Figuring out what kind of water to drink can feel overwhelming and confusing. Is drinking filtered water really worth it? An in-depth search about tap water quality reveals it is vitally important to filter your water or find a clean source of safe water. What are the top water filtration solutions for pure water? Based on my research, the only kind of long term water filter solution I feel comfortable recommending would be a multi-stage reverse osmosis or distillation filter that includes a charcoal filtration stage.
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For starters, enter your zip code into the Environmental Working Group’s tap water database for contaminants found in your local tap water supply. You’ll quickly find a disturbing number of toxins in your everyday drinking and bathing water. EWG’s studies reveal that tap water “can contain up to thirty-eight low-level contaminants like disinfection bi-products, caffeine, Tylenol, arsenic, and nitrate.” (2021, Nutritional Therapy Association). Other sources indicate even more contaminants in regular tap water. Sound like something you’d want in your body? No way, Jose!
Facts about Toxins in our Water Supply
A few frightful facts from the EWG about the tap water supply in the States:
- Water systems in the United States linked to cancer is 40,000 or 81% of all water systems.
- The number of Americans drinking hexavalent chromium (the Erin Brockovich chemical) is 250 million, or 77% of all Americans.
- 7 million Americans drinking unsafe amounts of nitrate.
- Water systems containing lead levels that may be harmful to children: 19,000.
- Chemicals detected in America’s drinking water = 250 +.
To emphasize just how bad things really are, the Federal Government hasn’t set any limits on 160 contaminants. The high percentage of systems and households in America drinking chemicals in their tap water should alert you that most regular tap water is toxic! We’ll go over just a few of the big culprits in tap water, and then I’ll share the top solutions for drinking pure drinking water in your house.
Major Contaminants in Tap Water
According to the CDC, between 62-72% of United States residents receive fluoridated water. While it was initially believed (and still widely assumed!) to strengthen tooth enamel and prevent cavities, recent studies show that fluoride is actually a toxic chemical when ingested. Government agencies continue to claim that low fluoride levels in water are safe. Yet, many studies demonstrate there is cause for concern. For example, studies show that fluoride in water:
- Suppresses thyroid function creating risk for hypothyroidism.
- Is associated with ADHD symptoms in young children whose mothers drank tap water.
- Can cause damage to liver and kidney functions in children.” Study Xiong
- Correlated to hip fractures in the elderly. ” small but significant increase in the risk of hip fracture in both men and women exposed to artificial fluoridation at 1 ppm, suggesting that low levels of fluoride may increase the risk of hip fracture in the elderly.”
- Exacerbates rheumatoid arthritis.
- Associated with incidences of osteosarcoma
- Negative impacts on the pineal and thyroid glands
If you’re interested in learning more about fluoride in water, Dr. Group created a documentary entitled “Fluoride: Poison on Tap” that further explores the topic.
In a study done on 61 patients, there was a definite correlation between fluoride uptake and calcification of the arterial walls. Additionally, Dr. Koniver shares that fluoride is an enzyme inhibitor. Let’s be sure to avoid fluoride!
Haloacetic Acids Due to Disinfectants
While you may not find “chlorine” per se in your water, you’ll likely find bi-products of chlorine and other water disinfectants, namely “haloacetic acid.” Haloacetic acid is a term for five acids: monochloroacetic acid, dichloroacetic acid, trichloroacetic acid, monobromoacetic acid, and dibromoacetic acid. While these all sound bad, why should we really be concerned? The Environmental Working group explains that these acids are harmful during pregnancy and may increase the risk of cancer. They can also create mutations and DNA damage.
Lead and Asbestos
Old piping itself could contain toxins like lead and asbestos. Homes and neighborhoods built before the 1980s have a higher chance of lead or concrete asbestos pipes. According to the WHO, “there is no level of lead that is safe.” Lead pipes can be found in Chicago, Washington, DC, Flint, Michigan, and many more states.
