Natural Medicine Editor replies: Tap water can be likened to a chemical soup. Among the pollutants are soap, oil, sulphuric acid, copper, arsenic, lead, paint, pesticides, radioactive wastes, agricultural fertilizers and industrial chemicals. Municipal water is chlorinated after initial purification to remove harmful bacteria. All the large cities and towns in South Africa are required to meet purity levels specified by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS).
There is considerable concern about the dangers of chlorine. Chlorine reacts with organic substances in the water to form trihalomethanes (THMs) such as chloroform and carbon tetrachloride, some of which are known carcinogens.
A study by the US National Cancer Institute found that drinking chlorinated water may double the risk of bladder cancer.
In contrast, Water Board officials state that the maximum permissible levels of chlorine and other chemicals are so low that the dangers to the consumer are negligible. They also remind us that chlorination is currently the only affordable and realistic means of mass purification.
Apart from chlorine, other chemicals are also added to the water, for example tiny quantities of aluminium to improve clarity. You could also be drinking minute amounts of cadmium, mercury and lead. What our bodies cannot use or eliminate will be stored. Of particular importance is the question of synergism. It is well known that mixing chemicals may lead to effects much greater that the sum of individual concentrations. This serious consideration is generally not taken into account.
Unfortunately the consumer has no control over the journey of bottled water from the bottling plant to the point of consumption. This journey can be over long distances, and it can take weeks, months and even years. Over this time water may be subjected to extremes of temperature.
Unlike tap water supplies, bottlers need not disclose known contaminates in their products to consumers.
Bottled water is sold as mineral, spring or distilled, or just plain tap water that has gone through additional filtration. This process often seems to negate the original concept that brings us back to the questions of what is an acceptable level of purification treatment and what treatment does to the quality of water. Adding to the confusion are flavoured waters containing sugar, and in many instances preservatives and additives. Another factor to consider is the container. It is now widely accepted that under certain conditions unhealthy chemicals can leach from plastics and packaging into the water.
An option in the quest for cleaner water is filtration. There are numerous brands on the market, including jug filters, filters that are put on taps, shower filters, filters built into the water supply. Solid-block carbon filters are simplest, although they do not remove bacteria or viruses. They are much more effective in removing chemicals such as solvents and THMs than the activated carbon filters, which use granulated or powdered carbon. Regular rinsing and frequent changing are required, as bacteria multiply in the carbon bed. De-ionisation uses ceramic filters with cation and anion resins to remove ions with a positive and negative charge.
Distillation is one of the oldest methods of cleaning water. Water is boiled, and the steam trapped and condensed back into water. In theory the impurities stay behind in the boiling chamber, leaving pure water. Distillation combined with carbon filtration will kill and remove virtually 100% of bacteria, viruses and cysts, and will also remove heavy metals, minerals, radionuclides and particulates. Reverse osmosis water filters work by forcing water through semi-permeable membranes that allow water to pass while rejecting most of the contaminants. These filters are effective in reducing heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic and reducing nitrates, herbicides and pesticides; they can even be effective against bacteria and viruses.
Good drinking water should contain minerals. De-ionisation, reverse osmosis and distillation work too well here, so one should ideally add selected trace minerals and nutrients back into the water after purification. The functions of minerals are hugely interrelated to each other and to vitamins, hormones and enzymes. As a rough guideline good drinking water should contain trace amounts of calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, sulphate, chloride, nitrate, fluoride and iron, and as many trace elements as possible.
Choose your water filter carefully. Few filters can reduce sodium levels, and some filters actually increase the levels of sodium and zinc above the recommended limit. Add minerals to your purified water through supplementation.
Source: Natural Medicine February 2011 Issue 68
In addition to the above article, to obtain a complete understanding of water filtration read Water Filters: What You Should Know and Water Filter Types: Choose the right one. There is a good case for harvesting rainwater from your roof and filtering it for drinking (rainwater is pure if collected from your rooftop, it should be filtered to remove possible contaminants from the roof and gutters). This way, you know where the water comes from and you have complete control of how it is purified. Chlorine is on of the most cost-effective ways of eliminating dangerous bacteria and micro-organisms (this is why municipalities use it to treat bulk water supplies), but that doesn’t mean it is healthy. If you are using municipal water, install water filtration systems to remove the chlorine. Chlorine also can create havoc in the environment, especially aquatic ecosystems; see Don’t Let Your Swimming Pool Backwash Water Damage the Environment.
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