How Water Companies Harm Your Water--and You--in the Name of "Treating"It
By Brian Cronin, Director of AquaMD
(AquaMD is the water testing division of the American Water Council, a nationally respected provider of water education & testing services.)
Most people know that clean water plays a pivotal role in maintaining good health. But do you know what water companies do to the water that comes out of your tap and enters your system when you shower, cook, clean and brush your teeth?
Most water companies pump your water from lakes, rivers and wells. The larger ones attempt to treat the water or strip out the environmental contamination that occurs every day. They often make decisions knowing that certain treatment processes may pose health risks.
The ABCs of Water Treatment
Water providers use a variety of treatment processes to remove or neutralize unwanted contaminants commonly found in the water supply. The most common of these processes are filtration, flocculation and disinfection.
Though many water treatment facilities use filtration to remove remaining particles from the water supply, these 'filters' are not what you might think. The process in most public systems involves millions of gallons of water passing through pits containing layers of gravel, sand and charcoal, similar to the way in which a private well relies on rock and soil to screen out some larger organic material and other potentially harmful contaminants. It is a fact that some organic material, natural particles and bacteria do get through the filtration process.
This process involves adding chemicals, such as alum, iron salts or synthetic organic polymers into the water to promote this coagulation. Aluminum salts have been used for centuries and alum (also known as potassium aluminum sulfate) has been used in the United States for commercial water treatment for over 100 years. These chemicals cause small particles in the water to bind together into larger clumps so they can be removed. The downside is that these added chemicals can stay in the water and pass through the treatment system into your drinking water.
A number of reputable medical experts, including Dr. Joseph Mercola, have explained the link between aluminum and Alzheimer's disease. Aluminum compounds enter the body primarily by ingestion of food, and water; both inhalation and dermal exposure can contribute to the total body burden. Despite the risks, Alum is the coagulant preferred by many water utilities because of its history, effectiveness, availability and cost.
Many utilities add fluoride to drinking water. Because aluminum forms strong soluble complexes with fluoride, utilities that utilize both flocculation and fluoridation must be careful to choose the point of fluoride application to avoid increasing soluble aluminum levels, ... which are toxic!
Finally, public water is usually disinfected before it reaches the distribution system to kill dangerous microorganisms. Chemicals like chlorine are often used because they are cheap; they are effective disinfectants; and they remain in the water throughout the distribution system and into the home. Unfortunately, the use of these chemicals causes dangerous disinfection byproducts, or DBPs, which we'll talk about a little later.
After all this water is treated, it is pumped through a system of underground mains and pipes to your home. These pipe systems are often very old and are upgraded only when major breaks occur. In addition, many home pipes consist of copper, iron or PVC pipes that are assembled and connected using lead-based joint compounds. If the pH level in the water is too low, the water will leach copper, iron, lead and other materials found in pipe materials as it enters your home's water supply.
As the water flows toward your home, the chlorine and disinfection chemicals in the water interact with organic matter and natural particles that passed thru the water company's filters. The combination of the two causes dangerous DBPs, such as trihalomethanes (TTHMs).
The Darkside of Public Water Treatment
Some of these DBPs have been proven to be carcinogenic and many health experts believe that they could be the most serious health threat found in our public water supply. Long-term exposure to DBPs may increase the risk of cancer or result in other health problems, including liver, nervous system and reproductive issues.
As the vast majority of the U.S. population continues to receive and consume disinfected or chlorinated drinking water, we can assume that Americans are consuming disinfection byproducts every day, the number of related cancer cases could be substantial.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
Never assume that someone else will take care of your water. Your family's health is not worth the gamble. Whether you receive your water from a well or public supply system, we strongly urge you to test your own home's drinking water each year. If a problem is found, you can select the right treatment option to protect you.
Note to Private Well Owners: Although your water isn't treated by a water company, you are relying soley on rocks and dirt to keep your drinking water safe. In light of the tons of chemicals pumped into the environment each year, it's no wonder that even the EPA, Center for Disease Control and every federal, state and local health department in the country strongly urge annual well water testing.
Be sure to never drink unfiltered tap water.