We all know about the importance of a healthy diet, yet the simplest element of all, pure drinking water, is often overlooked. Most of us are used to turning the tap on without giving a thought to what the water coming out of it might, or might not contain, and how it affects us.
The truth is, the water we are drinking could be making all the difference between good and poor health. Whilst tap water is regularly tested by local water companies, which in turn are monitored by a Government watchdog (in the UK the Drinking Water Inspectorate) the presence of harmful bacteria, pesticides and detergents have caused a series of scares. Whilst these cases may be isolated, concerns remain, not only over what is or is not removed from our drinking water, but over the processes and chemicals used in water treatment.
Chlorine is the prime-disinfecting agent used in the processing of tap water but studies have linked chlorine to an increased risk of bladder and rectal cancer, and birth defects such as spina bifida. However, depending on the quality of the input water and the latest technologies, a variety of other chemicals, additives and processes are used including aluminium sulphate, fluoride and chemical coagulation (which binds together fine particles).
Concerns over the use of aluminium in water processing have been raised while there is a significant body of scientific literature connecting fluoride to a huge swathe of health problems from reduced bone strength to renal failure, birth defects, cancer and tooth decay. See www.fluoridation.com and a host of other related websites. The argument rages throughout the developed world where many governments are enforcing the use of fluoride in public water supplies on the grounds that it is good for our teeth.
There is also concern over what our water comes into contact with after it has left the treatment plant on its journey to our taps,. For instance, the quality of the pipework that carries the water, accidental discharges and leaching have all caused problems in the past.
If you live in the UK and have concerns about your tap water supply, contact,:
Your local Consumer Council for water companies listed in your telephone directory under ‘consumer organisation’
Water UK: www.wateruk.org.uk
The Drinking Water Inspectorate who will investigate your problem:
www.dwi.gov.uk or 0207 082 8024
Water filtration – the way forward?
With the increased concern over water quality, or lack of it, in our drinking water, water filtration systems have become widely recognised for their ability to remove chlorine, lead and other contaminants. Certainly for those who are sensitive to chemicals, heavy metals or other possible contaminants, the quest for water that is truly pure and health-giving, is an important, if not vital one.
Before purchasing a filtration system though, it’s worth having your water evaluated as different regions have different supplies, and depending on the levels of chlorine, lead or micro-organisms present, certain filtration systems may be preferable.
Measuring ‘pure’ water
The purity of water is currently measured by the number of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) it contains, and whilst standard tap water might have between 300 and 500 mgs of TDS per litre, some water filtration systems (mainly reverse osmosis) claim a zero TDS rating. In terms of health though, some argue that this includes the removal of all the natural minerals, such as magnesium and calcium, found in water which are important for health.
‘It would be a mistake to believe that water with a very low or even zero TDS rating is an indication that the water is better, warns nutritionist and author of Healthy water for a longer life, Dr Martin Fox who believes that we should drinking hard water with an alkaline pH level and around 300 mg/l TDS, which includes the minerals calcium and magnesium needed by the body.
As Dr Fox points out, hard water is associated with lower mortality from heart disease and stroke while, due to the effects of individual minerals such as calcium and magnesium, drinking water with a high TDS level has also been connected with lower mortality not only from heart disease but from cancer and various chronic conditions. He also points out that water with an alkaline pH has been related to a reduction in cancer mortality rates and should not leech heavy metals or chemicals from galvanised or PVC pipes into our drinking water.
However, other experts believe that inorganic minerals in drinking water (including calcium and magnesium) cannot be metabolised and may even lead to degenerative diseases like kidney stones, arthritis, and hardened heart muscle and arteries. Advocates of demineralised, ‘soft’ water believe that all the minerals, vitamins, proteins and enzymes we need to survive come from food stuffs, namely fruit and vegetables, in an organic form that the body can absorb and process.
Medical chemist and leading authority on mineral metabolism, Dr John Sorenson disagrees. He says that, ‘the metabolism of essential versus non-essential metallic elements is greatly affected by the amount of essential elements in the water. If the needed essential element is present, there will be little or no absorption of the non-essential element and it’ll simply be excreted.’ For example, if high amounts of calcium and magnesium and low levels of lead are in our drinking water, the body will select the essential elements (calcium and magnesium) and excrete the non-essential element (lead), If however, there are low levels of calcium and magnesium, the cells could select the non-essential lead, which would result in a dysfunctional protein or enzyme.
Meanwhile… Roger Wiltshire who first introduced Reverse Osmosis into the UK in the late 80’s maintains that the focus on minerals, and especially calcium, in water is a result of the billions spent on advertising by bottled water companies where the very word ‘mineral’ acts as a selling point. He claims that the body can only use 2% of the RDA of 1000mg of calcium anyway, and there’s higher levels than this, as well as many other minerals and vitamins, in a slice of bread, a single sardine, a piece of cheese or green leafed vegetable,. What he sees as important is the ‘level of purity’ of the water.
Choosing a water filtration system
There are a number of approaches to water filtration and many companies offering filtration systems! There are also many sites promoting individual approaches but for a very helpful overview we found two useful sites created by Phil Keele and Paul Maunders both of whom have been studying both water and hard water for environmental science degrees. Their sites - www.water-treatment.org.uk and www.hardwater.org are easy to navigate and give a good overview of all water filtration and lots of links to other sites.
