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What's in Your Water? Chemicals in Tap Water

By Jason Earle Google+

Source: Habitat Quarterly 

Next to the air you breathe, the water you drink, cook with and bathe in is the most important factor in your general health. Water is one of the three basic requirements of life. If your water is contaminated your health may be compromised as well.

But surely the tap water in your home is pure and safe, isn't it? After all, it's been treated by a big water company, maybe even a government-run water utility, and it has to meet government standards, right?

Right, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's as safe as you'd like it to be. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit environmental information organization, tap water across the US contains hundreds of contaminants that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn't even regulate. For EPA-regulated pollutants, water utilities across the board score 92 percent, which means 8 percent of tap water doesn't even meet EPA standards.

"The 35-year-old federal law regulating tap water is so out of date that the water Americans drink can pose what scientists say are serious health risks - and still be legal," says the New York Times.
"Only 91 contaminants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet more than 60,000 chemicals are used within the United States, according to EPA estimates. Government and independent scientists have scrutinized thousands of those chemicals in recent decades, and identified hundreds associated with a risk of cancer and other diseases at small concentrations in drinking water, according to an analysis of government records... But not one chemical has been added to the list of those regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act since 2000. "

So what's the solution? As the saying used to go, "Buy a filter, or be a filter." Water filters have been around for a long time and are a better idea than bottled water, both in terms of cost and purity. Bottled water mostly comes from tap water somewhere, sometimes filtered, sometimes not. It's impossible to know.

And it's expensive. The cost of filtering your own water, when you break it down per gallon, is usually somewhere around 10 cents a gallon. Bottled water can run $10 - more per gallon than the cost of gasoline and potentially contaminated from the chemicals in the plastic bottles!

But which filter should you buy? Our favorite water filter maker, Aquasana, says just buy one. "There's no such thing as a bad water filter." That kind of blunt honesty is rare, and it's one of the reasons we endorse Aquasana. 

These filters remove chlorine, lead, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), MTBE (the stuff they add to gasoline) and cysts (chlorine resistant parasites), but leave in the natural trace minerals. They will also remove most of the fluoride (40% to 60%), for those who are concerned about that controversial water additive.

Which leaves only one remaining question: What kind of filter: countertop, under-sink, whole house? That's up to you and your budget and your home's layout.


The whole-house filter is clearly the best approach, because it treats all the water in the house, hot or cold, including the showers and baths. But you can't always get what you want. Some condos and smaller houses have no place to put a whole-house filter, and few renters are willing to go to the hassle and expense of installing such a device only to leave it behind. So for these locations, it's either countertop or under-sink. 

If you decide on a whole-house system, and your house is more than a few years old, Aquasana recommends adding countertop or under-sink units to filter out the junk that's collected in your pipes. It's a relatively minimal added cost.


Installing an under-sink water filter requires some accessible cabinet space under the sink, and entails hooking up a separate tap for filtered cold water. This means drilling, in some cases, which for many homeowners means hiring a plumber. For those brave and handy enough to do it themselves, it's not terribly difficult. Also, some kitchen faucets, such as the ones which pull out, won't allow the countertop attachment, so it's under-sink or whole house.


The countertop filter is the least expensive and simplest installation, but as mentioned above, you must have a kitchen or bathroom faucet with a standard aerator that would allow you to screw the filter diverter valve onto the end of the spigot. If you don't have standard aerator fittings, and can't install a whole-house system, then under-sink is the only solution.


If you're concerned about what's in the water you use for showering, a whole-house filter certainly is the best, but shower filters are available that work quite well. So if you end up with countertop and/or under-sink filters, the shower filter will remove chlorine and other contaminants from your daily cleansing routine, for which your skin and hair will be grateful.


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What's in Your Water? Chemicals in Tap Water
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