Water Guide: Quality + Filtration
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Someone much smarter than me said something along these lines: We care so much about eating organic and avoiding exposure to pesticides/herbicides on our food, but then we drink and bathe in the very water that CONTAINS those chemicals…PLUS medications, heavy metals, radioactive elements and more.
When you think about this, it really does hit home- we drink 50% of our bodyweight in ounces a day, we brush our teeth, we shower in water, cook with water…and thus every time we use it we have a potential for exposure to endocrine (hormone)-disrupting chemicals, pesticides like glyphosate that tear up our gut lining, and even our neighbor’s hormonal medications that don’t get filtered out of the traditional city water supply.
Even those using well water depending on location are exposed to run-off chemicals from conventional farming practices or radioactive elements (uranium, radon) in the ground based on where they live.
Because of this- water filtration is one of the FIRST things you need to focus on in your health journey. No amount of healthy eating or supplementing will stop the assault on your body that is coming with every sip.
Sadly, water is something I find a lot of people ignore or think they’re safe if they drink bottled water or from their refrigerator filter or pitcher like a Brita. Even if you drink well water and have some form of filtration, based on your location and the filter type, you still may be drinking heavy metals and other substances from deep in the earth that we aren’t supposed to be exposed to on a daily basis.
The Problem With Tap Water
Just gonna give it to you straight: There is a 1 in 4 chance you’re drinking water that is either unsafe to drink OR not being monitored properly.
300 Contaminants Found in Public Water...
Over 300 chemicals + contaminants have been detected in drinking water.
...Yet only 90 Are Currently Regulated.
Meaning that even if your water is “safe” from the 90 that are tested for, there is a potential for 210 others to be found in your water that are technically considered “legal.”
Even worse? 22 of these have been identified as cancer-causing, which could be responsible for over 100,000 cases of cancer each year.
Massive Lack in Regulation
Between 1986-1996 the EPA set most contaminant limits…and ZERO new contaminants have been regulated since then. But this isn’t necessarily the EPA’s fault, as it can take 10 years to review just one single contaminant.
Also- just because it is “regulated” doesn’t mean it isn’t still showing up in our water (just like the cancer example I just shared).
20% of Water Treatment Systems Fail Regulation
A study found in 2009 found that over 20% of the nation’s water treatment systems were violating the specifications of the Safe Drinking Water Act, but fewer than 6% of the violators were ever fined or punished.
So…even IF a water treatment plant was found to have levels higher than they should, only 6% of them are being fined? It doesn’t exactly give me confidence that even the regulations that DO exist will be upheld.
Further, some have been found to underreport contaminants, as depending on your local water authority they may get lax with their testing and thresholds.
EWG Tap Report Database Gives You Some Clues
The below website will give some general information on your water quality and what has been tested to be found in your area’s water, however it isn’t perfect because it doesn’t check/regulate all the contaminants due to no legal requirements for many of them.
Additionally, their “safe” levels aren’t necessarily safe- for example things like fluoride, arsenic, lead, etc. which you really don’t want ANY levels on your report showing up.
This report also doesn’t factor in your pipes and/or plumbing system and what could be leached from it (lead, copper, etc.).
Aging Water Systems + Too Many Chemicals = A Mess!
We can’t blame the plants themselves, as they were simply never designed to deal with the volume or new type of contaminants coming our way, and thus they are unable to filter it all out.
Additionally the pipes in many systems are over 100 years old and aging quickly, which means leaching of metals/chemicals into our water system on top of whatever is actually in the water going through them
The Health Impact of Industry Dumping
In 2012 alone, it was found that industries dumped over 206 MILLION pounds of toxic chemicals into America’s streams and rivers:
- 1.4 million linked to cancer
- 4.4 million lbs linked to fertility reduction
- 460,000 lbs linked to developmental disorders
So- we are paying for cancer treatment, and fertility treatments and programs for our developmentally challenged children…but are we ALSO looking at our water supply?
What About Well Water?
