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A Comprehensive Guide to Ensuring Healthier Water Quality in Your Home

It's easy to assume that the water flowing from our taps is clean and safe, especially with municipal treatment systems in place. However, the reality is more complex.


Water is essential for life, and the body's survival depends on it. While the body can endure five weeks without food, it can only last five days without water. However, the source and quality of water matter significantly.


From potential external contaminants to ageing pipes, our water sources may pose health risks. In this blog post, we'll dive into the steps homeowners can take to ensure healthier water quality at home.


Where does our tap water come from?

In Australia, our freshwater supplies come from either ground or surface water sources.


Surface Water: Derived from rain or snow accumulating in rivers, streams, and lakes, surface water serves as the primary source for public water systems. After being pumped into treatment centres, it is then distributed to homes and businesses.


Groundwater: Contributing to over 30% of public water systems, groundwater originates from rain and snow that seeps into the ground and is stored in natural aquifers. Accessible through wells or natural springs, groundwater is a vital water source.


Seawater: Certain Australian cities use desalination to turn seawater into drinking water, removing salt and ensuring a safe supply. This method safeguards against droughts that can deplete surface and groundwater levels.


How is it treated?

Water Treatment Process:

In Australia, our water treatment plants adhere to the standards outlined in the Australian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines (2011) to ensure the cleanliness and safety of drinking water. The fundamental water treatment procedures encompass coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, filtration, and ultimately, disinfection of the water supply.


What is in our tap water?

The quality of tap water across Australian cities can significantly differ based on factors such as water source, storage, and treatment methods employed. While all drinking water must comply with the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines established by the National Medical Research Council, adherence to these guidelines doesn't automatically ensure safety or meet the expectations of all consumers in terms of quality.


In Australia, Sydney's tap water, for example, is drawn from storage dams and undergoes treatment across nine water treatment facilities before being distributed. The treatment regimen typically involves filtration, chlorination or chloramination, and the addition of fluoride. Chloramination is the predominant method utilised across most treatment plants (source).


Common Chemicals Found in Australian Tap Water:

Chlorine: Added as a disinfectant to eliminate bacteria and viruses, high chlorine levels can lead to irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, as well as stomach discomfort and skin rashes (source)


Fluoride: Included to prevent tooth decay, excessive fluoride intake can result in dental fluorosis, affecting the appearance and strength of teeth (source).


Aluminium: Used as a coagulant to remove impurities, elevated aluminium consumption has been associated with health issues like dementia and Alzheimer's disease (source).


Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides and fungicides): The widespread presence of pesticides in water bodies is a growing concern globally, as these chemicals accumulate in aquatic organisms and sediment, posing health risks to humans. The surge in pesticide usage, driven by agricultural and non-agricultural sectors, contributes to this issue. Pesticides enter water sources through runoff and industrial discharge, degrading water quality and reducing its portability (source).


Pesticides raise significant concerns for human health due to their propensity to bioaccumulate in cell membranes (source). Exposure leads to various health problems, including immunosuppression, hormone disruption, reduced intelligence, reproductive issues, and cancer. These effects can be acute or chronic, with chronic effects including neurological disorders, reproductive problems, and cancer, while acute effects range from vision impairment to coma and death (source).


Rust, Copper, and Lead: These metals can leach into tap water from aeging pipes, potentially causing health problems including anemia, kidney damage, and developmental delays upon excessive ingestion (source).


Parasites: Contaminants like cryptosporidium, if present, can induce gastrointestinal illnesses like diarrhoea and vomiting upon ingestion (source)


Bacteria: Pathogens such as E. coli and legionella, if present in tap water, can lead to various health issues including gastrointestinal problems and respiratory infections.


Hormones and Pharmaceuticals: can be found in drinking water, primarily from agricultural runoff and pharmaceutical discharges. Even at low levels, they can disrupt the endocrine system, leading to health issues like reproductive problems, hormonal imbalances, and increased cancer risks (source)


Contaminants will vary from state to state, and location to location, so it is important you test your water before selecting a water filter, so you know what you're trying to filter out.

