The water you drink, cook with, bathe in or wash your clothes and dishes with may contain arsenic, lead, copper and other heavy metals. It might also contain fertilizer residues, asbestos, cyanides, herbicides and pesticides that have leached into groundwater from the soil or have been carried through plumbing pipes. There are about 30,000 hazardous waste sites and 16,000 landfills (along with thousands of illegal dumping sites) that contaminate groundwater. Several hundred thousand underground storage tanks in this country are thought to be leaking paints, solvents, toxic chemicals and petroleum products. Sewer surface runoff and rainwater from oil-slicked or salt-treated highways are additional sources of water pollution. Biological pathogens are another source of impurity: viruses, bacteria and parasites may lurk in your waterI suggest you use a high quality water filter on your tap.
We can be thankful that our obsession with chlorination has eliminated cholera and typhoid. While we don’t have the overt problems faced by Third World countries, cities across the U.S. are now admitting that municipal water supplies are not as clean and safe as was previously believed. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports there are approximately 900,000 illnesses and 100 deaths per year due to contaminated water,[i] while the Centers for Disease Control report 900 deaths from water-borne illnesses each year.
Best-selling health author Ann Louise Gittleman (How To Stay Young and Healthy in a Toxic World), citing statements from both USA Today and the New York Times in 1995, says that one in five of us drink water contaminated with feces, radiation or parasites. Those of us living in homes built before June 1988 (when lead pipes were banned for use in plumbing systems) may be drinking contaminated water because of lead leaching through our water pipes.
According to a special report by Organic Style magazine based on a survey of 712 utilities around the countryarsenic poisoning is widespread.[ii] The survey also revealed an unfortunate irony: in 1979, oil companies started adding methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) to gasoline in order to make it burn more cleanly and reduce air pollution, yet MTBE has contaminated water supplies across the nation and can remain in groundwater for years. It leaks from underground storage tanks at gas stations, quickly spreading through underground water reserves and wells.
If you live in Southern CA and want pure drinking water, I highly recommend Rayne Water Systems.
Approximately 25 percent of U.S. homes have septic systems, which may contaminate groundwater with fecal bacteria. If you draw water from a well or live on or near a ranch or farm, chemical residues may have leached into the water from fertilizers, pesticides and animal excrement. Nitrates are of particular concern in farm wells; ingesting these toxins creates free radicals that contribute to nutritional deficiencies and degenerative diseases.[iii] Parasites such as giardia and cryptosporidium pose an additional risk.
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Though polluted water isn’t often detectable by sight, smell or taste, signs of polluted water include cloudiness, murkiness, foaming, or an odd smell or taste. Utility companies send yearly Consumer Confidence reports to homeowners each July; if you miss it (or are a renter) call the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791) and ask for a copy of your utility’s report. You can also have your tap water tested by your state lab. To locate one, go to www.epa.gov and search “state certification officer” or call National Testing Laboratories, Ltd. at 800-458-3330. Another option is to contact the Environmental Working Group’s Web site (www.ewg.org). Follow the link to “tap water” and then to “In the Drink,” a database with information on water sources throughout America. Search for your community to determine the assessed health of your neighborhood water.
Livestock IndustryMega-Users and Mega-Polluters Though general industry uses or pollutes an almost incomprehensible amount of water, the livestock industry is undoubtedly the great water hog. Meat production uses more water than the rest of the nation combined.[iv] For example, according to John Robbin’s research, author of Diet For A New America, it takes 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, yet 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef. Besides irrigating land used to grow feed and fodder for livestock, enormous quantities of water are needed to wash away their excrement. While it used to be reintroduced to the soil as natural fertilizer, modern practices predominantly use synthetic fertilizers, leaving an incredible 20 billion pounds of excrement per day to drain into our water supply!
Chlorine Treatment With so many pollutants soaking into groundwater and flowing through municipal pipes, it’s no wonder our cities look for inexpensive, effective ways to clean it up. While some cities don’t treat water at all and others filter it, most add chemicals to kill bacteria. The EPA considers “bacteriologically safe” water to be “pure,” and recommends that tap water have a pH between 6.5 and 8.5. Chlorine is the highly toxic chemical most commonly used to “purify” city water.
