From: Fred Durso Jr., E/The Environmental Magazine
Published November 4, 2004 12:00 AM

Choosing a Water Filtering System

While it may be Earth's most precious resource, water certainly isn't treated as such. America's drinking water is often exposed to chemical additives, sewage, pesticides, herbicides, and toxic waste, leaving many citizens with a lack of trust for the agencies that regulate it. 

A study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that pollution, old pipes, and outdated treatment facilities played a part in reducing the quality of drinking water in 19 U.S. cities. Some water supplies have been tainted by lead, pathogens, and even perchlorate (which doubles as rocket fuel).

Fortunately, it has never been easier to enjoy your tap water without ever having to purchase expensive, wasteful, and possibly dirtier, bottled water. Water filters can be highly effective in removing contaminants, and many cost pennies a day to operate.

Your Right to Know

"Before deciding on a filtration system, it's best to find out what's actually in your water so you can effectively remove the contaminants," said Tom Round, vice president of Silver Lake Research Corporation. Your city's right-to-know report (also called the consumer confidence report) examines your drinking water and anything else lurking in it. However, these reports can be difficult to decipher.

Citizens can advocate for cleaner water, as well as take matters in their own hands. Home testing kits from companies such as Silver Lake ($16.99) allow you to check your water for the most prevalent contaminants and compare that with the Environmental Protection Agency's standards.

"Water is constantly changing," explained Round. "By the time the right-to-know report comes out, your drinking water could be entirely different." 

An Array of Choices

While there may be a plethora of choices on the market, filters certified by the independent National Sanitation Foundation ensure manufacturers are living up to their claims.

Pour-through carafes are the most popular way for consumers to filter their water in small batches. As water flows through the carafe, activated carbon in the filter clings certain contaminants to its surface, while an ion exchange resin binds heavy metals.

The Pur Advantage CR-1500R ($18) received Consumer Reports'(CR) highest overall score for carafes, testing high for flow rate and the ability to remove chloroform, lead, and off-tastes. This model comes equipped with a life indicator, thus eliminating the guesswork of when to replace the filter. It is also certified to remove both mercury and atrazine. The Brita Classic ($20) also obtained a "very good" rating from CR.

Faucet-mounted filters are available to those who enjoy drinkable water on demand. The GE SmartWater ($22) received a "very good" overall score from CR and is designed to remove sediments and cysts. These faucet-mount filters give you the option to bypass the filter when it isn't needed, thus prolonging its life. However, the filters should be replaced every three months to ensure peak performance.

Undersink systems such as the Kenmore 38460 ($80) have filters that can last twice as long as carafe or faucet-mounted units, since filtered water is drawn through a separate faucet. The filters in these models can be difficult to change, and professional installation might be required.

Reverse-osmosis models work by sending your tap water through a pressurized membrane. The unit strains molecules too large to pass through it, preventing most contaminants from entering your glass. Unfortunately, these units are very water intensive; they waste five gallons for every gallon purified. Also, be ready to wait up to 50 minutes to enjoy a half-gallon of water.

To shield your entire home from contaminants, whole-house filtration systems might be a wise choice (around $1,000). Attached to your water main, these filters provide safer water for all of your daily needs. While typical models are certified to remove sediments, they generally do not remove parasites, and most require professional installation.

For that extra feeling of clean, shower filters are also available and sporting some high-tech features. Rainshow'r offers a filter ($41) with a "see-through" window, showcasing the sediment it traps. It's also equipped with a valve capable of turning your water off during wasteful periods of shampoo lathering.

Touted by some as water's purest form, distilled water is produced by condensing steam from boiled water back into its liquid state. Debatable is the common belief that distilled water can leach certain minerals from your body due to its pureness. Many experts agree with the American Medical Association, which concluded there is no evidence of "any adverse health effects from the continued ingestion of distilled water."

While proven highly effective in removing bacteria and viral contaminants, distillers are unable to remove volatile organic compounds having boiling points lower than water. They also can be water and energy intensive and can take hours to purify.

Fred Durso Jr. uses a carafe to purify his New Jersey tap water.

Related Links

Consumer Reports

NRDC's report "What's on Tap?"

Rainshow'r filters available through Green Home

Silver Lake Research Corporation

Silver Lake Research Corporation

Source: E/The Environmental Magazine

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