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.
I believe the best and most effective way to purify water if you have access to cheap and abundant energy and are accustomed to ‘first world’ conveniences, is water distillation. If you are willing to spend more time on maintenance, you might choose an under counter multi-stage system with refillable cartridges and housings. And if energy is expensive or unreliable, or if you want a more sustainable method – I recommend gravity-fed carbon filters (like Berkey) or a homemade slowsand/biochar adsorber filter. If you live in the city and want to remove fluoride, choose carbon made from bones (bone char), rather than the typical coconut shell carbon.
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.
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:
- Ozone Disinfection
- Flocculation (this is the step in which coagulants, aluminum or ferric (iron) salts, are used)
- Filtration (biologically active)
- 24″ anthracite coal
- 12″ crushed sand
- Chlorine Disinfection
- Corrosion Control (phosphorous compound added to decrease corrosion of pipes, allegedly helps decrease amount of lead and copper leached)
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!)
- Inorganic contaminants – metals and minerals, arsenic, fluoride, lead, copper
- Radioactive metals – uranium, radium, plutonium
- 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:
- 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.
- runoff from livestock facilities
- 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.
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.”
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.