Friday, August 29, 2008

Water, water everywhere, and hopefully a drop to drink

What's in the water that we drink? Maybe some nasty stuff (free WSJ Digg link).

Engineers say that U.S. water quality is among the world's best and is regulated by some of the most stringent standards. But as detection technology improves, utilities are finding more contaminants in water systems. Earlier this year, media reports of trace amounts of pharmaceuticals in water across the country drew attention from U.S. senators and environmental groups, who are now pushing for regulation of these substances in water systems.

Of particular concern, experts say, are endocrine-disrupting compounds -- found in birth-control pills, mood-stabilizers and other drugs -- which are linked to birth defects in wildlife. Also alarming are antibiotics, which if present in water systems, even in small amounts, could contribute to the rise of drug-resistant strains of bacteria, or so-called super bugs.
Then the article gets into some he said, she said debates about whether this stuff in the water is dangerous. Bottom line, I'd rather not be drinking this stuff. The story mentions some options.

Better (and more expensive than) the Brita

I use a Brita filter today. It's a simple carbon filter, and it makes my tap water taste better. I did a little studying of the reverse osmosis filter referenced in the article, the K5 Drinking Water Station.

Last April, Elizabeth Beyer, 47, purchased a Kinetico Inc. K5 Drinking Water Station for her father, who had a liver transplant in February. Doctors had advised him to drink only filtered water. The system, which cost $2,100, is meant to remove contaminants ranging from lead to chlorine sediment using reverse-osmosis technology and two additional filters.

Ms. Beyer, who lives in Venice, Fla., says it was worth it. Her water is clearer and crisper. "I can definitely taste the difference," she says. "You can see the difference."

There is a YouTube video on the K5. Looks slick, and is something I'll consider. My tap water tastes pretty good already, and the Brita makes it even better, but I wonder if the Brita is effectively filtering out any pharmaceuticals. Ideally, I'd get myself some double distilled water, but that is way too cost prohibitive.

The K5 is certified by NSF. The NSF site has a cornucopia of information on water, like rainwater collection.

Good tap water

Fortunately, I start with a pretty good base of the tap water I filter. An older story in the Times tells how good our City water is, but does raise some potential future problems.

The upstate water is of such good quality, in fact, that the city is not even required to filter it, a distinction shared with only four other major American cities: Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Ore. New Yorkers drink their water from Esopus Creek, from Schoharie Creek, from the Neversink River, straight from the city’s many reservoirs, with only a rough screening and, for most of the year, just a shot of chlorine and chasers of fluoride, orthophosphate and sodium hydroxide.

But that state of affairs may not last. In late spring or early summer, the United States Environmental Protection Agency will decide whether New York water is still pure enough to drink without filtering. Development in the city’s upstate watershed areas, as well as the increasingly stormy weather that comes with climate change, is threatening the water’s mythic purity. If the federal agency does conclude that city water is too sullied to be consumed directly, New York will have to spend huge sums on filtering, close the book on 165 years of filter-free taps — and absorb a major blow to its hometown pride.


Today, New York water originates in watersheds that sprawl over nearly 2,000 square miles, filling 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes. The aesthetic and mechanical beauty of the system — 95 percent of which is gravity-fed — causes some officials to wax sentimental. “It’s miraculous that the system replenishes itself,” Ms. Lloyd said. “And if we take care of it, it will provide drinking water for New York forever.”