Healing Kitchen

Filtering the Facts on Water
Not long ago, you went to the faucet and filled your glass with water. But these days, with new concerns about water safety, dozens of brands of bottled water, and filters with names you'd need a Ph.D. to decipher, choosing your water can be something of a challenge. A few simple guidelines can help.

Tapping a source: Tap water can contain a number of chemicals, pesticides, parasites, and other contaminants. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for monitoring public water quality but its guidelines only cover 80 contaminants. Unfortunately there are many more of concern.

Chlorine is used to kill microbes in many treatment facilities. But chlorine-resistant parasites, such as Cryptosporidium, are a particular hazard to the young, elderly and sick. Murkiness that persists for more than a few minutes may be a sign of contamination, so boil your water for five minutes to kill all of these organisms. Chlorine itself has also raised concerns. The FDA says it's safe. But it can, for instance, react with leaves and organic debris in reservoir water to form cancer-causing compounds called trihalomethanes. If your tap water smells of chlorine, you may want to use bottled water or get a purifier that filters out the chemical.

While most research has found fluoride to be safe and prevent tooth decay, debate also surrounds this issue. Most recently, for example, a study showed that women who drank fluoridated water had a higher incidence of hip fractures. The investigators propose that while fluoride may increase bone mass, it may also weaken bones (American Journal of Epidemiology, 10/99).

Know your water: A good first approach is to look into your area's water quality. If you use municipal water, you can research its quality by checking the EPA Web site (, contacting your supplier, or having your water tested through an independent lab. Having the water tested independently will also ensure that you measure any dangerous substances, such as lead, that may be seeping through your household pipes. You should also consider a home test if you have a private well.

Is bottled water better? Despite the fancy labels (and prices) on bottled water, you can't assume that claims of being "natural" necessarily ensure safety or purity. If you opt for bottled water, contact the manufacturer for its water quality results. Buy it in clear (rather than milky) plastic or glass bottles and store away from sunlight to minimize leaching of chemicals from the container into the water.

A wise investment: A good bet for pure water is a high-quality filter. Inexpensive jug-top filters can remove most lead and some chlorine but not bacteria. Larger units that fit under the sink and that use one (or a combination) of the three main types of filters--reverse osmosis, distillation (very costly), and activated carbon (either granular or block forms)--provide the best overall coverage against a broad range of potential contaminants.

Buying guide: The nonprofit National Sanitation Foundation (800-NSF-MARK; tests and certifies filtration systems and provides information on various types and brands. Look for a product that carries the NSF mark.

Further reading: Debra Lynn Dadd, Home Safe Home (Tarcher/Putnam, 1997).

Author: the WholeHealthMD Advisor
Date Published: 06/19/2000
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