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WATER QUALITY QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Q: How serious a health problem is the contamination of the drinking water in the US?

A: According to recent reports from the EPA and other watchdog environmental groups, approximately 30 to 53 million people are drinking unsafe contaminated water. Contaminants include bacteria, parasites, lead, chemicals, and other toxic substances. The EPA has ranked water contamination in the top four public health problems.

Q: What high risk groups should be particularly concerned about protecting their drinking water from parasites?

A: Among AIDS patients, cryptosporidosis is regarded as a leading cause of the wasting syndrome that frequently leads to death. Other high-risk groups include individuals suffering from immune deficiency, undergoing chemotherapy, with viral illness, are HIV positive, are organ transplant recipients, and in general children under 2 years of age and the elderly.

Q: What are some of the symptoms of Waterborne Disease?

A: Acute gastrointestinal symptoms such as profuse water diarrhea lasting up to several weeks, nausea, abdominal cramps, and a low-grade fever.

Q: Why do I need a tap water filter for my home, since water treatment plants are supposed to filter our water?

A: Often tiny bacteria, parasites, and other contaminants slip through and infect your water after it leaves the reservoir. Then sediment and lead enter the water as it flows through the pipes to your tap. In addition, chlorine by-products (known carcinogens) form as chlorine mixes with organic matter in the water.

Q: Doesn't chlorine kill the germs in the water supply?

A: Chlorine kills a lot of the bacteria, but it cannot kill the parasites cryptosporidium and giardia—these spores are resistant to chlorination. The only way to filter them is through mechanical (a filter with an extremely small pore size), not chemical means. Also, the chlorine that is initially used to disinfect our water actually poses one of the biggest potential health hazards. Scientists learned in the 1970s that, while chlorine kills bacteria, it also interacts with organic materials, everything from toilet waste to leaves, to create hundreds of toxic new compounds called chlorination by-products. Studies have shown that drinking chlorinated water contributes to around 10,000 cases of rectal and bladder cancers every year.

Q: What was responsible for causing the water scares and boil alerts in Milwaukee, New York City, and Washington, DC, last year?

A: A parasite called cryptosporidium (Crypto) is responsible for the contamination in Milwaukee and Washington, DC, and E. Coli bacteria was the culprit in New York City last summer. These contaminants are unable to be killed by chlorination and, therefore, must be removed with a home filtration unit capable of removing them. That is the only method that can take out 99.99% of these contaminants. Over 50% of the municipal water supplies tested across the US have Crypto, according to water experts.

Q: Does any filtration method remove parasites and bacterial contaminants?

A: Yes. The new EPA/CDC guidelines recommend only filters with a one micron or less absolute pore size to reliably remove parasites and bacteria. A 0.5 micron-rated ceramic filter removes bacteria and parasites (even resistant Crypto and giardia). Leading water expert, Dr. Lemley of Cornell University, recommends only filters that meet NSF standard 53. Other filters have pores that are too large to stop dangerous microorganisms. Ceramic also protects the carbon inside it from breeding bacteria, which is a problem with standard carbon filters.

Q: Is there any other way to take out the parasites from the water?

A: The only way to remove parasites is by boiling the water for at least 10-15 minutes. However, this does not remove chemicals, chlorine, or lead and actually concentrates them. Also, boiling is not a practical way to produce clean water. Other methods such as ultraviolet treatment, ozone, and reverse osmosis are not rated as effective for treating parasites.

Q: Why can't I just drink bottled water?

A: Even bottled water contains impurities. The FDA has no regulations on the bottled water industry for cryptosporidium. (On Dateline NBC, on 9/28/94, the head of the EPA, Carol Browner, stated that "bottled water is not tested." There are no requirements to test for Crypto.)

In fact, a 1989 report published by the Environmental Institute asserted that one-third of bottled water is straight from the tap! And another study found that more than half of all bottled water contains chemical contaminants.

Plus, bottled water is far more expensive than tap water that is purified with a residential filter unit. Bottled water can cost you hundreds of dollars a year, and you even have to lug the heavy bottles home. And, of course, it's too difficult to use bottled water for things like rinsing fruits and vegetables.

Q: How will a person know if they have bacteria, parasites, or other harmful contaminants in their water?

A: First, they can call their water supplier and ask for the yearly test results on their drinking water supply. If they have well water, it should be tested for bacteria and chemical contaminants. If they are experiencing any intestinal symptoms, then they should suspect either bacteria or parasites in their water.

Q: What are reasonable precautions to take if one is not certain about the quality of their water?

A: If you smell any unusual odor or taste anything objectionable in your drinking water, then a certified filter is recommended. If the tests show any bacteria, then a ceramic filter is advised.