Chlorine does destroy pathogenic bacteria; unfortunately, it isn’t “target-specific” and also destroys our friendly intestinal bacteria required for proper digestion and a strong immune system. Chlorine has been linked to cardiovascular disease and cancer,[v] and it isn’t effective against cryptosporidium, an increasingly virile parasite. Since chlorine will evaporate after it comes out of the tap, many people let water stand for half an hour or so to improve taste. However, chlorine combines with organic substances in the water to form chloroform, a cancer-causing chemical that does not evaporate.
Fluoridation Part of the controversy over fluoride is due to confusion over calcium fluoride, used in the original tooth decay-prevention tests, and sodium fluoride, a highly toxic industrial waste product from the phosphate fertilizer industry. Unfortunately, it’s sodium fluoride that’s added to city water supplies. Many municipal water districts contain fluoride levels much higher than one part per million, originally set as the acceptable limit by the EPA.[vi] Sodium fluoride kills most of our beneficial enzymes, attacks the hypothalamus gland (considered the master gland of the endocrine system), inhibits proper functioning of the thyroid gland (responsible for metabolism), can cause weakening of the bones (called skeletal fluorosis) and can cause dental fluorosis in children.[vii] Dental fluorosis, a mineralization disorder of the teeth that degrades the enamel, is an irreversible condition caused by excessive ingestion of fluoride during the tooth forming years. In fact, contrary to the propaganda we hear in the media, the largest survey ever done on tooth decay, conducted by the National Institute of Dental Research, found no difference in tooth decay between fluoridated and non fluoridated communities in the U.S., when measured in terms of DMFT (Decayed, Missing & FilledTeeth).[viii]
Sodium fluoride is also a very powerful central nervous system toxin that can adversely affect human brain functioning and diminish IQ, even at low doses.[ix] Since over-ingestion of fluoride impairs the thyroid gland,[x] it probably contributes to the alarming rate of obesity in the U.S. In short, sodium fluoridean industrial waste byproduct added to most of our water supplyis an insidious poison that we should completely avoid.
Former Christian Science Monitor reporter Christopher Bryson’s book, The Fluoride Deception, describes in detail the part fluoride played during the development of the atomic bomb, subsequent cover-ups and the foisting of this substance on the American public. While approximately 67 percent of American cities fluoridate municipal water, Europe has almost unanimously rejected itonly 2 percent of the entire continent allows water fluoridation. Over 80 U.S. cities have rejected fluoride since 1996. For more information on the dangers of fluoride, visit the Fluoride Action Network’s website at www.fluoridealert.org.
If you’re opposed to municipal water fluoridation, contact your City Council, county health board and state legislatorsyour efforts can make a difference! In Washington State, a group of citizens, cities and private water companies challenged the fluoride mandate in Pierce County, arguing that the health board had overreached its power: that the fluoridation order amounted to an illegal tax, and that it would force unwanted medical treatment on citizens. In May 2004, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that a health board can not order all water systems within its jurisdiction to fluoridate.
Alternative Water Treatment: Ozone While many argue that we need chlorine to keep our drinking water safe and that we can’t afford other sanitation systems, much of Western Europe uses ozone gas and ultraviolet light to purify municipal water supplies. Since passage of The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments in 1986, a number of cities in the U.S. have shown interest in ozone treatment. As of 1998, there were 264 water plants using this method. Mitsubishi Electric has developed commercial ozone water treatment technologies that are environmentally friendly. When combined with activated carbon filtration, ozonation removes agricultural chemicals and high-tech industrial wastes. Ozone is not only the strongest disinfectant known for potable water treatment, but it is also extremely versatile: it can enhance taste, remove undesirable color, destroy harmful algae and oxidize many organic compounds.
While it’s not simple, ozone treatment has been shown to be economically viable both for large (commercial) and small (communities of less than 10,000 people) water treatment systems. In some cases it’s actually cheaper than a chlorination/aeration system.[xi] Clearly, ozonation is a viable alternative for municipal water supplies, and is worth serious consideration.
Bottled Water As bottled water has become more popular, it has also come under scrutiny. Most states have no rules governing labeling; unfortunately, unscrupulous companies use misleading advertising, actually selling tap water as “natural spring water” or the like. While most companies are probably above board, nearly all package their product in plastic, a problem in its own right. Most plastic leaches into the water, particularly when transported in hot weather, sitting for days in metal trucks. Mountain Valley is a reputable company aware of this issue.