Many think that well water is naturally safe to drink because it comes from the earth, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Well Water Is YOUR Responsibility
Unlike water from the tap, well water is completely unregulated and is the owner’s responsibility to ensure cleanliness of water.
Well water can vary greatly based on your location and contain anything like: pesticides/herbicides, bacteria like E. coli, giardia + cryptosporidium, heavy metals from the earth like arsenic, fluoride and radioactive elements like radon and uranium, and even industrial run-off of chemicals, flame retardants and even artificial sweeteners.
Most local testing likely isn’t looking for all of these things so I personally recommend testing it on your own to make sure you aren’t missing anything (see below for testing suggestions).
What About Hard Water?
I’ve had the question before in regards to water softeners vs. water filtration and the “hardness” of water.
What is Hard Water?
The “hardness” of water is referring to the amount of minerals like calcium and magnesium, iron and manganese in your water. Though not inherently bad (as these are beneficial minerals to our bodies), too high of levels may leave your water glasses stained, hair feeling heavy, skin feeling slimy, and leave build-up in your sinks and tubs.
Water Softening ≠ Water Filtration
For those with hard water, you may have a water softener that switches the “hard” ions of calcium and magnesium with sodium or potassium ions. Though it will do this ion exchange, it is not filtering out other issues like heavy metals, pesticides, chemicals, bacteria, etc.
If you need your water to be softened, yoru best bet is Reverse Osmosis which will both soften AND filter your water in the process.
What is In Your Water Anyway?
It’s important to have an overall idea of WHAT is in your water so that you can choose the right filtration system. Here are some of the top contaminants found in water + their health implications:
- Used as disinfectants to kill off bacteria + organisms, but it is disruptive to the microbiome in both our gut and skin
- Just chlorine in water alone increases your risk of developing cancer by 93%
- 40-70% of our chlorine exposure comes from daily bathing activities. Most of us take hot/warm baths and showers, which makes these chemicals easier to inhale and absorb more than drinking tap water.
- Worses asthma and can cause eye and throat irritation
- Increases your risk of developing cancer by 93% (linked to greater levels of bladder, kidney, colon, rectal and breast cancer)
- In showers/hot bathing water, it is even more harmful- it vaporizes and we breathe it in and absorb it more readily through our skin; which is why a shower filter or whole-house filter is so important aside from just drinking water
Fluoride is a toxic halogen chemical that will displace iodine in the body (crucial for thyroid health) and increase our toxic load
Has also been found to make the aluminum we ingest more bioavailable (increases chance of developing Alzheimers) and displaces magnesium and depletes our cells of it
Fluoride has been added to our public water systems since the 1940s and even though the CDC claimed that fluoride was “one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century” there is no discernible difference in tooth decay rates between countries that fluoridate their water and those that don’t
- Ironically before 1945, fluoride was considered an environmental pollutant as it is a byproduct of aluminum and phosphate fertilizers and was found to be poisoning cattle and destroying crops…makes perfect sense that we should start consuming it, right?
