Drinking Water, Contaminants & Testing

We need air and water to continue living, – heck, we are 80% vibrating fluid!  I wish we lived in an Eden where we could drink from the water-cress filled brook, bubbling up from a natural spring in an un-polluted Earth!  With the current state of the environment, I think we have to filter the water coming out of the faucet.
If you don’t have time to read the full post, I’ll give you the short version:
I believe the best and most sustainable way to filter water is using ‘biochar’ or ‘activated carbon’ filters in a gravity-fed system, perhaps in combination with sand, like in the slow sand/biochar adsorber system (find info about it here).  If you want a more traditional convenient system, you might choose an under counter multi-stage system with refillable cartridges and housings.  If you want the absolute least maintenance possible and you don’t care about spending a lot of money on the equipment and energy needed to rn the equipment, you might choose a distiller.  And If you live in the city and want to remove fluoride and you don’t want to buy a distiller, choose a system that contains a biochar made from bones as your filter (read more about this here).  The typical biochar made from coconut shells will not remove fluoride.
If fluoride is not a problem, carbon filters made from any biomass could very well meet the need.  What is the need?  It is important that we all find out what contaminants are in our water (information on this below).  Only then can we choose an appropriate water purification method.  

To read about all water filtering system options, read this post.

I never used to give water purification a thought.  But as I searched for ways to resolve my health issues, or dis-ease, I realized that I could give my body a boost and need to detoxify less by ingesting filtered water.

When I began exploring water and water purification, I wondered if there was a way to filter water using natural materials and low-tech methods.  During my search, I found the CAWST organization’s biosand filter design.

I’ve been a huge fan of the CAWST organization, as their low-tech DIY filters can be built by anyone, in any country, and effectively filter out bacteria and other pathogenic organisms (microbiologicals); however the organization doesn’t necessarily focus on filtering out other contaminants, such as pharmaceutical drugs, agricultural pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, etc, fluoride, and heavy metals like aluminum and lead (corroding from the inside of the lead pipes bringing the water from the treatment plants or community well, to our faucets).  This led me to one of Josh Kearn’s talks on YouTube, which he explains how he takes the biosand filter, and expands the concept, to effectively filter out microbiologicals as well as heavy metals and other organic contaminants.

In his talk, Josh points out that biochar (cellulose materials, such as wood or coconut shells, ‘pyrolized’ or burned, at high temperatures such as 1652 degrees F in a low oxygen environment with low-tech, efficient and environmentally friendly gasifier drum ovens), has the ability to filter out difficult-to-remove contaminants in water, and the performance of this filtration appears to be comparable to commercially prepared activated carbon (AC).


Baseline Source Water & Typical Water Treatment Process

What’s in the water that we’re “starting with” – the source water / the influent?   In my case, the water is sourced from The Great Lakes in the Midwest United States – Lake Michigan.  If you are in an area that sources from a well, this next part will not necessarily apply to you.

List of water contaminants – pre-treatment/influent.

To get an idea of the treatment processes used to purify water in a typical city in the United States, see this diagram, which shows the following steps:

  1. Ozone Disinfection
  2. Flocculation (this is the step in which coagulants, aluminum or ferric (iron) salts, are used)
  3. Sedimentation
  4. Filtration (biologically active)
    1. 24″ anthracite coal
    2. 12″ crushed sand
  5. Chlorine Disinfection
  6. Fluoridation
  7. Corrosion Control (phosphorous compound added to decrease corrosion of pipes, allegedly helps decrease amount of lead and copper leached)
  8. Ammonia added to change the chlorine that was added in the Chlorine Disinfection step, into chloromine (chloromine reacts less with organic particles in the water – this reaction of chlorine with organic particles causes the creation of specific types of carcinogenic compounds) – but chloromine is harder to filter out))

List of water contaminants – post-treatment/effluent.


As you can see from the list of tracked contaminants in my city’s water sourced from Lake Michigan, the list of contaminants is INCREDIBLY LONG!

