A: When water flows from your faucet into a glass of drinking water, it could be filled with any number of toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, and even toxic byproducts that come from disinfecting the water itself.
Of course, water treatment systems are supposed to filter out these harmful and disgusting substances, yet reports from across the country show that a lot of unwanted substances are slipping through. So it’s not surprising that one of the most frequently asked questions I get is about water filters.
It’s not a simple answer, so here are a few steps I recommend.
Get to Know Your Watershed
Not sure what that is? Here’s a quick video summary.
We all live in a watershed and understanding our source water and surrounding area can help us get more connected to our natural environment, as well as the farms and industry that might impact our water sources.
What’s in Your Water?
Do you know what toxins are in your water? Knowledge is power. You can request a copy of your Consumer Confidence Report (sometimes called a Water Quality Report) from your water company. This annual water report is provided to customers by July 1 each year and will give you details about contaminants that have been detected in your water system. It should come in the mail with your water bill. If you pay your bill online, you should be able to go directly to the water utility’s website and get a copy or request a downloadable PDF. Or you can also use this Tap Water Database from EWG. If you are on well water and are interested in getting your water tested independently, look for an EPA-certified lab. The recommendation for well water is to have it tested yearly.
Befriend Your Water Operators
Yes, just as you might get to know the farmer who grows your food at a local farmers’ market or through your CSA, find out who treats your water. What level of certification do they have? How long have they held the position? Organizations like the American Water Works Association offers additional training and support for operators to expand their knowledge. If you live in a town with water problems, try talking with the folks who run the system and find out if they can get additional training to help fix the problem.
Do Your Research & Match Your Filter To Your Specific Needs
When it comes to water filters, no one type can remove all contaminants, so it’s important not to skip the steps above. Find out what kind of chemicals are in your water and then look for a filtration system that will remove them. For each chemical in the water, it may take a different form of filtration to remove it. You also need to know what the concentration levels are for the contaminants. In Flint, Michigan, the lead levels were so high that any filtration system became clogged in an hour—that’s why the state provided bottled water to so many residents.
Many chemicals are not easy to see, taste, or smell, so don’t go on senses alone. A filtration system might make the water taste better, but that doesn’t mean it has sifted out all the bad players.
Generally, reverse osmosis is a system that removes everything that’s coming in to the water at a low level. If you have just one or two problems, such as issues with chrome-6, lead or ammonia, there are filtration systems that can remove one type of contaminant as well.
You also have to consider cost and clean-up. Prices vary widely depending on whether you choose a pitcher, a faucet attachment, an under-sink system, or a whole house filtration system. With any method, you must make sure you regularly clean your filters.
The CDC offer more tips on home water treatment here.