Understanding these potential contaminants is crucial for making informed decisions about water consumption.


How does poor water quality affect our health?

In Australia, our public water supply, despite treatment efforts, may contain bacteria, heavy metals, PFAS and chemicals (source). Many reputable government sources highlight common health risks, including gastrointestinal illnesses, reproductive issues, and neurological disorders (source). Even minimal exposure to lead and mercury is linked to developmental problems in children (source) and kidney problems and high blood pressure in adults (source).


While chlorine is introduced into public drinking water to combat harmful bacteria, recent research indicates that chlorine present in treated water poses risks to human health and can trigger allergic reactions spanning from skin rashes to intestinal discomfort and even arthritis (source) and cancer (source).


The prevalence of illnesses caused by viruses, bacteria, and parasites can lead to symptoms including stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fever, and in severe cases, kidney failure, additionally, infectious diseases such as hepatitis may also manifest. (source).


Taste

Beyond health risks, some contaminants in drinking water may not be harmful but can make the water taste unpleasant. This can discourage regular water consumption, a vital aspect of maintaining good health. Opting for prepackaged water in plastic bottles, however, is not a sustainable solution. These bottles may leach harmful chemicals like antimony, especially if stored for extended periods, and contribute to environmental issues.


What can we do?

THE IMPORTANCE OF TAP WATER TESTING

Understanding your tap water's quality is crucial for selecting the right filtration system for your home. Knowing your water's composition helps determine the most effective filtration method for removing contaminants. Tap water varies based on location, with agricultural areas facing pesticide and nitrate risks, while urban regions deal with chlorine byproducts.


Identifying contaminants allows for tailored filtration solutions, whether through whole-house systems or point-of-use filters.


Additionally, thorough water testing is essential to safeguard against toxin exposure, especially concerning lead contamination, which poses severe health risks, particularly for children.


For comprehensive testing, I recommend TapScore (USA), Envirolab (Australia) or Toxtest (Australia) as both offer water testing kits for both city and well water, covering a wide range of common contaminants. For city tap water, the tests includes VOCs, disinfection byproducts (such as chlorine), heavy metals, nitrates, and minerals, as well as information about pH levels and water hardness. Additional add-on tests are available for specific concerns.


Simply fill the vial, complete the information card, and mail in your sample. Results are delivered via email. They also offer DIY test add-ons for bacteria and chlorine, providing a quick assessment of potential water issues from the comfort of your home.


If you want a quick home test for chlorine or fluoride, you can get home testing strips here.


What do you do with the results?

CRITICAL TOXINS REQUIRING IMMEDIATE ACTION

If your test results show lead, arsenic, mercury chlorine, copper, fluoride or nitrates, I would implement the appropriate filtration systems as quickly as possible.


What filter do I choose?

When selecting a home water filter, consider factors like the contaminants in your water, the filtration technology used, filter capacity, maintenance needs, cost, certification, and installation options.


There are several types of water filters commonly used in homes, and you can find all my product recommendations for each category here:


Jug Filters: These are your countertop/fridge jug filters that you fill up at the tap. These are usually low-cost convenient and easy to use. They require frequent filter replacement (every few months) and can clog and run slowly. I prefer glass or BPA-free plastic. I don't like jug filters as they primarily enhance water taste and odour and should not be trusted to eliminate contaminants. Remember, quality often correlates with price! It's crucial to always verify the certificate of analysis.

Tap Mounted: These attach to your faucet in the kitchen, shower or bath. They are good due to convenience and low cost (with ongoing filter replacement costs). They are small, portable and simple to use, but they can slow the water in some taps.


Counter Top: This sits on your counter and is fed by gravity, requires frequent refilling and filter replacement, but does hold more than a jug. It does take up considerable counter space. I like the Village Pottery ceramic option available here (Australia) or this slim stainless steel option from Fachioo (USA) or Filteroo (Australia) both with fluoride options.