Larger containers are available in polycarbonatea glass-like, non-porous plastic that doesn’t leach plastics or dioxins (check out www.newwaveenviro.com or www.plasticsinfo.org) that can be filled with filtered water, dispensed at your local natural food store. These containers are slightly blue in color and are usually available in pint, 1/2 gallon, one, three or five gallon sizes. If you want to be more earth friendly, a bottleless water dispenser could be right for you. Alternatively, you can buy a three to five gallon glass jug that can be used with a ceramic pot reservoir. Clean the reservoir, jug and spigot monthly by running a 50/50 mixture of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, then rinse with at least four gallons of tap water before filling it again.
Water Filters for the Home Since most municipalities offer less than ideal water out of your tap, and driving to the store every few days for bottled water can be cumbersome, I suggest you install a high-quality filter that will not only remove heavy metals, pathogens and other contaminants, but will also remove chlorine, and especially fluoride. Ideally, you can install a full service filter for drinking, cooking, bathing and laundry. If not, then at least consider a filter for your drinking water and for your shower.
Best-selling health and beauty author Kat James (The Truth About Beauty) suggests a shower filter for screening chlorine from your skin and hair. “Most people are unaware of the ways that chlorinated shower water can undermine their efforts at beautiful skin, hair and health,” she writes. Chlorine causes a cumulative burden to the skin, compromising its protective acid mantle barrier and causing oxidative damage. She suggests a shower filter utilizing the newer zinc-copper filter technology[xii] that works with heat much better than carbon filters do.
There is a difference between water purification and water filtration. Purification refers to water that is as close to pure H2O as possible, and is actually a government specified standard. Distilled water meets this standard and is considered by some to be an excellent choice for drinking, while others find it has serious drawbacks (see discussion below). Filtration removes most “suspended” material, leaving minerals and other potentially toxic water-soluble substances in the water. There are absorbent filters (usually carbon), micro filtration systems that run water through tiny pores, and ion-exchange resin filters. No filter will remove all contaminants, as each pore of even the finest filter is large enough for some viruses to permeate. Nature gives us a perfect example of water filtration: as water cascades through streams, and as it seeps through the soil and rocks to the water table, bacteria leeching into the rocks are replaced with minerals. Let’s look at various ways to recreate the effectiveness of nature’s method.
Reverse Osmosis Reverse osmosis (RO) is effective in removing bacteria, viruses and parasites. Some of the more modern units take out nearly all toxins, gases and minerals. Water is pre-filtered to remove suspended matter and dissolve solids, then forced through a very fine semi-permeable membrane, which separates pure water molecules from remaining contaminants. The purified water is stored in a pressurized tank. When “tapped,” it passes through an activated carbon post filter, ensuring the best possible taste.
RO water acts as a chelating agentlike a magnet, it draws out and flushes toxins. Since it pulls out important minerals along with impurities, it’s important to take an ionic trace mineral supplement[xiii] if you choose this method. Another disadvantage of reverse osmosis is that it discharges about three gallons of wastewater for every purified gallon.
Distilled Water This is the water used in many scientific labs. The process involves boiling water to a vapor. As the steam rises, it leaves behind most pollutants. The steam then goes into a condensing chamber, where it cools, condensing into purified water. Municipal water, however, often contains hydrocarbons, which have a lower boiling point than water. If you’re purifying city water, be sure your distillation system has a “fractional” valve system that lets off the hydrocarbon gases, or a final-stage charcoal filter.
There is differing opinion among health proponents regarding distilled water. It leaches inorganic minerals rejected by cells and tissues out of the bodya good thing, according to James Balch, M.D., co-author of Prescription for Nutritional Healing. He believes it’s the only water to drink, suggesting it be supplemented with two tablespoons of mineral drops for every five gallons of water to replace trace minerals. On the other hand, Ann Louise Gittleman points out that distillation can vaporize and concentrate chloroform and other chemicals, and removes essential trace minerals. She advises against its regular use, and suggests that if you do buy distilled water you look for “double distilled,” a process not done by most companies.
Paul Pitchford, author of Healing with Whole Foods, recommends that water treated with either reverse osmosis or distillation be left in an open glass container for at least a day, and exposed to sunlight whenever possible.
