How clean is our drinking water?

We are what we eat. And we are also what we drink. Our health and longevity are both maximize by our healthy lifestyle choices and discipline.

In this day and age of global water, air, and noise pollution, we, at least, have a standard method of instant water testing devices and very effective reverse osmosis (RO) water filtration systems that remove Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), both organic and inorganic solids such as salts, minerals and metals, and also other contaminants like bacteria, fungi, viruses protozoan. These systems also improve the softness, clarity, taste, odor, besides providing clean water.

Today, there is no such thing as 100 percent pure water, even distilled water, which is nearest the pure level, but still with minimal impurity not detectable by conventional devices we have. However, a TDS level of less than 50 ppm is better for our health. Contaminated water can cause a lot of illnesses, from gastrointestinal, metabolic, to cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer. Polluted water damages our DNA and weakens our immune system.

TDS digital meters

TDS digital measuring devices test the amount of total dissolved solids, the conductivity, and temperature of water. The “purest” water will have zero TDS and zero conductivity. For this topic today, we shall focus on total dissolve solids in water.

This meter measures water purity and shows in digital readout on its screen the TDS level in parts per million or ppm (equals to milligram per liter) of water. The higher the TDS reading, the more contaminated or less pure it is.

This device is about an inch wide, half an inch thick, and six inches long. There are various brands available and modestly priced from about $15 and up. The procedure of testing is simple: Push the ON button and dip the contact probe in about 1.5  inches of the water in a glass, and the TDS digital level in ppm will show instantly.

I have repeatedly tested the following types of water at room temperature in Las Vegas, Nevada, using  the TDS-EZ meter: Distilled water, home filtered water (7-Stage Reverse Osmosis (RO) with UV Light filtration system), bottled water (both mineral and non-mineral), and regular faucet (tap) water. The findings were as follows: Distilled water, as expected, showed the level to be 0000 ppm, the purest; home RO filtered water, 32 ppm; bottled spring/mineral water, 243 ppm; regular bottled water (Kirkland brand from Costco), 24 ppm; and faucet water, 373 ppm.

The use of a simple one-stage (PUR or Britta) charcoal filter in a pitcher lowers the TDS to 125 ppm, more effective than what some people might think. The TDS level varies in the different regions of the United States and also from country to country.

The World Health Organization and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consider a level of 200 ppm as fairly acceptable for drinking, and a reading below 50 ppm as ideal.  Tap water with a  level of 300 ppm is considered marginally acceptable. A level higher than 500 ppm is considered heavily contaminated and not recommended for drinking or cooking.

Sources of contamination

The are several sources of pollution from industrial waste, our home use of various cleaning chemicals in the kitchen, laundry, bathroom, and garage, sewage, human and animal waste with bacteria, virus, and parasites, leaves, plankton, silt, chlorine from the city water system, road salts to melt snow, fertilizers, pesticides, inorganic materials such as rocks and air that contain nitrogen, calcium, sulfur, phosphorous. The other contaminants are iron, chromium, cyanide, mercury, selenium, dioxin, etc. As water goes through pipes, it also absorbs lead and copper and other toxic ions such as arsenic, cadmium, and nitrate.

Types of filtration system

The basic system is the activated carbon filtration, where some toxic compounds stick to the carbon.  This could come as a faucet attachment or as charcoal filter cartridge in gallon-water dispenser or handy pitchers, water bottles or tall mugs.

The more powerful one is the popular Reverse Osmosis (RO), where water is forced with high pressure through a semi-permeable membranes where water passes through minus contaminants. This is used widely in large scale commercial water filtration business. This RO system is now available for kitchen under-sink installation, with ultraviolet lamp component for better purification, removing bacteria, fungi and viruses as well. There is also a whole-house RO system for all faucets and showers, etc. in the home. This system also lessens water acidity and makes water somewhat alkaline.

Distillation is another system, where water is boiled to produce water vapor which rises to a cooled surface and condenses back into purified liquid, leaving all the dissolved solids (minerals and all) behind in the boiling solution after evaporation. This produces water at its purest with our current technology for general use. However, distilled water, like the Absolute brand in the Philippines and other distillated water)  is not a healthy choice for daily consumption as it leads to loss of minerals (calcium, sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium), especially among those who are fasting. Occasionally drinking it is safe enough. Drinking only distilled water increases the risk for osteoporosis and many electrolyte deficiency problems. Distilled water is used for soft drinks and this is another reason why soft drinks are toxic, causing metabolic syndrome, especially to children.

Deionization is a  purification that is used in laboratories, drug companies, in car batteries, engine’s coolant system, in fire extinguishers, and in cosmetics and personal hygiene products.

The reverse osmosis home system could be one-stage (carbon spun fiber), 2, or as high as 7-stage reverse osmosis with membrane filter and  ultraviolet sterilization lamp which eliminate bacteria (E. coli, Salmonella, etc), fungi, viruses (Enteric, Norovirus, Rotavirus, etc), and protozoans, providing purely clean, pH-balanced, and better tasting drinking water.

The system does not have to be a 7-stage unit. A 4-stage filtration, with RO membrane, which is lesser expensive at about $200-$300, is fairly adequate. The misconception is that buying a RO system would be very expensive. Buying bottled water, while a seemingly a cheaper and practical alternative might actually be more expensive in the long run. Consuming 8 bottles a day at 10 cents per bottle, the cost per month would be $24, or $240 in 10 months, an amount enough to buy a RO filtration system.

On top of clean drinking/cooking water, our personal behavior, habits, and hygiene are essential to our health and longevity.

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Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA,  a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com

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