by David Goldstein
Consumers might like to imagine their water bottle was filled by sanitary fairies who dipped it into a natural, running spring in the wilderness, but if the label says “purified,” it is just filtered tap water.
Reverse osmosis is a typical industrial-scale process used for this type of filtering, and it has two drawbacks. First, forcing some water through a membrane sends more water to sewers, according to ThePerfectWater.com, which sells retrofits to minimize this waste. Second, the process strips water of minerals needed for taste and health. To compensate, water distributors generally add minerals.
Many people drink bottled water for taste, but if you think bottled water is safer than water from your tap, consider the problem of water dispensers. As noted on the website of Ready Refresh, the largest local company providing water delivery service, “Over time, water dispensers are exposed to things like dirt, dust, pollution, germs, bacteria and sunlight that can impact the dispenser’s hygiene level…” The company recommends cleaning two to four times per year at a level “beyond what customers can generally do for themselves.” For an additional $80 per cleaning, the company’s technicians use a “professional-grade cleaner…”, removing and scrubbing “all water contact surfaces,” from the spigots to the baffles.
Perhaps you should be even more concerned if your bottled water comes from a natural source. That water costs far more, creates air pollution and traffic as it is trucked long distances, and is not as closely regulated or monitored as municipal supplies.
Companies selling home filter systems raise concerns about a wide variety of potential contaminants. Chris Arnold, vice president of sales for Water, Inc., promotes the Body Glove line of filters, which are top-quality systems designed to remove not just common contaminants, but also items such as pharmaceuticals, Bisphenol A (BPA) and estrone. Every year, public water purveyors publish and post to their websites a Consumer Confidence Report, sometimes called a Water Quality Report, but these less-common contaminants are not among items tested or reported.
Companies promoting home filter systems also criticize chloramine, a water treatment used by most local water purveyors. Water, Inc.’s website says, “Studies have shown that chloramine is less effective than chlorine and more dangerous to our health.” Concern seems validated when consumers learn that chloramine, because it combines chlorine with ammonia, is toxic to fish and must be removed with carbon filtration or a water conditioner before adding tap water to an aquarium.
Joe Pope, director of Ventura County Water and Sanitation, manages water systems delivering drinking water to Moorpark, Bell Canyon, Somis and Lake Sherwood. He points to the strict standards enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others, ensuring the safety of the water supply. The EPA’s website acknowledges “uncertainties in risk assessment,” but states “EPA’s regulations account for uncertainties” by setting standards to “protect human health even when there is incomplete information.” The EPA website states definitively, “Research and experience indicate monochloramine is safe at levels typically used to treat drinking water.”
Public concern may be heightened when a water purveyor, such as Ventura Water, plans potable water reuse. This involves cleaning wastewater to the point where it can be reused as drinking water. Addressing these concerns, Gina Dorrington, assistant general manager of operations, pointed to the environmental impact report for the proposed project, which calls for ozone treatments, biologically active carbon filters, ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet treatment with advanced oxidation. Ventura Water proposes to treat water to the purest form possible, far beyond what homeowners could achieve with equipment under a sink.
Of course, water purveyors control the quality of water only up to your meter. Your own pipes or fixtures could potentially leach contaminants into water traveling to your tap. Unfortunately, testing your water for a wide range of contaminants costs about the same as a filter. FGL Environmental Laboratory in Santa Paula charges $300 for a basic water quality test and $650 for enhanced testing, plus the cost of sample collection.
Glenn Olsen, marketing director for FGL, says his lab has conducted thousands of local tests over decades, so I asked him, “Do you use a filter?”
He does, but just for taste. He cooks with and bathes in tap water. “I’m confident water supplied by water systems to people’s homes is safe enough to drink,” said Olsen.
David Goldstein, an Environmental Analyst for Ventura County Public Works Agency, may be reached at email@example.com or 805-658-4312.