May 17, 2012

Are You Drinking Healthy Water? ~ James P. McMahon

There is a great deal of misinformation about drinking water—including what is healthy and what is not.

Public water systems treat the water they deliver with a variety of chemicals and removal of these is paramount to having healthy water in your home. In addition, you must consider both the physical characteristics of the water and the contaminants that are not removed by your water provider.

The answer is to filter your water, but which water filter is the best?

In order to know which water filter will provide you with healthy water you must first learn what is in your water so that you know what contaminants you must remove. The best water filter for you depends entirely on the contaminants present in your water. This information can be gleaned from your local water report.

My view is that healthy water comes from rivers, springs and lakes which have been treated in the home to remove the chemicals added by public utilities. Ideally, this water would contain low levels of naturally occurring minerals. But this is not always the case.

Unfortunately, we have contaminated our rivers and streams with a wide variety of pollutants, including pesticides and, in some cases, a wide variety of unregulated contaminants.

There may be contaminants from cities upstream or industrial or agricultural chemicals or there may be naturally occurring metals, like arsenic, uranium or fluoride which force you to make a different choice when it comes to choosing the best water filter for your particular situation.

There has been a great deal of press in recent years on unregulated contaminants, including hormones, painkillers and other pharmaceuticals in drinking water. You should not assume that these are present without looking into it.

If there are cities on the river or lake upstream of where you live, then the sewage plants from these cities will be discharging these contaminants into your water supply.

You can figure this out by looking at a map. If no cities are present, then this is most likely not an issue with your water.

If you don’t know your water source, you can find out by looking at your city (or other water provider’s) water report. It will also identify the source of your water. Next ,you will want to review the contaminants listed in the report. This can be confusing for many people but it is an excellent exercise in mindful living.

If the only contaminants present are chlorine byproducts, then a simple carbon filter will do. This is rarely the case. If you have chlorine or chloramine and fluoride, then a more complex water filter that addresses these will be the best water filter for your family.

If you live downstream from a city, then you need a reverse osmosis system to remove the unregulated contaminants.

Reverse osmosis is often criticized for also removing the healthy minerals in water, but if your choice is between minerals plus hormones and other drugs, or water purified by reverse osmosis the decision is an easy one: purify your water. Very low levels of the unregulated contaminants can cause very serious health issues. This is not something to take lightly—use your water to hydrate your body and find your minerals in supplements or food.

If your water source is groundwater be sure to look into the issue of total dissolved solids (TDS). These are the minerals in your water. Minerals in water are thought by some to be beneficial but they can also be too high. As water sits in an underground aquifer it dissolves the minerals with which it comes in contact.

Water that has a high mineral content can be a problem in terms of the water’s ability to penetrate your body’s cells, thus effecting the water’s capacity to hydrate you. I prefer to drink water with a TDS between 30 and 250, although the Environmental Protection Agency allows public water to have a TDS up to 500 parts per million (ppm). Other factors that would lead me to recommend reverse osmosis include radioactive metals or the presence of nitrates.

I use five steps in choosing the best filter. They include:

1. Write down your goals—what do you hope to achieve by treating your water?

2. Find your water report—identify the source of water and the contaminants in your water.

3. Look upstream—are there sewage treatment plants or industrial facilities?

4. Identify the treatments you need to remove the contaminants present.

5. Buy the system that provides what you need—the best water filter will remove the contaminants in your water making what comes out of your tap the best and healthiest water possible.

As you can see, learning which water filter is the best for you is more complex than it may first appear. Following these simple steps can help you in making the correct purchase for your family.

Those of you drinking alkaline water should heed this advice as well. Always check the source and filter the water appropriately.



James P. McMahon studied ecology at the University of Illinois because he was curious about his surroundings. He fell in love with rivers at an early age. He’s also fallen in love with yoga. He tries to learn and grow while eating organic food, contributing to a healthier planet and healthier people from his home on the Santa Clara River in southern Utah. You can learn more about Jim and his work at Sweetwater’s Home Water Purification Systems.

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Editors: Thaddeus Haas/Kate Bartolotta


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