Carbon, Activated Charcoal and Ceramic Filters Unlike reverse osmosis and distillation, activated charcoal filtered water retains water-soluble minerals. If you don’t have nitrate, nitrites or sodium fluoride in your water and the filter is renewed or replaced when its capacity is exhausted, this option can be a good way to go. Since these filters are less expensive than RO filters or distillers, they may be a necessary option even if you do have sodium fluoride. If so, you can stir a teaspoon of calcium powder (Dr. Bronner’s Calcium-Magnesium Powder works well) into each gallon of filtered water. The fluoride combines with the calcium to form calcium fluoride, believed to be harmless in small doses. Let it settle to the bottom of the container and use the water off the top.
Health advocate and author Ann Louise Gittleman recommends ceramic filtration, since the ceramic is “bacteriostatic,” preventing the formation of bacteria. This method has been used around the world for over 140 years and is a great way to eliminate parasites. Gittleman recommends the Doulton Ceramic Filter, made of ultra-fine ceramic with pores that trap particles as small as 0.5 microns. In a three-stage process, the pores first remove contaminants. Next, a carbon core eliminates dirt, odor, chlorine, pesticides and other pollutants. A heavy metal compound removes lead and copper. An ultraviolet light unit can be installed on the kitchen faucet or under the sink for added protection against bacteria and viruses.
Water Filters: My Suggestion I’ve researched water filtration systems, and I’d like to give you my personal suggestion. Custom Pure MB Filter Serieswww.custompure.com) offers deionization resin filtrationa filtration technique used by the electronics and biomedical industries to obtain ultra pure wateralong with activated carbon absorption. This combination produces distilled quality, delicious tasting water and removes chlorine and chloroform, fluoride, lead, arsenic, asbestos, rust, copper, sodium, sulfates, nitrates, sediments, giardia, cryptosporidium and other dissolved solids and volatile organic chemicals. The system includes an optional ultraviolet sterilizer and a ceramic cartridge. If your water is microbiologically contaminated, these optional features are required in order to achieve desired results. The company offers a limited lifetime warranty and free water testing for monitoring filter performance.[xiv] Their online questionnaire, Choosing a Drinking Water System, is very helpful in determining your needs. I’ve been using a Custom Pure water filter for the last six years.
What About Water Softeners? Depending on where you live, your tap water can be classified as either relatively “hard” or “soft.” Hard water contains much more calcium than does soft water, which contains more magnesium. Soft water saves on gas and electric bills, because it takes nearly 30 percent more gas to produce hot water from hard water. If you have an electric hot water heater, you’ll use between 21 and 68 percent more energy with hard water than with soft. Softening the water removes large-molecule pollutants like lead and arsenic. Traditional softeners add sodium to the water, making it a poor choice for drinking and a burden to our soils. Fortunately, new technologies employ magnetic water conditioners that retain the beneficial minerals found in “hard” water as well as introduce cleansing benefits associated with “soft” water. (http://clearwatermax.com/home.htm), based in Chico, California, offers a university-tested magnetic water conditioning system that uses a salt-free solution effective for both commercial and residential use.
Our Waterthe Big Picture Ecologists report that the areas around rivers, lakes and streams have borne the heaviest burden from human use. Biologists tell us that aquatic species are disappearing at a faster rate than terrestrial ones. Consider the following statistics, compiled by the Living Waters Project:[xv]
· Since the 1800s the lower 48 states have lost just over half their wetlands.
· Approximately 40 percent of rivers, lakes and coastal water in the U.S. don’t meet basic safety standards for drinking and swimming.
· In the U.S, 35 percent of both freshwater fish and amphibians, and 57 percent of fresh-water mussels, are at risk.
The Colorado River doesn’t always reach the ocean anymoreit’s dried up from being over-utilized for lawn-watering and other uses in the Southwest. Many rivers and water sources in the East face the same situation. Clearly, water is becoming a precious commodity, and corporations are poised to globalize and negotiate it on the market, rather than conserve it as a resource available to everyone. Water is becoming the oil of the 21st century. The film Thirst (www.thirstthemovie.com) examines water conflicts on three continents and shows that popular opposition to the privatization of our water sparks remarkable coalitions.
All of us are responsible for our priceless, dwindling resource: water. As the ancients knew, it’s the stuff of lifedon’t take it for granted. And remember to filter it before drinking!
[xi] Report by GDT Corporation presented October 20, 1998 in Vancouver, Canada to International Ozone Association Pan American Group; study of Sublette, Illinois Hydrozon water treatment system, p. 11.