A common question is: “should I be filtering my tap water?” While this depends on where you live and the particular contaminants found in your city water supply, the short answer is probably: yes.
Some city tap water supplies are much more concerning than others (ones that should definitely be filtered), and others that aren’t as problematic. However, you can only reap health benefits from filtering your water, so there’s certainly no harm is doing it.
Before you decide on how to filter your water, you need to know which contaminants are in your local water supply. First and foremost, let’s look at the most common toxins found in tap water.
Top Contaminants Found in Tap Water
Disinfection Byproducts (DBPs)
DBPs are 1,000 times more toxic than chlorine in our water supplies, and are byproducts created by common disinfection techniques used in water treatment facilities. When disinfectants such as chlorine react with naturally occurring organic matter in the water, byproducts form that can pose serious health risks. The two most common types are trihalomethanes (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs), both of which have been linked to rectal and bladder cancers (1) (2), among other potential problems.
According to a survey of tap water conducted in the New Scientist, the most frequently detected pharmaceutical drugs in city water include atenolol, carbamazepine, gemfibrozil, meprobamate, naproxen, phenytoin, sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim (3). These are a mixture of drugs commonly used to treat anxiety, high cholesterol cardiovascular disease, mood disorders and epilepsy, along with antibiotics and pain relievers. Needless to say, these are not drugs that we want ourselves or our children to be consuming, even in tiny amounts.
Atrazine is an herbicide that has been banned in the European Union after being suspected of changing animal behavior and declines in fish stocks. It is found in the vast majority of US drinking water, and has been linked with hormonal disruption and reproductive effects such as increased risk of miscarriage (4).
Fluoride (For Babies)
While its risks for adults is debatable, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reports that fluoridated water can seriously damage an infant’s developing teeth, so filtered water should absolutely be used for mixing formula and/or drinking water for babies (5). Remember that while babies are 100% breastfed, they do not require extra drinking water, as breast milk is over 80% water. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), extra water can actually be harmful to exclusively breastfed infants (6).
Step #1: Knowing Which Contaminants to Filter
Since all water filters are not created equal, you will first need to figure out which contaminants are present in your local water supply. Thankfully, this work has already been done for us, and you can check out the incredible resource provided (also) by the EWG, the National Drinking Water Database. It includes over 300 pollutants commonly found in tap water (some of which are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency/EPA), and you can simply type in your zip code and find out which toxins you should be concerned about. If you live in a municipality that is not included in this database, you should be able to call your local water supply company and ask for a report, either electronically or via mail.
Step #2: Pick the Right Water Filter
Next, you’ll need to choose a water filter that targets the specific contaminants you are dealing with.
Here are the 2 main types of water filters available today:
Many types of carbon filters exist, from your standard Brita-type pitcher filter to others that function as faucet mounts and large dispenser filters. You will definitely get what you pay for, as the quality widely varies on these.
A reverse osmosis filtration system is by far the most effective, but also the most expensive. This system combined with a carbon filter is even better. RO filtration offers removal of as many contaminants as possible.
You can also purchase whole-house carbon filters that also protect you from contaminants absorbed through your skin while showering, washing dishes, laundry, etc. The skin is the biggest organ in the human body (7), so this method of absorbing toxins should definitely not be ignored (keep this in mind with beauty and personal care products, as well).
Check out this user-friendly water filter buying guide (also thanks to the EWG) to figure out which filtration system best fits your needs.
Deciding whether or not to filter you water is a personal decision, and the type of filter you choose to purchase will depend not only on which contaminants are present in your water, but also on your budget. Some filtration systems are pretty spendy, while others might not be quite as effective at filtering but are much more cost effective, and still make a difference. Take some time to research with the tools provided in this article, as this will allow you to make the best decision possible.