Here’s the bad news: still to this day over 66% of US population is drinking fluoridated water. If you don’t drink filtered water, you get a ton of fluoride in your body simply through drinking water, brushing your teeth, opening your mouth in the shower, drinking water when out to eat, etc. You also get fluoride if you say yes to those treatments at the dentist
Fluoride causes weakening of the teeth (even greater in children), kidney stress, a buildup of fluoride in our bones, leading to increased fractures, and brain toxicity issues
- Fluoride isn’t removed with standard water filtration systems and requires specific types of filtration to be adequately removed
- Perchlorate is an ingredient in things like rocket fuel and fireworks but isn’t regulated by the EPA in water and has been found in over 45 states thus far
- Because of this, there is no testing for it if it is or isn’t in water (so you won’t see if it is detected or not on water quality reports- this is something you’d have to pay for your own testing for)
- It disrupts thyroid gland function in kids and adults and the thyroid’s ability to uptake iodine, leading to decreased thyroid hormone production
- Nitrates are the primary source of nitrogen for plants and occur naturally, but high levels in our water come from fertilizers, animal and industrial wastes
- Those most at risk include babies and pregnant or nursing moms because when in the body nitrates convert into a substance that causes decreased oxygen getting to the body, which is really bad for infants
- No surprise, they have been linked to spontaneous miscarriage, thyroid issues, birth defects and cancers
- Well water users have to be concerned about this, as nitrates can be in the groundwater from nearby agriculture
Microplastics + Bottled Water
- Over 94% of drinking water samples contain microplastics
- A single fleece coast can release 250,000 microfibers in ONE wash
- Plastics are an issue because they are estrogenic, meaning they impact testosterone levels and contribute to painful periods + fertility issues in many women
- A major exposure is drinking from bottled water– one study found 93% of bottled water sampled contained these microplastics
- Drugs aren’t intentionally dumped into water but make their way through improper disposal (like flushing down the toilet) and human waste
- Any time someone takes a medication, it gets excreted through our urine and ends up in our water supply
- One study found 118 pharmaceuticals in samples from 25 water treatment centers; despite these facilities supposedly filtering them out, 47 still were found in the “after” treated water which means they made their way into the tap water supply in those areas
- Again this is another one for well water users to be wary of– in one study they found 27 contaminants with over a dozen being just pharmaceuticals alone
- Technically those with city water do not need to worry as much as well water users
- There are more than 10 MILLION Bacteria in the average glass of water
- Many can cause GI distress, nausea, vomiting, fever, etc.
- The replacement than a lot of water treatment centers are using now instead of chlorine due to certain strains of pathogens like cryptosporidium being resistant to chlorine and requiring a harder-hitting disinfectant
- However it is much harder to remove from our drinking water
- Tends to pull lead from water pipes
- And FYI- filters that remove chlorine don’t usually remove chloramine
- Chlorination can result in the reaction and creation of disinfectant byproducts– Trihalomethane, Haloacetic Acids, Bromate, Chlorite and Chlorate to name a few
- Other VOCs lke Perchloroethylene (PCE) and
Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) that can come from different cleaners, paints, adhesives, dry cleaning, or gasoline additives that leak into our ground water or are dumped by industry into water ways
- Many are known cancer-causers but also impact liver, kidnes and nerves in the body
- Not only ingest them with drinking water but inhale them in the shower or absorb them through your skin (especially at higher temperatures)
- I touch on glyphosate so much working together, but in summary it is the primary ingredient in RoundUp which is the most widely used herbicide on the planet
- It is classified as a cancer-causer (carcinogen), brain toxicity, ADHD, increased risk of miscarriage, and hormone disruption, but most importantly is a MAJOR disruptor of proper gut function and causes leaky gut
- Unfortunately the limits for “safe” amounts of glyphosate in water are actually incredibly high for pesticides so even if it is “in range” the question is if that range is actually safe for our bodies
- The most widely used herbicide in the US that has been found in over 90% of all drinking water samples.
- Found in frogs studies to literally change male frogs into female frogs!
- It is not only used on food crops, but on golf courses and cemeteries and is showing up in higher contents in the spring time when fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are applied.
- These man-made chemicals (aka PFOA and PFOS) found in 98% of bodies in the US population
- Found in things like non-stick coatings (Teflon), food packages and fire-fighting foam and are primarily in our water supply due to industrial dumping
- They are linked to hyperactivity, asthma, fertility issues, liver and cholesterol changes, impaired immune system, developmental problems, cancers and hormone disruption, especially the thyroid
- It’s not regulated by the EPA in our water…meaning their presence isn’t tested for
- They are designed with such strong bonds they are very persistent in the environment and don’t easily break down
- This is another chemical that well water users need to be careful of, as a study of 20 wells found that over 70% of them had FPAS chemicals
- Heavy metals have become a “hot” term in the detox world and for good reason- ones like mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic impact our vital organs and glands like the heart, brain, kidneys, liver and bones and also displace the “good” minerals our bodies need
- Impacts fertility, hormone function + children the most due to their lower detoxification capacity (and higher formula-fed infants due to the use of tap water to make the formula) and can be so damaging to their brains that there have been linkages to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s later in life
- Lead is common in the water supply from old pipes and water containing fluorides and/or chloramine which PULL it from the pipes into the water within
- Arsenic is a known cancer-causer and IQ decreaser. Our exposure comes from arsenic-based pesticides and mineral deposits in the earth (another one for well water users to watch for), but also from places with softball fields, playgrounds, golf courses and tennis courts that use weed controlling pesticides.
