Filtering some thoughts on water

As an editor of a water magazine, I am frequently asked “Should we filter tap water? What kind of filter is the best? Should we go for reverse osmosis (RO) water?” Or I hear someone saying “I always buy bottled water when I travel. It’s better to be safe than sorry”. Then there are those who won’t be bothered to drink anything other than tap water.

In most Asian countries drinking water straight from the tap is not a good idea. Water borne diseases like typhoid and gastroenteritis have not disappeared. While municipal authorities do treat water in cities, quality control is not effective. Besides, there is always scope for re-contamination in pipelines. Most pipelines are old and might be adding lead, asbestos, copper, or PVC breakdown products to the water, all of which are toxic. The pipes may also be decayed or leaky, allowing bacteria to proliferate or ground contaminants (pesticides, arsenic, and other petrochemicals) to seep into the pipes. Cysts of protozoa (giardia) can persist even in chlorinated water.

Household filters have always been popular in Asian countries and now with the advances in technology, a baffling array of choices is available. Among the most sophisticated ones are the filters that employ RO. These filters remove practically all impurities as well as minerals such as lead, iron, calcium and manganese.

Distilled water has its own set of supporters and dissidents. While the manufacturers claim that it is the purest form of water, similar to rainwater in nature, there are those who say that synthetic chemicals may not be removed.

Both RO and distillation are accused of removing minerals that are essential to health. Many doctors have put up websites saying that this water will leach minerals from your body, causing deficiencies. This will eventually cause an abnormally acidic environment, which can lead to serious chronic disease, they say. Hmm…I am getting convinced. After all, rainwater eventually merges with rivers or groundwater and these natural sources are always rich in minerals. Besides, I can recall reading that it is best for water to be a little alkaline.

There are so many vendors for ionised water these days. Ionised water is said to be good for health because it is alkaline, prevents free radicals from attacking your body and it can even retard the aging process.

Hey, you are supposed to get your minerals from food, not water say the defenders of RO/distilled water. You will need to drink gallons of water to get the required amount of minerals. And how can alkaline water help when the stomach itself produces acids to aid in digestion and creates an acidic environment? Some truth here too.

What about activated carbon filters? These can remove volatile organic compounds as well as some heavy metals. However, they do not remove nitrates, sulphates and a number of chemicals.

Then there is bottled water. At one time I visualised this coming from crystal clear springs and melted snow. Now, I have doubts about the plastic in which it is packaged. Of course, it is still the best bet for travellers.

I have finally installed a carbon filter in my house. Assuming that the municipal water is clean (in Singapore, it certainly is), I only need to remove chlorine compounds which are probably carcinogenic. My home in India has the same kind of filter.

But wait a bit. What about the reports of antibiotics, painkillers, tranquilisers, hormones and cosmetics finding their way into rivers and drinking water these days? These can only be removed by RO.

I give up. Come to me if I am around after 40 years. I might know more.

One thought on “Filtering some thoughts on water

  1. Pleasing report and well balanced. Does not instruct you on what to do but educates you on the various pros and cons of the different options available. Its food for thought if you like. Made me think and think and realise that some of those things that we take for granted are not that simple after all. Keep it up Sahana, makes very interesting and intelligent reading as well.

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