Pipes insulated with asbestos aren’t a problem until the asbestos cracks off and leaks into the water supply. A recent study has shown asbestos in drinking water could potentially lead to the risk of cancer, including mesothelioma.
Doing the research for this article, I came across some mind-boggling information about how microplastics are in our tap and bottled water! This comes from seemingly innocent things like tires, road paint, plastic bottles, and even the microfiber clothes we wear. Microplastics are known to affect the endocrine (hormonal) system and are implicated in decreased fertility for both males and females.
The Litany of Toxins in Tap Water
These contaminants are just a few of a litany of toxins, including trihalomethanes, inorganic minerals, heavy metals, micro-organisms, pharmaceutical drugs, and pesticides in our water. For an entire list of toxins that can be found in tap water, check out this extensive list.
How to Purify Your Water
Ok, now let’s get to the good news and what you can do about it. For the most part, it will be necessary to use a multi-stage heavy-duty filter such as reverse osmosis or water distillation system that includes a charcoal filter to filter out all of these contaminants.
Spring, mineral, and well water may be an option, but you’ll want to make sure it’s tested (see below for testing options) against pollutants that come in through contaminated groundwater. For now, let’s discuss the options for water filters:
Water Filters that Take Everything Out
Reverse Osmosis water typically has several stages of water purification. The water is pumped through the system at high pressure. An RO membrane is made of a thin-film composite and removes up to 98% of total dissolved solids (TDS) down to 0.001 microns. In a standard reverses osmosis filter, there are three to four stages:
- Pre-filter stage (particle filter): removes sediment, sand, and rust.
- Second pre-filter sage (carbon filter): removes chlorine, VOC’s
- Third reverse osmosis membrane stage: Semi-permeable membrane (one micron wide!) removes fluoride, arsenic and pesticides, and heavy metals, including lead.
- An optional UV filter removes bacteria and parasites.
Some reverse osmosis filters offer a “remineralization” stage where some minerals like magnesium are added back in. The water filter our family uses has fourteen stages including a remineralization and even a “re-structuring” stage to be more like what you’d find in a mountain stream – with a natural structure. Pretty awesome! (Radiant Life). Reverse osmosis filters are typically “under the sink” filters that connect to your tap directly.
Distillation boils water and collects the condenses the steam. It removes up to 99.5% of all impurities from water and effectively removes even heavy metals such as lead, mercury, fluoride, and arsenic. While the distillation process itself does not remove chlorine, most distillation machines have a charcoal filter and air vents, so there is no remaining chlorine in the distilled water.
Daily Use: Most distillers are countertop filters, meaning they sit on the countertop and must be plugged in and filled daily. The downsides with using a distiller are the following:
- Cumbersome to fill on a daily basis.
- It takes several hours just to get a gallon of water filtered.
- It takes a lot of electricity to boil the water.
What about Bone Health … Does Reverse Osmosis or Distilled Water Leach Minerals from your Bones?
There is plenty of debate around this topic and the only real source I could find pointing to this possibility is an analysis done by the WHO cautioning the use of daily RO/distilled water. Based on the WHO studies, there is a case to be made for the lack of minerals in RO and distilled water. While doctors like Dr. Ken Berry don’t see any research to confirm that RO/distilled water actually leaches minerals from bones, it would make sense that we should supplement our daily water and food intake with additional minerals just to be sure our mineral intake is high enough. Estimates on how much of our daily mineral needs come from drinking water vary from 1%- 20%.
Here are some options for adding minerals to water or food:
- Adding trace mineral drops or a high mineral sea salt to drinking and cooking water
- Eating a mineral-rich diet grown from locally-sourced, organic farms
- Adding in a whole food mineral supplement including calcium and magnesium to your diet.
- Supplement your RO and/or distilled water intake with mineral water. Two good options that are free of contaminants are: San Pellegrino and Mountain Valley glass-bottled water.