- Copper, though needed in the body can cause overload, and the most common exposure is from corrosion of pipes, faucets and other plumbing fixtures
- Radioactive elements, like radon and uranium are technically “natural” and are found in the Earth’s crust, but the issue is that in the body they are like hot coals always emitting damaging energy inside the body to the our immune system and DNA, are cancer-causing, impact kidney health and can cause birth defects
- 170 million Americans are drinking Radium (3000x stronger than Uranium) in their tap water and the amount varies depending on where you live and especially based on activities like mining and oil drilling which can increase the amounts found in our water
- Well water users specifically need to be informed, as sourcing usually comes from groundwater deep in the earth and water doesn’t get filtered through the city municipality.
- The EWG has a map to see areas of the country with highest levels of radium
What If I Drink Bottled Water?
You may think you are in the clear if you just drink bottled water and though it claims to be “natural and pure”, over 50% of bottled water is taken directly from the tap…aka you’re paying for water you could have easily poured at home.
Bottled Water is BS.
The sad thing is this is actually legal- though water is usually regulated by the EPA, bottled water is considered a food and regulated by the FDA which does not require bottled water companies to disclose to consumers where the water came from, how it has been treated or what contaminants it contains. It is a $4 billion per year industry so they won’t be changing this any time soon.
Test Aqua is a website to see which bottled waters have been tested and what has been found in them.
Because of this, I suggest avoiding bottled water AND plastic water bottles as much as you can; traveling can be an exception but if you can get stainless or glass refillable that is ideal!
Why You Can’t Buy Any Old Filter
And now we’ve arrived at why so many people get tripped up in this category: EVERYONE’S WATER IS DIFFERENT.
Yes, you could totally go out and get the top of the line filter which should hypothetically filter everything out, but here are some things to consider that could make certain types of filtration better for your source:
Ground or Surface Water
Groundwater tends to have higher contents of minerals and other radioactive elements and heavy metals and very susceptible to contamination from man-made chemicals like gas, oil and industrial chemicals.
If you use well water (which about 15% of Americans do), YOU are the sole regulator of this water’s quality; you cannot rely on city regulation or filtration to make sure you have a clean source. Because of this well water typically has higher levels of bacteria and all of the other contaminants mentioned earlier
Surface water is sourced from streams/ponds/lakes and can have higher levels of agricultural run-off, pesticides, and microorganisms
Where You Live
If you live in an agricultural area, you’re more likely to have high levels of pesticides, nitrates and manure run-off in your water supply
If in an urban area, higher presence of industrial chemicals, heavy metals like mercury and fluorinated chemicals in your water
Some areas of the world have higher levels of radiation (radon, uranium) in their groundwater that can cause health issues
Each of these issues/contaminants can each require different filtration types to remove.
Your Local Water Department
As mentioned, the age and state of your local plant is crucial; most water infrastructure is failing and dates back 100 years.
Different plants use different types of disinfectants like chlorine or chloramine and additives like fluoride which are also pretty hard to remove from our water and need a special filter to do so.
The Pipes In Your Home
This is why you can’t just trust the water report from the city; it isn’t factoring in the piping system both to and within your house which could be fitted with lead or copper (heavy metals) that leach into your water supply.
Differences in Filtration Options
We’ve all seen different types of filtration on the market, but do we know what each CAN and CAN’T filter?