Below is a very abbreviated version of their guide to filtration systems:
- Jug filters – Remove contaminants such as chlorine, large particles and parasites. Available at most kitchenware stores they are cheap but have a short filter life and don’t filter out many chemicals and bacteria.
- Carbon block, activated carbon water filters – A more sophisticated built in version of the jug filter which also lasts longer
- Ceramic carbon water filters – These include both ceramic and carbon filters enabling them to filter a broad range of contaminants from the water. Some are infused with silver, as this is a good antibiotic and reduces the number of micro-organisms present. They are built-in to the home water supply and need to be replaced about every 12 months. Good value for money.
- Reverse osmosis water filters – The most comprehensive filtration available (see discussion above about how much you actually want to remove from the water). The water is passed through self-cleaning semi-permeable membrane, which filters out almost every contaminant. They are more expensive than other types of filters and very wasteful of water but can be used to filter water to the whole house.
- Alkaline Water Machines – This system both filters your drinking water and makes it more alkaline. A good system, with effective filtration for those with environmental illnesses where there is too much acid in the body, but it can be expensive and wastes a lot of water during the filtration process.
Three UK suppliers:
Brita jug water filter.
Total TDS of filtered jug water will of course depend on the type of water used in the first place although in the case of hard water, a Brita filter removes enough contaminants to prevent scale forming. It can also improve the taste of water where chlorine, disinfectant bi-products, lead and copper have tainted it. The Brita filter doesn’t however, remove essential minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Go to www.brita.co.uk
Fresh Water Filter Company
Fresh Water Filter Company offers a range of filter systems which break down into 2 categories – those the industry call, ‘Point of Use’, which are filter tap systems and ‘Point of Entry’, which are products such as whole systems, where the filter tackles water at it’s point of entry into the home.
The filter taps have a Pearl cartridge, which has a ceramic outer shell and an inner core of extruded carbon. The ceramic removes contaminants, which may include bacteria such as cryptosporidium, cysts such as giardia and dirt, sediment, rust and other debris, below 1 micron. (The average human hair is around 50 microns in width which gives you an idea of how microscopic such contaminants can be.)
Inside the cartridge, the carbon block filters impurities such as chlorine, other chemicals, and lead. Meanwhile, two further types of carbon contained within the upper section of the Pearl cartridge – anthracite and coconut carbons – additionally enhance the quality of the water, before finally dispensing it to your glass.
FWFC offers a range of other specialised filter cartridges that tackle specific contaminants such as fluoride, nitrates and limescale.
All of the Fresh Water Filter Company’s systems can be purchased online at www.freshwaterfilter.com or 0845 177 0896. Installation is usually possible and a full engineer and after sales service, including maintenance when required and replacement of filter cartridges is provided. Mini tap systems start at £131, inc.VAT.
Aquathin, the Pure H2O Company
Pure H2O Company uses a Reverse Osmosis with De-Ionisation process (RODI) which includes an intelligent operating system that prevents scale build up on the membrane and activates or deactivates the system using micro-switches and under optimum pressure. The resulting ‘pure water’ then has a final polish using DeIonization to remove problem pollutants like nitrates and VOCs, which can hide in the hydrogen bond of the water molecule.
The Pure H2O Company offers a range of subsink purifiers and are launching their new Quatreau Tap in March, which dispenses pure chilled, pure boiling and normal unfiltered water from just one tap. The upper quadrants of the tap provide pure water - boiling, chilled or even sparkling (optional) for drinking, cooking and hot beverages. The lower quadrants meanwhile, provide unfiltered cold and hot (to 40o) water for normal applications, such as washing up, cleaning hands etc.
For more information, go to www.pureh2o.co.uk or call 01784 221188. The Pure H2O Company will also test your water free of charge.
PS.... Bottled water and 'exotica'
In the UK, the bottled water market expanded exponentiallyin the 1990s and early 2000s, although last year sales dropped by 9%. Despite this, the market for bottled water was still tagged to be worth close to £2 million.
Apart from the swimming pool-fulls of water lining supermarket and forecourt shelves this includes cylinders of Norwegian water, Welsh mountain water in a tear-drop of blue glass, water in a frosted glass bottle adorned with Swarowski Crystals, or even electrolyte-enhanced’ smart water. Collectively, these have become known as aquaceuticals, which go way beyond quenching thirst and are marketed as ‘functional’ waters, in that they could actually help us self-medicate, look younger and even loose weight.
Amongst these is Blue Water from Grander, devised by Austrian naturalist, Johann Grander, which is not only filtered but goes through a ‘revitalisation’ process. The theory is that the water that comes out of our taps has been through the treatment works, squeezed through pipes, and put under considerable pressure, it’s lost it’s natural vitality and energy and therefore no longer has the same healthful properties that it once did. That’s until it’s revitalised with Grander Water, which comes in a 1 litre blue glass bottle with a price tag of £13.95. It’s not as steep as it may sound though because all that’s needed is a capful added to a glass of normal water in order to revitalise it once again!
For an extensive piece on distilled water see Dr Mercola on water purifiation.
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First Published 2010