Filtered Water Options to Avoid
Filters that Don’t Take Everything Out
Boiling water can get rid of living things like parasites, bacteria, and even chlorine but it can’t get rid of fluoride, heavy metals, strong chemicals, sediment, or microplastics.
Carbon Filtration Systems
Carbon filtration is excellent at removing chlorine. What carbon filtration isn’t so great at filtering out is fluoride, nitrates, and sodium. As discussed earlier, you’ll definitely want to make sure your water filter is removing fluoride. Using a multi-stage filter that includes a carbon filter is ideal. Researchers from Duke University discovered that activated carbon water filters “removed 73% of PFAS contaminants, on average, but results varied greatly. In some cases, the chemicals were completely removed; in other cases, they were not reduced at all.” The best case scenario is to choose a reverse osmosis filter that includes carbon filtration.
While various fridge filters vary in performance, many fridge filters use a simple carbon filter, which, as discussed above, may work well for chlorine (depending on the quality of the filter) but won’t be able to filter out fluoride and hundreds of other contaminants in tap water. Fridge filters often only add a pleasant taste but don’t remove a majority of contaminants.
Countertop Water Filters, The Berkey
I wish I could recommend the Berkey water filter because they are an affordable option for many people. This may be a decent short-term option, but long-term, there is a question about the Berkey’s ability to filter out fluoride. I found several people online who personally tested their water from Berkey. They discovered that fluoride is not wholly removed using these filters, and there is some concern around “alumina” left in the water. Because of these two reports, I personally would not choose or recommend a Berkey as a long-term pure water solution.
Bottled water does not often offer enough transparency around their sourcing or their testing for contamination. The Environmental Working Group reviewed one hundred eighty-eight bottled waters and only two bottled water companies of all the nearly two hundred offered complete transparency: Ozarka and Penta Ultra-Purified. Third parties who test bottled water find various levels of toxins, including PFAS and microplastics, in most bottled sparkling water.
Know What’s in Your Water! Options for Testing
The Consumer Confidence Report
If you are part of a municipal water system, they generate an annual report to share all available data regarding water quality. You can inquire with your city for this report. Additionally, you may also be able to find it listed as “consumer confidence report” for your state on the EPA database. Still, these government reports do not consider chlorine to be a contaminant, and according to the EWG, the EPA omits some critical toxins. You’ll notice that the difference between what the EPA considers acceptable compared to what the EWG considers acceptable is striking. Check out the graph here to see for yourself. At the end of the day, I prefer to view the EWG report by zip code since they do independent 3rd party testing.
State by State Laboratories
The EPA lists certified laboratories to test water in their state-by-state database.
DIY at Home Testing Kits
If you want to test it yourself, here are a few good DIY options:
- Best Overall: Safe Home Drinking Water Test Kit. This mail-in kit screens for over 200 contaminants and provides detailed results in under 10 days.
- Best for Lead: Health Metric Heavy Metals Test Kit at Amazon. This kit tests for lead, mercury, copper, and iron—all in 15 minutes.
- Best for Well Water: Health Metric Well Water Test Kit for Drinking Water. This well water testing kit covers all the bases and takes just five minutes to get results.
- Best for Homes: SimpleLab Tap Score Advanced City Water Test. Results include not only contaminant levels but also water treatment advice, setting it apart from other kits.
Note that all these testing kids are to the EPA standards and not the Environmental Working Group standards, which are much stricter and arguably more thorough.
Invest in Pure Water Solutions for Your Health
I hope this article helped you understand the dire need for drinking filtered water, the health consequences of drinking tap water, and the best solutions for pure water. Finally, while purchasing a reverse osmosis or distilled water filter may be an expensive purchase upfront, it will last for years and be a worthwhile investment in your long term health! Make sure to decide on a way to add in some minerals to your water and/or diet to ensure adequate mineral intake. Your health will thank you for removing all the toxins and finding a pure water solution!