Based on what’s in your water (again found through testing like Tap Score), here are some specifics of what certain types of filtration will remove from your tap supply:
- One of the most popular systems because it reduces more contaminants than any other filter. Heavy hitters like fluoride, arsenic, and lead are removed by this type of system
- Usually installed under the sink counter or can buy as a countertop unit (whole-house reverse osmosis is very costly and wasteful with water- I suggest pairing a different whole house system with an under the sink RO system)
- Filters out even the “good” minerals so it is important to have a mineral-dense diet and/or add in mineral drops to your water
- What we have in our home (paired with a whole-house system for the rest of the water access points)
Contaminants it Reduces/Removes:
Aluminum, Arsenic, Antimony, Asbestos, Atrazine, Barium, Copper, Chloride, Chromium, Cryptosporidium, Disinfectant Byproducts + VOCs, Glyphosate, Fluoride, Haloacetic Acids, Lead, Manganese, Mercury, Microplastics, Nickel, Nitrates, PFA/PFOA/PFOS, Perchlorate, Pesticides, Pharmaceuticals, Sulfates, Viruses, Bacteria: Salmonella, E. Coli, Giardia, Water Hardness, Uranium
KDF filters use a Kinetic Degradation Fluxion process to filter chlorine and other impurities out of water
- Often used alongside carbon filtration
- Can withstand high temps (great option for shower filtration)
Contaminants it Reduces/Removes:
Chloramine, Chlorine, Chromium, Copper, Fungi + Algae, Hydrogen Sulfide, Iron, Lead, Mercury, Nickel
The National Sanitation Foundation was founded in 1944 to develop standards to accredit systems/products that filter things like water
They are helpful but not a requirement as smaller companies can’t afford going through the lengthy and costly certification process
Contaminants it Reduces/Removes:
There are different types of these certifications based on what it removes.
Emits a frequency of light that destroys the DNA of microorganism
- Usually found in whole-house systems to address pathogens, viruses and molds without chemicals or by-products
- Good component to have for well water users
Contaminants it Reduces/Removes:
Microorganisms: Coliform bacteria, E. Coli, Legionella, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, etc.
- One of the oldest types of water purification designed to be similar to the cycle of rain, but removes GOOD minerals too
- Doesn’t do the best job at removing pesticides and herbicides unless it is combined with an active carbon filter
- Similar end result as Reverse Osmosis but less wasteful
Contaminants it Reduces/Removes:
Aluminium, Arsenic, Antimony, Barium, Cadmium, Chromium, Iron, Lead, Viruses, E. Coli, Salmonella, Cryptosporidium, Giardia
- Your typical refrigerator or pitcher filters (Brita, PUR, etc.)
- Doesn’t remove many things like fluoride, nitrates, arsenic, mercury, or bacteria
- Not strong enough for well water users
- Doesn’t work well with hot water (not good for showers)
- Have to be changed frequently (like every two months)
Contaminants it Reduces/Removes:
Chlorine, VOCs, Microplastics, Sediment
- One of the few filters that can remove chloramine in addition to what carbon filters can reduce
Contaminants it Reduces/Removes:
Chloramine, Disinfectant Byproducts
- Usually found in whole-home systems, used for water softening and purification
- Used in conjunction with carbon or reverse osmosis
Contaminants it Reduces/Removes:
Arsenic, Copper, Fluoride, Microplastics, Nitrates, Radioactive Elements like Radium + Uranium
Point of Entry vs. Point of Use Filtration
If you are considering water filtration, my biggest advice is to do so based on your current living situation and budget- we call these differents POINT OF ENTRY or POINT OF USE filtration systems.
Point of Use (Faucet/Showerhead Filters)
These types of systems are designed to be installed where your water gets used- mainly things like drinking/cooking water and shower filters.
If you rent or are in a house you don’t intend to stay in for long:
- I suggest this route, such as a countertop filter for drinking/cooking and showerhead or bathtub filters
- Though it is less expensive, it is often high maintenance, requiring filter changes more regularly and continuous refilling of pitchers, etc. to ensure you have clean water available/ready for use
Point of Entry (Whole House Systems)
These types of systems are for where the water ENTERS your home and provides filtration for all water in your home- think faucets, dishwasher, laundry, refrigerator water, etc.
