If you're like most Utahans, you probably don’t worry about drinking water straight from your tap. You may think that because a lot of Utah's water originates from mountain sources that it is some of the purest water on earth. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and much of our nation's water is full of potentially dangerous contaminants that may harm you and your family.You might be asking yourself, "How it is possible that my water could be contaminated?" and "Doesn't the EPA regulate water safety?" We address these questions below.
What’s in my water? Aren't water contaminants regulated?
Throughout the U.S., municipalities get water from a variety of sources. Water is typically pulled from wells, lakes, reservoirs, and rivers and is tested at water treatment plants. The EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act sets guidelines for determining if water is safe enough for public consumption. If the water does not meet these standards, then it must be treated until it comes into compliance. Bear in mind that government standards merely represent minimum standards and are not necessarily ideal water quality levels.
According to the Water Quality Association, some common water contaminants in the US include the following: aluminum, ammonia, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chloramine, chromium, copper, fluoride, bacteria, viruses, lead, nitrates/nitrites, mercury, perchlorate, radium, selenium, silver and uranium. These contaminants can come from natural deposits, agricultural runoff, industrial waste, old pipes, and a variety of other sources.
Unfortunately, municipal filtration doesn’t remove everything from the water. Although there are strict EPA guidelines to protect drinking water, recent research has shown that tap water from more than 200 million American homes across all 50 states is contaminated with chromium-6, which is a cancer-causing chemical.
If you are curious about the status of your tap water, you can enter your zip code in EWG’s Tap Water Database. EWG’s report shows that the Salt Lake City Water System, for example, is in compliance with the EPA’s standards. However, it also lists that 22 contaminants were found in the water with three of these being at levels above recommended health guidelines.
How can I reduce exposure to these contaminants, and what do water filtration systems do?
If the information above has made you concerned about contaminants your water, you may be asking yourself, “Do I need a water filter?” And the answer is most likely yes. While cities work very hard with their limited budgets, city water is not infallible and can sometimes make people sick (as is the case with the ongoing Flint, Michigan water crisis). A water filtration system can be a line of defense against harmful levels chemicals, minerals, and microorganisms. Water filters can help reduce or eliminate many of these contaminants to make your tap water even safer to drink.
In addition to buying water filtration systems to remove lingering chemicals and minerals, some people buy them for personal preference to improve the taste and odor of the water. Some people think their water has a weird smell or taste and find that filtration systems help alleviate this problem. For example, parts of Utah are known for having particularly hard water and high concentrations of chlorine. Some households in these areas choose to install water filters to make this high-mineral content water taste better.
Even if tap water is deemed safe to drink, in some cases a doctor might advise patients to use a water filter or purifier. If an individual has a compromised immune system, he or she might be extra sensitive to the normally acceptable levels of contaminants found in drinking water. If you or someone else in your family is immune compromised, you should seriously consider installing a water filtration and purification system.
What are the different kinds of water filtration systems?
There are multiple types of water filtration systems to choose from. Each system consists of a type of filter and type of filter technology (or combination of technologies). Depending on the system, it can remove different contaminants.
Types of Filters
- Pitcher: Pitchers such as the popular Brita have removable filters that need to be changed every few months.
- Faucet Mounted: This type of filter is mounted directly on the faucet and often comes with an option to switch it from unfiltered to filtered water.
- Refrigerator: These systems are usually built-in to the front of the fridge, although the filter will need to be periodically replaced.
- Separate Tap: Depending on the severity of the water contamination, it may make sense to add in a separate plumbing line or tap that is filtered before it reaches the house’s faucets.
- On Counter: These separate containers sit on the counter and have replaceable filters.
- Shower: Some households choose to install custom shower heads that include a filtration system.
- Sports Bottle: Some sports bottles have a built-in filtration mechanism.
Types of Filtration and Purification Technologies
- Carbon Filters: There are various types of carbon filters, but depending on the type and quality, they can effectively remove chlorine, asbestos, lead, mercury and even volatile organic compounds. These filters work because activated carbon chemically bonds with certain contaminants and removes them from the water. Usually, these systems cannot remove arsenic, fluoride, hexavalent chromium, nitrate, or perchlorate.
- Ceramic and Mechanical Micro-Filters: These systems have tiny holes in them that capture fine sediment and sometimes even bacteria, mold, and fungus. To remove chemicals, this technology needs to be paired with an additional type of filter technology.
- Deionization and Ion Exchange Filters: These methods remove certain ions and replace them with others. For example, the process of water softening removes calcium and magnesium and replaces them with sodium. This process happens by running water through a tank of softening resin, which must be recharged periodically.
- Distillation Purifiers: This method is effective at removing minerals, bacteria, viruses and chemicals since it relies on a high-temperature method of purification. The contaminated water is heated, and once the water vaporizes, the steam is condensed back into cleaner water. This process does not effectively remove chlorine, pesticides, or herbicides from water.
- Reverse Osmosis (RO) Purifiers: A RO water filter works by pushing water through a membrane that can block certain particles. These systems can be effective at removing arsenic, fluoride, hexavalent chromium, nitrates, and perchlorate. Properly designed RO systems include carbon filters to remove other contaminants. RO systems are not effective against bacteria, mold, fungus, or viruses.
- Ultraviolet (UV): UV light can kill microorganisms such as bacteria; however, systems that use UV light cannot remove other chemical contaminants unless other technologies like carbon are also used at the same time.
Which water filtration system is best for you?
Whether you want to remove chlorine tastes and odors from water or to remove other potentially dangerous contaminants, you probably need some type of water filter in your home. To determine what kind of filter you need, you should research what contaminants are typically found in your city's water. You should also consider how much water needs to be treated and decide what level of investment you need to make.
Some of the best solutions that make water safer to drink are listed below:
- Reverse Osmosis Water Purifiers: These filters are often considered a gold standard in water purification and can remove the most harmful chemicals and minerals from water.
- Carbon Filters: When RO filters are not an option, carbon-activated systems are usually the next best option. Undercounter and faucet mounted systems are easy to use and cost-effective to maintain.
- Undercounter Ultrafilters: These filters incorporate carbon-block filtration to address tastes and odors along with other contaminants and include Ultrafiltration (UF) bundles to provide proven protection against bacteria, mold, fungi, and viruses.
- Whole House Systems: Whole house filtration systems are available to provide protection for a host of contaminants. These cost more upfront but are much more cost-effective per gallon over the long-term.
If you’re unsure which filtration method will work best for your household or what contaminants are in your home's water, you may want to speak to a local Certified Water Specialist to get personalized advice that is specific to your home, needs, and circumstances. Click the button below to learn more about what one of our water specialists can do for you!
Lastly, with any filtration system, remember it is only effective if it is used and maintained properly. It’s very important to follow all instructions for installation and replacement to keep the good water flowing.