Is My Drinking Water Safe?
Is my drinking water safe? If the water is free from impurities or the contaminants are below certain levels, the water you drink is considered safe. There’s a long list of water contaminants (close to 100) which is why many parents and homeowners sometimes lose sleep if they think about their water’s safety and purity.
100% pure water is almost impossible to achieve (unless sophisticated laboratory equipment is used). It’s especially the case with the public water supply wherein impurities from natural sources are common. These impurities are often introduced to the water through the following methods:
- Erosion (water carries or dissolves substances from rocks and soil)
- Agricultural runoff (soil, plant and animal particles)
- Rain and flooding (dirt, debris and substances might come from soil and roads)
- Wastewater (improper sewage and leaks would compromise water supply)
- Water disinfection (use of chlorine)
It’s a combination of both natural and man-made activities. Water treatment facilities may perform purification and disinfection processes to limit risks. However, you can still take part to further ensure your safety and your family’s.
How to Remove Water Impurities
In commercial and industrial applications, distillation and desalination are often used to purify water. There are specifications if water is acceptable already. For instance, the water should be low in salts and ions to make it fit for use in many chemical processes.
In household and small-scale applications, filtration is the popular choice because of its effectiveness and affordability. Complementary technologies such as reverse osmosis make filtration much more effective. In addition, there are now compact filter systems that can fit under almost any kitchen sink.
Whichever is the case, the goal is to remove contaminants (and make them fall into certain acceptable levels). This way, the resulting water will be fit for safe consumption and usage.
In contrast, water with high levels of contaminants will harm human health. Whether it’s microbial or chemical in nature, it could lead to illnesses or worse, fatalities. It’s the case especially with Cryptosporidium and Giardia. These parasites could immediately cause severe diarrhoea and dehydration.
It’s also the case with heavy metals such as arsenic and lead. For instance, lead should be almost absent in any drop of water. Its presence could lead to kidney problems and high blood pressure. The problem gets worse when young children accidentally ingest lead. Its effects could be long-term or permanent on the child’s brain and physical development.
There are now regulations issued by government agencies and international organisations. They’ve already classified close to 100 contaminants found in drinking water. These were classified as such due to the following reasons:
- The contaminant is known to cause adverse health effects (whether chemical or microbial)
- A particular contaminant has a high chance of being found in the public water supply
In other words, the classification largely depends on existing knowledge and recent researches. This body of knowledge is still very limited. For instance, we still don’t have comprehensive information about emerging contaminants (e.g. chemicals from pharmaceuticals and cosmetics). In addition, they’re only present in trace levels which makes detection and analysis challenging. Their potential health effects are still largely unknown at this time.
The Definition of Safety
As mentioned earlier, it’s almost impossible to have 100% pure water. Achieving that goal would be very expensive and largely impractical. After all, regulatory agencies have already set acceptable levels of contaminants in water.
For example, the presence of inorganic mercury in drinking water should not exceed 0.002 mg/L. Any concentration beyond that may cause a kidney problem to people. In addition, the presence of inorganic mercury may also indicate the presence of other dangerous contaminants.
Refineries and factories nearby might be discharging significant levels of mercury into rivers and streams (or heavy metals get washed away from contaminated soils and end up in our groundwater). Lack of pre-treatment processes is one likely cause and one way to determine that is by examining the water.
When there’s significant contamination, the goal then is to reduce the level (or minimise the risks). After all, drinking water is a daily habit which can have long-term ramifications through the years. The chemicals might build up in our internal organs or cause immediate illness (due to bacteria and protozoa).
What Are Some of the Water Contaminants That Require Special Attention?
It’s actually a long list because there are many types of bacteria, protozoa, heavy metals, inorganic substances and organic chemicals that may cause immediate or long-term harm to our health. Some of those impurities are:
- Lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium and other heavy metals
- Disinfectants and disinfection by-products (chlorine, chlorite, chloramines, trihalomethanes)
- Asbestos, cyanide, nitrate, nitrite and other inorganic substances
- Benzene, carbon tetrachloride, chlorobenzene, dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls and other organic compounds
- Cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, Legionella, E. coli and faecal coliforms
Many other contaminants might be present in your glass of water. However, most of them might be present in trace levels. Or, their full range of health effects is still not known. This is the case with emerging contaminants coming from our use of medicine, cosmetics, pesticides, soap, shampoo and other chemical-based products.
Strict regulations are often set on contaminants that pose the most threat. For example, Giardia and Cryptosporidium may cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea within a few hours. Special priority is also placed on heavy metals that have drastic effects on babies and young children.
The regulations are still far from perfect. But they already protect us from the most dangerous and immediate threats. For added peace of mind, many families and homeowners install additional systems to further make their water clean. This is valuable because many contaminants might be introduced to our water supply as the water travels through pipes.
Why Point-of-Use Filtration is Recommended
Safety is about lowering the contaminant concentrations into acceptable levels (or getting rid of them completely). Water treatment facilities still do their part in filtering and disinfecting water. However, the process may not be as rigorous as you think. Or, contaminants might be re-introduced into the water as a result of leaks and compromised pipes.
Typically, you have these options to ensure your water is safe enough to drink and use for your daily activities (preparing food, bathing, washing):
- Whole house filters (filter all the water that comes into your home plumbing, usually removes chlorine)
- Distillation or boiling (this effectively kills bacteria and other microbes)
- Buying bottled water
- Point-of-use filter systems (undersink filters with 2 to 5 stages)
Whole house filters remove dirt, debris, rust and sediment from water before they reach your household plumbing. In addition, these filters also remove residual chlorine (this can cause skin and respiratory irritations). However, whole house filters don’t remove most heavy metals and pathogenic microbes.
Distillation and boiling are effective in killing bacteria and microscopic parasites. The high temperatures will dehydrate them and destroy their cells. However, both processes need cooling before you can use the resulting water. The cooling and transfer of water could cause some microbes and substances to be re-introduced.
Another option is by purchasing bottled water. Water from commercial treatment plants often meets regulatory standards. The prices are higher to make up for the rigorous treatment processes employed.
However, there are disadvantages with buying bottled water:
- Plastic bottles may leach chemicals into the water it contains
- Heat may cause molecules and particles of the plastic to disintegrate
- A lot more expensive than tap water
- Plastic bottles accumulate in landfills and harm the environment
The potential benefits may not be worth the drawbacks. In addition, the effects do accumulate especially if you buy bottled water daily (thereby more plastic bottles get thrown out). It’s expensive and far from environment-friendly.
The most recommended option is having a point-of-use filtration system. This way, impurities get removed right before the water comes out of the tap. This eliminates the possible re-introduction of impurities into the water.
What is the Easiest Way to Make My Drinking Water Safe?
The priority is to remove the worst threats and eliminate potential failure points once the impurities are removed. For this, the most effective approach is often the most straightforward one.
That’s why here at Filtap, we specialise in straightforward and effective removal of water contaminants. Our water filter systems remove dust, rust, sediments, chlorine, microbes (including Giardia and Cryptosporidium), lead, mercury, arsenic, organic compounds, inorganic substances and other contaminants from water before it comes out of the tap. Our reverse osmosis filter system can remove even the finest trace elements such as fluouride.
Contact us today and enquire about your options and the specific contaminants removed by each filter. You can also ask us about the exclusive deals we offer (discounts and free installations) to Sydney, Central Coast and Wollongong residents. We also now service many Melbourne areas as well.