If you have the funds and plan to stay in your home for a long while:
- This would be my go-to as you won’t need several different filters for all over your home
- It requires less work (filling up the countertop filter every day, etc.) but may be a bit more expensive and require some plumbing assistance initially
- Depending on your water you may also want additional purification for drinking/cooking water (like under the sink units)
My Top Picks For Water Testing
The best way to really know what exactly is in your water is a Tap Score home water test kit. Test water from directly from your tap (or from your current filter if you want to see how it is actually working) and gives you a comprehensive report of the contaminants found along with options for filtration that will work based on your results.
I have had many clients run this prior to determining filtration and have found alarming results, even in homes that had whole-house filtration systems already BUT they weren’t designed for heavier hitters like heavy metals or fluoride.
Yes, this can be another cost, but it may be worth it if you find that your water isn’t actually THAT bad and may not require as extensive of filtration as you would have bought just going for the best/biggest system out there.
I suggest at least the Advanced Tests, but if radiation is a concern I would do the Extended Test.
MWFITWELL for $10 off orders $100 or more.
I suggest at least the Advanced Tests, but if radiation, pesticides, and industrial contamination is a concern I would do the Extended Test.
MWFITWELL for $10 off orders $100 or more.
Pitcher + Refrigerator Filters ($)
Pitcher and refrigerator filters can be a good option if you need a less expensive choice and don’t need a high volume of water available. They use different technologies so please look into them further to decide what is the best choice for you.
Note that you should also address your bathing water (shower/bath- see below) if you go this route!
Purifies + restructures the water (something most pitchers don’t do)
300 gallon filter life
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Reverse Osmosis countertop pitcher unit with a glass carafe (unlike most others that are plastic)
6 month filter life
Much better option for fridge water filtration than the traditional ones you can get
365 galllon filter life
Showerhead Filters ($)
This is one a lot ignore yet while bathing in warm water, some of the chemicals in our water become even more volatile and we inhale them or absorb them through the skin.
Less expensive than whole-house units, but don’t filter out as many chemicals. The ones to prioritize are chlorine + chloramine when it comes to bathing water.
Best filter for both chlorine AND chloramine removal (most don’t do a good job with the latter)
probably what I would choose if I needed this.
Countertop Filters ($$)
Countertop filters can be standalone options or ones that do connect to your water line, but sit on top of the counter versus underneath the sink.
Note that you should also address your bathing waterif you go this route.
Under the Sink Filters ($$$)
Because these may require a bit more plumbing/setup assistance, I strongly encourage you to contant the companies below for their recommendations for your home prior to purchasing.
If you go this route WITHOUT whole-home filtration, you will still want to filter your bathing water.
NOTE: Many whole home units (below) recommend adding on one of these to further purify/restructure your water.
12-Stage under the sink Reverse Osmosis + Deionizing purification. Have had a wonderful experience with this company!
What we have in our house paired with the whole house filter.
Whole House Filtration ($$$$)
In my opinion, this is the best long-term, low-maintenance option.
Yes, it is pricey up front but I did the math personally on our previous water delivery and both a whole-house and under the sink filter was the same amount over just a few year’s use of a delivery system.
These filters are even longer use as well vs. constant filter replacement (which is an additional cost you need to factor in when buying one of the cheaper options above).
However- PLEASE reach out to these companies to determine your best option. They will work with you to decide based on house size, family size, water quality and more.
Point of Entry Whole House system. Removes chlorine, chloramines, fluoride, heavy metals, and VOCs and lasts for 10+ years. Fill out this form for their help in selecting.
What we have in our house paired with the under the sink filter.
Several different options for whole-home systems.
At the link avove, click on the “city water” or “well water” tabs to fill out a questionnaire to receive help with which unit to purchase or give them a call!
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