Thursday, June 13, 2013

Best drinking water filters

 A reader asks:
It was quite a schlepp to haul bottles of water up 4 flights of stairs to our NYC apartment before Hurricane Sandy. Now it’s storm season again, we’re looking for a faucet-mounted water filter, so we can fill our own.
I also hate throwing used Brita-type filters away.
What kind of filter is best to protect our health and the environment?
You need a filter that removes everyday contaminants so the drinking water you store will be pure.
And you’ll also want your filter to remove any pathogens carried by storm runoff into reservoirs.

Brita, Pur, and Zero Water carafes and faucet-mounted filters use activated carbon, which removes most microbes that can contaminate your water supply during storms.

What are your everyday contaminants? You can check your utility’s water quality report to find out what, if any, are contaminants of concern. Renters can request one; the Natural Resources Defense Council provides helpful guidance. Then check NSF’s certification listings for filters that best remove those contaminants.
But there’s drinking water and then there’s your tap water.
Aside from your muncipality’s drinking water supply, contaminants can leach into water from your building’s pipes.
Old pipes are often lined with lead, the toxic heavy metal which is the single greatest environmental health threat to the developing brains and nervous systems of babies and children, and should be strenuously avoided by pregnant women.

The only way to find out if there’s lead in your water is to have it tested by an EPA-certified lab.

Tip:  Warm water will have more lead in it than cold water, so if you’re not sure, let water run for 60 seconds to flush out pipes and chill out before drinking. (Collect for plants or washing dishes.)

While carbon filters such as Pur claim to remove 99 percent of lead, that doesn’t necessarily mean they meet new lead reduction standards, according to Richard Andrew, general manager of the Drinking Water Treatment Unit of National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), which certifies water-filtration systems.  Standards for filtering lead in drinking water were updated in July 2012 after the revised Safe Drinking Water Act in 2011.

Andrew says that more complicated, expensive reverse osmosis water filtration systems are best at removing heavy metals, such as calcium, arsenic and  lead.

The only carbon filter currently NSF certified for lead removal by NSF is Zero Water’s, Andrew says.

But you know what? I vote for being prepared for storm surges with any filter rather than none, and a carbon-activated faucet and/or carafe picher is the easiest way to do it.

Recycling carbon filters

Happily, recycling carbon filters is a growing trend, Andrew says, and NSF has added “sustainability evaluations” to its certifying criteria. “We continue to raise the bar over time,” he says.
You can send Brita filters to be recycled through the company’s partnership with Preserve, Filter for Good. You can mail or drop off your Brita cartridges (along with yogurt containers and other #5 plastics) at participating Whole Foods Markets and other locations. Preserve makes the plastic into post-consumer food tools and tableware, and the carbon is “regenerated for alternative use or converted into energy,” according to Brita’s website. Participants also get discount coupons for Preserve’s bright, durable, ultra green products.
Zero Water also has a recycling program for their pitcher and faucet carbon cartridges. You mail them at your own expense, and the company gives you a $10 coupon towards your next cartridge purchase.
More About Reverse Osmosis (RO)
RO systems are best at removing heavy metals, such as calcium, arsenic, and especially lead, Andrew says.
But because RO membranes collect dirt and bacteria and can develop holes, RO systems need to be inspected annually, and the membranes either cleaned or replaced, according to the green homeowners’ bible, Prescriptions for a Healthy House.
For more information, check out NSF’s consumer home drinking water treatment guide.

Green Bargain! For carefully researched and vetted lists of products, what to choose and what to lose when it comes to ingredients and labels, see my book, Do One Green Thing:  Saving the Earth through Simple, Everyday Choices!

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