April 9, 2007 — What’s in your tap water? Probably more than you want todrink if you don’t filter it first, according to a new report from ConsumerReports.
An analysis of municipal water-quality data revealed that 22 of the 25largest U.S. cities had water quality violations over the course of a year.Common violations included unacceptable levels of contaminants like lead,chlorine, and the bacterium E. coli.
Selected samples from Boston had lead levels that were more than 45 timesthe federal limit, according to the analysis.
A Consumer Reports comparison of a wide range of commerciallyavailable water filters — from carafes to large, installed units — revealedthat most filters do a decent job of removing contaminants from tap water,assuming they are designed for this purpose.
And you don’t have to spend big bucks to ensure the purity of your tapwater, says ConsumerReports deputy editor Celia KuperszmidLehrman, who wrote the report.
“The good news is there are lots of options for not a whole lot ofmoney,” she tells WebMD.
Due in part to concerns about the safety of drinking tap water, the marketfor bottled water has exploded over the last decade, growing by roughly 10% ayear since 2001, according to beverage industry figures.
Americans drank an average of 28 gallons of bottled water per person in 2006– more than any other commercial beverage, except carbonated soft drinks.
Although consumers have been led to believe that bottled water is safer thantap water, this isn’t necessarily the case, Lehrman says.
“These companies spend a lot of money to convince people that bottledwater is pure and natural,” she says. “What most people don’t realizeis that in many cases bottled water isn’t as tightly regulated as the waterthat comes from your tap.”
Concerns about the environmental impact of all those bottles of water haveeven made filtered tap water hip in some circles. A small but growing number ofupscale restaurants, like trend-setting Chez Panisse in Berkley, Calif., nolonger serve bottled water, opting instead to serve customers filtered tapwater.
Testing Your Tap Water
So how can you tell which water filter is best for you? The first step isidentifying the quality of your prefiltered water, Lehrman says.
Community water systems are required to provide this information to theircustomers every July, in the Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). The reportincludes details about where your water comes from along with detected levelsof dozens of regulated contaminants with the corresponding federal and statelimits.
Lehrman recommends going straight to the data tables of the report, whichmust highlight levels of some, but not all, potential contaminants in drinkingwater.
The next step is testing the water that comes out of your own faucet. Thereport recommends calling the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791)or your local health authority to get the names of state-certified testinglabs. Or you can do it yourself for under $20 with a commercially available kitlike the Watersafe-All-In-One Drinking Water Test Kit, Lehrman says.
If you decide you need a water filter, the one you buy should match yourlifestyle and water problems, she adds.
Some things to consider:
- Whole-house filters ($35 to $80) remove sediment, rust, and other largeparticles from water, but they are not designed to remove other contaminants.So even if you have a whole-house unit, you may need another filter to purifydrinking water.
- Carafes ($15 to $60), like the Brita and Pur systems, are inexpensive anduseful for filtering small quantities of drinking water. One problem was thatthe better they were at removing contaminates in the Consumer Reportstest, the quicker their filters clogged, Lehrman says.
- Faucet-mounted units ($20 to $60) required less installation than mostother installed filters, but they tended to slow the flow of water and can’t beused on all faucets.
- Countertop units ($50 to $300) filtered large amounts of water withoutplumbing modifications, and were less likely to clog than carafes orfaucet-mounted units.
- Undersink filters ($55 to $350) filtered lots of water but requiredplumbing modifications, including a hole drilled through the sink and/orcountertop for the dispenser.
- Reverse-Osmosis filters ($160 to $450) removed a wide range ofcontaminants. These are the only filters certified for the removal of arsenic,but they tend to be slow and create 3 gallons to 5 gallons of waste water forevery gallon of water filtered.
The analysis appears in the May issue of Consumer Reports, which ispublished by the nonprofit consumer watchdog group Consumers Union.