The EPA estimates that 90% of US drinking water meets its safety standards, but a 2003 study by the National Resources Defense Council found that contaminant levels in 19 of America’s largest cities exceeded EPA limits, likely due to pollutants picked up along the way.
Upon learning this, one might feel inclined to toss a Brita filter of some sort into their shopping cart next time they’re at the grocery store. Problem solved. But is it really?
The fine print
“Healthier, great-tasting drinking water,” boasts the packaging on a standard Brita pitcher filter. But lurking amidst the fine print is a very important stipulation: Brita recommends getting your water tested before purchasing a filter in order to know which one is right for you. Different models filter different toxins.
Brita offers several different types of filtration systems: the faucet filtration system, the pitcher with replaceable filter, and the refrigerator filter. The pitcher, for example, filters Copper, Mercury, and Cadmium, while other models combat lead.
Still, some models can actually add bacteria to your water. Water filter makers put small amounts of bactericide in their products to lessen the risk of infestation – but it doesn’t always work. According to Raymond Letterman, professor emeritus at Syracuse University and an expert on large-scale water treatment systems, “Unless you have a chemical disinfectant in the water, like chlorine, you’ll always get some bacterial growth, a biofilm, on filter surfaces.”
How does one go about performing a water test? To start, according to GreenAmerica.org, check your water utility’s “Consumer Confidence Report” (which, by law, must be delivered each year before July 1).
The report details where your drinking water comes from, which contaminants have been found in it, and how contaminant levels compare to national standards. Then, to find a state-certified lab to test your water (which will charge a fee), visit the EPA’s Safe Water Website.
Figuring out which water filter is right for you can be a time consuming endeavor – and continued use of the filter can be expensive, thanks to refill cartridges. They are not a perfect answer to the world’s environmental problems, nor are they guaranteed to provide you with the purest tap water possible.
But when you compare throwing away a few cartridges to the billions of water bottles we toss into landfills each year, filters can be a preferable option.
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