By Sara Russell, Ph.D., FNTP, CGP
Our bodies are about 65% water, and water is an important component of every cell! Making sure you drink and cook with clean water will safeguard your health and improve the taste and nutritional value of your foods and drinks. It’s especially important to avoid common contaminants in water if you are planning a pregnancy, are expecting a baby, or are preparing food for a baby or child. People with digestive disorders, immune dysfunction, poor absorption of nutrients, skin problems, and autoimmune or chronic illnesses should be particularly careful about the water they drink.
Recent events, such as the news of lead contamination in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water have brought a new level of awareness to the issue, where previously the public may have been more trusting. The information in this post is provided to educate and empower you to find solutions, not to create fear. So, please read it through this lens and don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at [email protected]
What’s in tap water?
There are numerous contaminants in tap water that can adversely impact health at every stage of life, as well as reduce fertility in both men and women. Fetal health and child development can also be impacted by these compounds. Below are a handful of the chemicals present that may be present in your water.
Common contaminants found in city water supplies:
- Pharmaceutical residues, including hormones from birth control pills.
- Fluoride, which can compete with iodine for uptake in the body, thus suppressing the production of thyroid hormone. Fluoride is a concern for many individuals and families as it’s incredibly toxic to the body and is particularly damaging to a developing fetus.
- Chlorine and chloramines
- Pesticides and herbicides, including atrazine and glyphos
- Chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Look up your area on the fracking map to assess your area’s risk.
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
The Environmental Working Group has launched a resource for consumers to learn more about their tap water. If you live in the US, you can enter your zip code to get started with a search. They also make recommendations for water filters based on the contaminants found in your water. We’ll discuss more on filtration later in this blog post.
Common problems with well water
Depending on whether your well is privately or publicly owned and managed, well water may or may not have issues with microbial contamination. Some well water has levels of certain metals and minerals that may exceed the safe daily reference doses. Some of these metals/minerals are arsenic, lithium, manganese, and lead. I recommend testing of well water once or twice per year.
A short note on pipes
Regardless of whether you have city water or well water, residues from your pipes may leach into your drinking water. This is particularly true if you live in an older and non-renovated home, as lead may be present in the pipes and/or soldering. If you have an older home, it’s extremely important to test your tap water for lead. Lead can reduce fertility and increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. In babies and children, lead can interfere with cognitive development and increase behavioral problems. Today, pipes are often made of copper or PVC.
Clean water options
The two main options for people with city water are using water filters and buying either spring water or filtered water. I recommend testing your home’s water so you can act accordingly. What type of testing is appropriate for your water depends on where you live and what type of water is supplied in your home. Most cities have labs that will be able to at least check the potability of your water, and such a test may show levels of arsenic, calcium, copper, iron, lead, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, ammonia, chloride, chlorine, and fluoride, as well as hardness, nitrate, odor, pH, sediment, and sulfate. Be aware that many labs do not test for pharmaceuticals present in water.
Which water filter is best for me?
My bottom-line advice for those looking to purchase a filter is to find one that matches your context rather than relying solely on reviews and reports. What works well in one context may not work well for you. The information and resources in this section are intended as a starting point, and ultimately the question isn’t “which filter should I buy?” but “is my situation best matched to bottled water or a filtration system? And, what bottled water or filtration system is the best fit?”
The Environmental Working Group has a very helpful guide for choosing water filters. It allows you to find a water filter that removes the contaminants present in your water. Independent testing suggests that some filters, unfortunately, increase, rather than decrease, select toxic elements in water. This is especially true of aluminum—it is decreased by some systems and increased in others, and in some cases increased drastically. Lead is also increased in some of the filters tested.
To ensure your chosen filter supplies you and your family with the clean water you deserve, make sure you contact the companies whose filtration systems you are considering. Ask specific questions, such as under what conditions their filters have been tested. The pH of your tap water, for example, may negatively affect the system’s performance, regardless of the quality of the product itself.
On a related note, ensure that the company allows for returns if the product is found to underperform. I recommend running a test of your tap water and of the filtered water as soon as possible after your purchase to assess your filter’s actual performance in your home.
Factor in the cost of replacement cartridges or other more hidden costs (water wasted, electricity used, if applicable, etc.) into your budgeting. There’s an initial cost involved in purchasing the unit but also an ongoing cost involved in keeping the filter functioning.
If you do not have a whole-house filter, it may be a good idea to get a shower and/or bath filter so you are washing in clean water rather than soaking up chlorine through your skin and respiratory tract.
What are the best bottled water options?
The main alternative to purchasing a filter is purchasing spring water or filtered water. If you are purchasing water in bottles or jugs, spring water is preferable to filtered water. Any filtered water on the market is only as good as the filter used. In the long term, it is worth testing any brand(s) of filtered water you plan to use.
Do your best to obtain spring water from a trusted source, preferably in glass bottles or jugs. Many people enjoy the convenience of a spring water delivery system. You can also reference the wonderful website www.findaspring.com to find a natural spring near your home.
Whether you purchase spring water or filtered water, consider the materials that make up the bottles. The soft plastic often used as packaging for water contains chemicals that may leach into the water, particularly at high temperatures or if the water has an acidic pH. This is often the reality for water transported long distances via air or ground. It also applies to bottles that sit in hot cars. The chemicals in plastic water bottles are particularly concerning for their estrogen-mimicking properties, which can interfere with our hormonal balance. What sense does it make to put clean water in volatile plastic bottles? Glass is a far better choice.
Please don’t obsess about having clean water. In fact, stressing about anything is detrimental to our health. But, taking steps in the direction of improving your current drinking water quality will support your health and that of your growing family. Remember that the water used to make commercial soups, beer, soft drinks, and most restaurant foods is typically tap water. Most ice cubes and crushed ice are made with tap water. So if you go out to eat a lot, it’s worth ordering bottled spring water (in glass). Bringing your own bottle stocked with filtered water or spring water when you are out and about is a good idea, in case your restaurant of choice doesn’t have a decent drinking water option.
Be aware that reverse osmosis filters remove minerals as well as contaminants from water. So, if you drink reverse osmosis water, make sure you are adding in trace minerals. You can buy trace mineral drops at your local health food store or online. Make sure you follow the manufacturer’s dosage instructions.
Purchase a sturdy glass water bottle with a protective casing. Avoid aluminum and plastic water bottles, and be cautious about stainless steel water bottles, as the quality varies drastically.
As with any type of change, upgrading your water quality is a process, and making changes at a pace that is comfortable for you is the best way to ensure progress. As you do your own research on filters, you’ll realize that there’s a lot of information out there. Do your best to regulate overwhelm by following these general guidelines.