many harmful substances.
But the size and scope of the water crisis in Flint shouldn’t obscure the fact that water quality violations are much more widespread than most people think, even if they occur on a smaller scale. A 2019 study by the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that the water for 7.5 million residents in California being served by community water systems contained levels of Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that exceeded safe levels outlined by independent studies. Even using the EPA’s thresholds, nearly 40% of the water suppliers had samples that exceeded the regulatory thresholds for these manmade chemicals.
There are many more examples of similar violations, which makes it clear that while the majority of water provided by community water suppliers in the United States has undergone treatment, violations are widespread and unlikely to be detected in real-time.
The best home water filtration systems are capable of removing many of the contaminants that may have been missed by municipal water treatment. If the number of contaminants in your water suddenly rises, as long as you are using a filtration system, your water will be consistently clean. If you don’t get your water from a community water supplier and instead get it from a well, a residential water filtration system will also help remove contaminants that may be contained in your water.
Let’s take a look at the most common contaminants that residential water filters can remove.
VOCs are chemicals that dissolve into water, often giving water an unpleasant taste or odor. These chemicals are commonly used in a variety of products, from glues and paints to gasoline, carpet, electronics, and refrigeration units. Some of the hygiene products we use daily, like lotions and deodorants also contain VOCs. The widespread use of VOCs in industrial and commercial products and applications lead to their widespread presence in our nation’s water supplies.
Concerns about VOCs are particularly relevant when water is drawn from a private well. Tests of different aquifers within the United States, from which hundreds of wells draw water, found that VOCs were found in 90 of 98 aquifers across the country. VOCs have been detected most frequently in California, Nevada, Florida, New England, and the Mid-Atlantic States.
VOCs can be harmful to your health. They have been linked to a variety of health effects, including increased risk of certain types of cancers, damage to the nervous system, kidneys, liver, and irritation of the skin and mucous membranes.
Heavy metals like lead are a serious source of concern in our nation’s drinking water. Lead can enter the water supply through the pipes and plumbing carrying water to and through your house. The acidity and mineral content of water plays a large role in whether or not it leaches lead from the plumbing it passes through.
Other heavy metals can be picked up by water as it moves through soil and stone, and are a contributing factor to water hardness. Arsenic is one such metal, which naturally occurs in soil and is a particular concern for those who get their water from private wells. Exposure to elevated levels of arsenic can increase the risk of developing certain types of cancers, change your skin coloration, decrease the production of white and red blood cells, and cause nausea and vomiting.
There are several chemical agents used by public water suppliers to reduce waterborne pathogens. The most common disinfecting agents are chlorine and bromine. The use of these chemicals drastically reduced the rate of illness from waterborne pathogens, but it carries with it other risks.
When chlorine and bromine are added to water, they react with organic material in the water to form DBPs. The most common of these DBPs are chloroform, which was also the most common VOC found in aquifers in the United States. DBPs can be absorbed when you drink water, or through your skin when you take a shower. If you take hot showers, you’ll absorb more DBPs through your skin than you will by drinking water.
As a whole, there isn’t enough research to definitively assess the risk that DBPs pose to our health. They are currently classified as “possible human carcinogens” that are potentially harmful to human health.
Given the fact that most municipal water suppliers treat the water in their system with chemicals to kill waterborne pathogens, you might think that the risk of developing a microbial illness from your tap water is nonexistent. While relatively rare, illness from waterborne pathogens still occurs. It is estimated that over 16 million cases of acute gastroenteritis occur each year in the United States from contaminants contained in public water supplies.
Microbes include bacteria, viruses, and protozoans. Bacteria can include E. Coli, Legionella, and Salmonella. Common viruses found in drinking water are Norwalk Virus and rotavirus. Protozoans found in water include Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Waterborne pathogens typically cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which are not usually life-threatening in healthy adults.
Water filtration systems are highly effective at reducing the number of contaminants in your water, but it is important to understand that different filtration systems are effective at removing different contaminants. Because of this, the first step you should take is to get your water tested by a water quality specialist.
Understanding what contaminants are in your water can help guide you towards the right filtration system for your needs. The benefits of water filtration system depend largely on which type of filtration method or methods the system uses.
Water softening systems are highly effective at removing minerals and heavy metals that contribute to water hardness. Reverse-osmosis systems are effective at removing microbes, sediment, heavy metals, arsenic, and some chemicals. Activated carbon filters are effective at removing VOCs that give water a poor taste and smells, as well as DBPs, chlorine, and bromine.
Many water filtration systems use multiple filtration methods to capture a broad array of contaminants.
The benefits of water filtration are numerous. While the majority of water passing through community water systems has been treated, violations of water quality regulations persist. If these violations do occur they are often not caught in real-time. Even where no violations occur, the chemicals used in water treatment can react with organic material in the water to form possibly carcinogenic compounds.
Water filtration eliminates the worries that chemicals, microbes, and heavy metals in our water pose. Many water filtration systems use multiple filtration methods to capture a greater number of contaminants. The result is water that has substantially fewer contaminants than the tap water that is piped into your house.
The best way to understand which filtration systems is right for you is by having your water tested by a water specialist at Rayne. A water test will tell you what contaminants are in your water, which can help guide you towards the right systems and filtration methods you need to ensure your water is free of contaminants.