Drinking Water Internationally–Purification Solutions

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By J. E. Hinners, MD MPH

Drinking from tap waterLast week, we discussed some of the international health risks of heavy metals in drinking water.

However, we established that boiling the water does not remove the heavy metals and, in fact, can worsen the problem. Moreover, relying on bottled water is not even a guarantee that the water you’re drinking is free of heavy metals.

So what are your best drinking water purification solutions?

Quality water filters.

As you can see from even a limited Amazon water filter search, the best solution will depend on your circumstances and your uses in filtering the water.

  • Will you be filtering water from your faucet? From a public restaurant? From the Nile River?
  • How portable does the filter need to be?
  • Do you have ownership of the water faucet you would be using or does it belong to someone else?
  • How much water will you be consuming? Enough for one person for one day? For 5 people over months? Or for 500 people?

Thankfully, there are enough options available for nearly every situation out there that I’m not going to attempt to address every one in this particular article.


This article covers just a handful of some of the better water filter solutions available for home use for one person or for a family (when drinking water is coming from a faucet).


Water contaminants to be concerned about include heavy metals and also include chlorine, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) such as pesticides, and fluoride (there are those, including certain governments, who would dispute that fluoride is a water contaminant, but that could be the whole subject of a separate article).


1) Larger carbon block filtration systems

  • Usually larger–they go on the counter top or get attached to the sink
  • A good option if you have ownership (or temporary ownership) of your sink because you’re living in your own home
  • Higher up-front cost but usually lower long-term costs
  • More appropriate for larger volumes of water being consumed
  • Usually remove most water contaminants to be concerned about with the questionable handling of fluoride removal

Examples:

a) Aquasana

I have personally purchased and used this system for many years. I’ve generally been very happy with it–quality results for longer-term lower water filtration costs. As for fluoride, the Australia and New Zealand Aquasana site mention that 2 out of the 5 fluoride types are removed with Aquasana; these 2 types removed are said to be the synthetic fluoride while the remaining 3 types are said to be naturally occurring fluoride.

The company explains that the only added filter that could remove the remaining fluoride would be made of aluminum and would introduce a new set of bigger problems into the drinking water: aluminum contamination.

There are several types available (including on top of the counter, under the sink, and from a water pitcher).

Information pdf for Aquasana

b) Berkey

I have not personally used this one but have read many great Berkey reviews. On the question of fluoride, it appears that their standard filter does not remove fluoride but that the company offers a separate add-on aluminum filter for removing fluoride. Again…pros and cons here. You can remove the fluoride but risk introducing aluminum contamination in the water.

Berkey also has a wide range of filter options, including a travel mug.

Information pdf for Berky


2) Water filter pitchers

  • Don’t get attached to the sink and usually take up less counter space
  • A good option if you don’t have ownership (or temporary ownership) of the sink because you are either living in someone else’s home or are sharing housing with someone who doesn’t want to participate in your water filtration investment
  • Lower initial cost but higher long-term cost
  • More fitting for water consumption by fewer numbers of users
  • Remove many contaminants, including chlorine, but are generally not as effective as carbon block filters at reducing the other contaminants of concern (there are exceptions, however!)

Examples:

a) Brita

Who doesn’t know Brita by now? I’m pretty sure some people equate water filters with Brita. Apparently their marketing has been effective, as this seems to be the general public’s go-to water filter pitcher.

Yes, I have used Brita in certain contexts where I was living in someone else’s home, and it was convenient for that reason. I think any water filter is better than no water filter. However, Brita is not my preferred water filter.

One heavy metal comparison test among filtering water pitchers showed that Brita did a poor job of removing heavy metals, with the possible exception of fairly removing mercury (74.6% removal); Brita pitcher-filtered water was, in fact, found increase aluminum levels in the water by 33.9%. While I hold these statistics lightly, as it is hard to know which companies may have helped fund studies, I have not seen any data showing otherwise yet.

In fact, if you try to search online for the Brita filter performance data sheet, you’ll see that it’s not even very publicly available.

Brita has several different filter options,including a faucet attachment and sports bottle. To be fair, the Brita faucet attachment is said to remove more contaminants than the water pitcher filter.

In summary, Brita may help remove chlorine and some mercury, but that’s about it.

b) Zero Water

I am currently using the Zero Water pitcher filter. While using a pitcher filter is not my preferred filter method (as I think it’s not nearly as effective as the larger carbon filters), I’m in a bit of a limited and relatively short-term context, so it appears to be my best option at the moment.

However, I am much happier with the performance results I see for Zero Water than for Brita.

It appears from heavy metal testing that Zero Water removes at least 99% of heavy metals, and it also removes chlorine. Sadly, though, Zero Water is not currently certified for the removal of arsenic.

As for fluoride, the Zero Water TDS meter also detects inorganic compounds, among other things. Fluoride is an inorganic compound, so when the meter reads “000,” fluoride is not likely to be present in the water (tap water fluoride at 2-4 ppm would register on the TDS meter as “002-004”).

The performance data sheet for Zero Water is not readily available online, as was also the case for Brita.

There are a range of different filter types, including pitchers, refrigerator tanks, and travel mugs.


I did not mention some other water filtration systems (distillation and reverse osmosis) because, in my opinion, the drawbacks outweigh the benefits. But if you’d like to learn more about other options, there’s an excellent article summing up some differences here.

Also worth mentioning is Consumer Report’s buying guide for water filters, which may also be helpful in your purchasing decisions.

My first choice water filtration option for home use is still Aquasana for the time being, as fluoride removal (without the addition of aluminum) is a pretty high priority for me, and I’m satisfied with its removal of other water contaminants.

Larger carbon filter systems are much, much more effective, overall, than water pitcher filters. But sometimes, circumstances can tie up your hands a bit, as is the case with me at the moment. If I must buy a water pitcher filter, then I prefer Zero Water.

 

Do you have any opinions or experiences with water filters you’d like to share?


Aquasana AQ-5300.55 3-Stage Under Counter Water Filter System with Brushed Nickel Faucet

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