Q. How do I determine my water treatment needs if I live in Bay Area?
A. If you live in the Bay Area, you may know that Bay cities are are all fortunate to be provided with some of the best quality municipal waters available. Mineral salts, heavy metals, organic chemicals, bacteria and other contaminants fall way below the EPA guidelines and limits for maximum contaminant levels. However, there remains a significant difference between water treated by reverse osmosis or even just carbon filtration, and tap water. Following are some things to consider when determining water treatment needs.
Total Dissolved Solids
The Total Dissolved Solids (TDS-heavy metals and solids that have dissolved into liquid form). Bay Area counts range from 100-1000 parts per million). A good water purifier will take out 95-98% of whatever TDS the water started with.
It is important to consider what happens to municipal treated water after it leaves the plant on its journey to your faucet. It wasn’t until 1986 that lead was regulated out of use for plumbing. Until July 1, 1986 lead was commonly used in pipes and in solder, and may have been used even later in some cases.
Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD) has done extensive research and is continuing to do research on lead pipes and lead solder. With the addition of lime and/or sodium hydroxide, the city has found that over a period of 5-7 years, the water naturally leaves behind a protective coating on the pipe walls, of calcium carbonate, which prevents the erosion and leaching of lead into the water. MMWD also adds zinc orthophosphate to the water to reduce corrosivity. People with homes built between Jan.1, 1983 and June 30, 1986, are potentially at risk, and should consider testing their water. People with houses built during that time may qualify to be included in MMWD’s study, and have their water sampled and tested by MMWD, through Oct. 1992 and later in 1993. Others, wishing to find out about the possibility of lead contamination in their pipes, may go to private labs, or get a test kit at The Water Store. (MMWD is also looking for people whose homes were built closer to the turn of the century, to study the composition of the pipes and effects of wear on the pipes over a long period of time.) A National Sanitation Foundation study certified Reverse Osmosis Systems will remove lead from drinking water.
Another area to consider is bacteriological. According to a study performed by Pierre Payment in Montreal, wherein 1,200 people in a suburban area had reverse osmosis systems installed, and were closely scrutinized over 18 months, along with 1,200 people who drank tap water. He found that the adults who drank tap water (treated at a state-of-the-art water treatment plant using chlorine, ozonation and filters for bacteria and viruses), had a 35% of greater chance of getting gastroenteritis, than those that had the RO systems. Of the children under 5 who were studied, there were 2-4 purified water drinking children getting gastroenteritus to 10 tap water drinking children who got sick. MMWD monitors and tests water at 109 locations throughout the district for bacteriological problems, and has consistently met the maximum contaminant level goals (non-enforceable) set by the EPA and the state. However, many people enjoy an added security of RO treatment.
Taste and Odor Factors
In addition to TDS, lead, and bacteriological considerations, there are also taste factors, which many people feel are important to consider. In addition to removing impurities that effect the taste of water, the process of reverse osmosis, doubles or triples the oxygen content surrounding the H2O molecule, in a process similar to the passing of water over rocks in a babbling brook. A charge is created by the movement of water across the surface of the mem-brane, which attracts the oxygen & pure H2O molecules to pass through the microscopic pores of the membrane. This is why we call RO water “fresh pressed” and why it has such a fresh, sweet taste.
Also effecting taste, are both Marin reservoirs’ characteristic “algae blooms,” as well as the chemicals added to reservoir water by the municipalities to suppress such growth, and chemicals added for other purposes. Among the chemicals added are; aluminum sulfate, chlorine, polymers, copper sulfate, sodium hydroxide and others, which are necessary, or helpful in treating water for large scale public use. These chemicals have a number of useful functions, such as helping to coagulate sediment for easy removal, disinfecting and destroying disease carrying bacteria, controlling corrosivity in the water to preserve pipes etc. and are all EPA approved for human consumption at low levels. However, some of these chemicals, such as chlorine, add an undesirable taste & odor to the water. During times of reduced water velocities due to conservation efforts of the public, MMWD has had to boost it’s frequencies, amounts & locations of chlorine added to the water (slow turnover in the distribution system creates conditions which are conducive to more bacteriological growth).
Chlorine may have other liabilities as well. It does its’ job by bonding with and oxidizing organic compounds. Oxidation can occur with the proteins and organic matter inside and outside our bodies as well, and has been associated with cell damage and reduced cell vitality by many nutritionists. Chlorine can also react with humic and fulvic acids to form undesirable organic by-products, such as Trihalomethanes (THMs). Various THMs have been classified by the EPA as either probable or possible human carcinogens, and have been associated with bladder and rectal cancer according to research performed by Dr. Robert Morris of the Medical College of Wisconsin.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) & the State of California are responsible for setting standards for maximum contaminant levels for safe drinking water according to the ‘Safe Drinking Water Act’ of 1974. Although they have provided essential studies, guidelines and regulations on many substances, there are many new man made contaminants introduced into our ground and fresh waters every year. With the proliferation of industrial and agricultural toxins, it is near impossible to keep up, do the necessary studies, regulate and establish acceptable levels. This is illustrated in the case of lead, which, over the years, the MCL has been changed from 50 parts per billion (PPB), to a 0PPB goal currently with strict and frequent monitoring by the EPA, and not so long ago, was not regulated at all. Only in 1986 was lead outlawed in pipes & solder for new constructions. A substance that we now know to be a great threat to our health in any quantity, was once not even monitored.
USPW recommends that if you want to set your own standards for water quality, that water be treated at the point of use, as well as at the municipal level. Many health practitioners recommend purified water, for its higher oxygen content, its purity and for its cleansing and replenishing effects.