What's Lurking in Your Drinking Water?

by Dr. Roy Speiser

The water that comes from your tap poses a serious danger to your health, especially for the very young and old, or for those with weakened immune systems. There has been an alarming increase in the types and amount of contaminants in drinking water supplies, both in big cities and small towns. Plus, bottled drinking water is not as safe an alternative as we believe. Over the past several years, not only are more and higher concentrations of the familiar toxic chemicals, heavy metals, radioactivity, and disease-causing microorganisms finding their way into our drinking water; there are findings of new contaminants entering drinking water supplies across the U. S.



Ironically, MTBE is a chemical added to gasoline to reduce carbon monoxide emissions from automobiles. Unfortunately, this toxin and probable carcinogen has leaked into most ground water throughout the U.S. over a period of years, causing eye irritation, tearing, nasal discharge, breathing problems, and nausea. Because of MTBE's toxic health effects, many states are phasing it out and will eventually ban it.


Studies have linked long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water to increased instances of cancer of the bladder, lung, skin, kidneys, nasal passages, liver, and prostate. Yet arsenic has been found in thousands of water supplies that serve over 12 million people across the U.S. The EPA recommends using a reverse osmosis water purification system at the sink as a method to remove arsenic.


THMs are chemicals formed by the action of chlorine as it combines with naturally occurring organic matter in water. In January 2000, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease published a study associating several different types of birth defects with THM ingestion. People are also exposed to THMs through showering and washing dishes. Another element to consider is that the amounts of chlorine added to water supplies during the summer months increase as much as 1.5 to 2 times, intensifying short-term exposure and increasing health risks.


According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), lead is a toxic metal that can leach into your drinking water and affect the physical and mental development of children, as well as cause such ailments as high blood pressure in adults. A study by the EPA on 7,500 water supply systems found that 819 had lead levels above the EPA "alert level" of 15 parts per billion. These systems provide drinking water for about 30 million people, leaving roughly tens of millions of people being served by public water systems that violated the minimum safety levels for one or more contaminants last year, reports the EPA. Don't expect your utility company to do a thing about ensuring the safety of your drinking water. Updating old water treatment systems is costly. Each time we hear of another waterborne disease outbreak, we wonder if the benefits of drinking tap water outweigh the risks.


You can't see, taste, or smell them, but according to studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 940,000 Americans become ill and approximately 900 die from water contaminated with disease causing bacteria and parasites. The symptoms of cryptosporidiosis, which can affect people with healthy immune systems, include severe diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.


You may have already turned to bottled water thinking it is a "cleaner" alternative than tap water. However, according to the University of Geneva researcher Catherine Ferrier, bottled water may be no safer or healthier than tap water in many countries, while costing 1,000 times the price. And the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) reported in 1999 that bottled water contained chemical contaminants such as toluene, bacteria, and THMs. Other issues to consider are that toxic chemicals can leach out of plastic bottles, manufacturing and disposal of plastic contributes to global pollution, and people who drink bottled water still wash their food with "dirty" tap water.


Simple pour-through filters and carafes can remove chlorine, but not all of them eliminate lead and they are not designed to remove parasites. To ensure your tap water is parasitefree, an under-the-sink or counter-top filter is required. The Communicable Disease Center (CDC) and the EPA have proposed recommendations on how immunecompromised individuals can protect themselves from parasite cryptosporidium. Among them was the use of microstraining filters capable of removing particles less than one micron in size. They also cautioned consumers that not all filters advertised as effective against giardia are effective against cryptosporidosis.


You can drastically reduce, or even eliminate, the risks of contracting life-threatening diseases from your tap water by installing a "Point of Entry" Whole-House water filtration system in conjunction with a "Point of Use" system at the sink. To achieve the safest, cleanest water for your entire home, this combined water filtration system ensures TOTAL home protection for your family. For depth of coverage, your system should be customized using different components and technologies depending on the types and levels of contaminants in your water supply. A thorough water analysis can be obtained from your water company free of charge.

In my opinion, using sediment filters, carbon tanks, and ultraviolet lights at the point of entry; and ceramic filters with ion exchange and (in some cases) reverse osmosis at point of use, you can achieve a maximum level of purification of your home water supply and protection of your health.