Different kinds of contaminants require different types of purification.  These are the main categories of contaminants:
  1. Microbiological – living organisms, cryptosporidium, typhoid, cholera.  To understand the difference between the size of pathogenic bacteria and viruses, visit The University of Utah Cell Size and Scale Chart.
  2. Particulates – suspended contaminants – makes water turbid (we have high turbidity in our Lake Michigan source water – Lake Michigan is quite a large and lively lake, especially in bad weather!  People even surf on Lake Michigan in fall and winter!)
  3. Inorganic contaminants – metals and minerals, arsenic, fluoride, lead, copper
  4. Radioactive metals – uranium, radium, plutonium
  5. Organic (synthetic) contaminants – pharmaceutical residues, manufacturing additives like flame retardants, agrichemical runoff like pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and insecticides, solvents, carbon-based molecules: refined petrochemicals such as gasoline, herbicides, pesticides, PCBs.  Fuel compounds, and disinfection products

How do these contaminants get into our water?  Here are just a few examples of how one organic contaminant gets into the supply….Pharmaceutical compounds get into our environment (water) through a variety of ways:

  1. when a facility manufacturing pharmaceutical compounds releases their wastewater into an adjacent body of water.  This is especially noxious in China and India where they’ve had rapid pharmaceutical industry growth.
  2. runoff from livestock facilities
  3. after pharmaceuticals pass through our bodies and we excrete the compounds in our waste.  There are many compounds not broken down by even advanced water treatment systems.


To determine purification priorities, one should determine which contaminant types are the most dangerous, i.e. which contaminant types cause death or disease the most quickly.  Microbiological organisms (#1) multiply extremely quickly, and can cause death incredibly quickly — and we see many humanitarian crises around the world where this occurs.  According to the Red Cross, to combat microbiological contaminants, distillation is best, boiling or filtering with a carbon filter*** is second best, and chlorination is the least preferred method.  If boiling, we should be aware that boiling will kill the organisms, but boiling does not remove the endotoxins that the organisms create when they die.
However, if chlorination is the only option, organizations like the Red Cross recommend that we add 16 drops (⅛ tsp) of bleach*** per gallon of water, stir and let stand for 30 minutes.  If the water doesn’t have a slight bleach odor after this period of time, repeat the dosage and let stand another 15 minutes.  If it still does not smell of bleach, they recommend finding another source of water.
***The Red Cross also caution that other chemicals, such as iodine or water treatment products that don’t contain 5.25 to 6% sodium hyperchlorite as the only active ingredient, should not be used as purification chemicals.  The Red Cross actually does not recommend filters for microbiological contaminants, as they will all fail at some point, but carbon filters are shown to work extremely well for microbiological organisms, as long as you can replace the filter when the media(carbon) is exhausted.
Although organic and radioactive metal contaminants (#3, #4, & #5) ingested in our water may lead to death or disease less quickly compared with microbiological, they are still just as dangerous and toxic.  If you try to boil water containing these contaminants (including algae blooms, lead, pesticides, etc), you will make the problem worse, as the process of boiling concentrates these contaminants, and doesn’t remove them in any way.  Carbon filters are shown to successfully filter out most of these contaminants, except fluoride and arsenic.  To read more about fluoride / why your city is adding it to your water / how it causes disease / how you can work to stop fluoridation in your city, read this post dedicated to fluoride.
Test Your Water

The search for an effective water purification system can be narrowed down quickly if one knows which specific contaminants are present in the tap or well water.  Testing the water is a great way to find out, especially if you draw water from a private or community well.  If you receive water purified in a treatment plant, you should be able access the plant’s testing results, which should be posted for free on the plant’s website.  However, you may still want to test the treated water, as the substances in the water can change as the water travels through old metallic pipes from the treatment plant to your faucet.

To test your water for over 100 contaminants (including the big ones like fluoride, aluminum, mercury, lead, chloromines, etc), visit Tap Score by SimpleWater, and send a sample of your water.  For $220-$230 they will test and provide you with a report and answer questions you may have.  They are not affiliated with any water treatment facility, nor are they funded or affiliated with any water treatment technology or company.

“In partnership with The University of California in Berkeley and the Boston University School of Public Health, SimpleWater developed cutting edge water health analysis that is applied to every Tap Score Report.

Even small improvements to drinking water quality bestow meaningful health benefits to your mind and body over time. Making easy, smart changes to every-daywater quality consists of testing for and removing harmful chronic contaminants, many of which have no color, smell, or taste.”

Some people alternatively recommend and work with National Testing Laboratories, Ltd. 6571 Wilson Mills Road, Cleveland, OH 44143, 1-800-458-3330.



To read about solutions (water filters, etc) read the next post here.


It seems that regardless of my desire to live simply and without what seems like an endless list of manufactured gadgets and devices – the incredible level of pollution we’ve released into our environment and continue to release, requires that we not only treat water city-wide, but that we also treat the water when it comes out of the faucet in our home.   No substance we use remains contained in any system….it always finds its way into the air and water we all use.  This is a good reminder to strive toward natural materials found above ground or in shallowly dug pits, and the least processed, such as wood, stone, natural fibers, clay, and sand vs. metals and plastics.

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