This is my #3 choice if you cannot do under-sink or whole-home.


Under Sink Filter: is installed beneath the kitchen sink and connects directly to your faucet. It removes contaminants like sediment, chlorine, heavy metals, and VOCs and offers space-saving benefits and convenient access to filter replacements. The downsides are the cabinet space they take up, they usually require professional installation, and you may need to drill a new faucet hole if cannot connect to the existing faucet (meaning you have two faucets). Maintenance is pretty minimal and easy, just replacing the filters every 6-12 months depending on your water type and usage.


These are my #2 options if you cannot do a whole-home system. I like this AquaTru under-sink Reverse Osmosis system (USA) or this 8-stage one from Waterdrop (USA). In Australia, I would go for


Whole-Home: These are my #1 choice when it comes to water-filtration systems. These are larger units that are connected at the front of the home (or where the mains water comes in from the street). They are a series of staged water filters that provide filtered water to every tap in the house, including appliances. They remove various contaminants, enhance water quality, and protect plumbing fixtures. The pros of these systems are costs (usually in the thousands), and while installation is straightforward (simply diverting your water mains line through the system), it does require a licenced plumber (which is costly in most places).


When it comes to a whole-home system, it is best to look locally for a supplier as they will come out to your home, assess potential locations, ideally do a water test and help you decide on the best system for your home. In Australia, Complete Home Filtration, and Clean & Clear are great resources. In the USA I would check out Aquasana.


Types of filter mediums?

1. Carbon Filters: These filters use activated carbon to remove impurities and contaminants such as chlorine, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and some pesticides. They can be found in pitcher-style filters, faucet-mounted filters, and under-sink filtration systems.


2. Reverse Osmosis (RO) Systems: RO systems use a semipermeable membrane to remove a wide range of contaminants, including heavy metals, dissolved solids, and bacteria. They typically consist of multiple filtration stages and are installed under the sink.


3. UV Filters: UV filters use ultraviolet light to disinfect water by killing bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. They are often used in conjunction with other filtration methods to ensure water safety.


4. Ceramic Filters: Ceramic filters use a porous ceramic material to remove contaminants such as bacteria, sediment, and some chemicals. They are commonly found in countertop or gravity-fed filtration systems.


5. 3-Stage (Whole-Home): Typically includes three stages: sediment, carbon, and a specialized filtration media:

  1. Sediment filtration is the first stage and removes larger particles such as sediment, rust, and debris from the water, preventing them from clogging or damaging subsequent filtration stages and household appliances.

  2. Carbon Filtration is the second stage, where activated carbon or carbon block filters remove chlorine, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides, herbicides, and other organic contaminants, as well as unpleasant tastes and odours from the water.

  3. Filtration Media is the third stage and often involves a specialized filtration media, such as KDF (Kinetic Degradation Fluxion) or catalytic carbon, which targets heavy metals like lead, mercury, and other inorganic contaminants, as well as scale-forming minerals like calcium and magnesium.


6. Ion Exchange Filters: Ion exchange filters remove dissolved ions from water by exchanging them with ions of similar charge. They are effective at removing hardness minerals like calcium and magnesium, as well as heavy metals like lead and cadmium.


These are just a few examples of the types of water filters available for home use, each with its advantages and limitations. The choice of filter depends on the specific contaminants present in the water and individual preferences.


Conclusion?

Well, if you're still here reading this, well done. Water filtration is not a short and easy subject and needs a lot of research and understanding, so good on you for wanting to know more because in my opinion - it is THE most important factor in a healthy home. Finding the right system for you and your family will mean you can enjoy not only clean but also safe and great-tasting water. If you would like some help discussing the right system for you and your home, please reach out to pip@havendesigned.com.au where we can discuss the best plan of attack for your needs.

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