To protect drinking water from disease-causing organisms, municipal authorities routinely add disinfectant to public water supplies. Chlorine is by far the most widely used chemical for this purpose.
This important and very necessary process of disinfection has significantly reduced the incidence of waterborne illness by killing disease-carrying microbes. However, unknown to most people, the process also creates other more potent toxins that are extremely difficult to remove. This includes a chemical getting more attention within the scientific community – trihalomethanes. =
The Effects of Water Disinfection on our Bodies
Science is asking new questions about the long-term health effects from drinking, bathing, showering and swimming in chlorinated water.
We have all experienced the outward effects that chlorinated water can have on our bodies. These include:
- Turning our skin dry, itchy and red.
- Removing the natural oils covering our hair resulting in a loss of hair shine and flexibility causing dry porous strands.
- Inhaling the steam and spray while showering where it reduces oxygen transport in our lungs and enters our bloodstream. This has the effect of accelerating aging from free radical damage. Further, it causes the destruction of valuable vitamins needed by our bodies. It also can cause irritation and discomfort to our eyes, nose, and stomach as well as the death of probiotics in and on bodily tissues.
As alluded to above, chlorine itself is not the only worrisome chemical in municipal water. In fact, it is one of the least problematic despite getting most of the attention.
How Chlorine Transforms into Disinfection By-Products
Chlorine can and frequently does react with the many naturally occurring organic and inorganic compounds found in our water supplies.
This results in the creation of even more harmful compounds such as Trihalomethanes (THMs), Haloacetic Acids (HAAs) and Mutagen X (MX).
Collectively these chemicals are termed Disinfection By-Products (DBPs) which adds synergistic toxicity to the hundreds of other dangerous substances found in our water supplies.
The most common by-product of chlorination is a set of compounds known as Trihalomethanes (THMs).
Types of Trihalomethanes
The four main forms of THMs are chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane, and bromoform.
The Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) regulated by the EPA for the concentration of Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM) in treated water is 80 ppb (parts per billion).
Even with chlorine removed, THMs frequently remain and may pose health risks when ingested, inhaled via steam or absorbed via the skin.
Research on Trihalomethanes Risk to Humans
Several human studies have investigated the relationship between exposure to chlorinated drinking water and cancer.
Researchers designed these studies to specifically assess whether THMs or other organic compounds occurring in drinking water as a result of chlorination are associated with an increased risk of cancer.
In other words, the risks from the chlorinated water itself were not the focus of the research. Rather, it was chlorine’s spawn … the trihalomethanes and other DBPs that concerned scientists the most.
An American Journal of Public Health study showed an association between the bladder and rectal cancer and chlorination by-products in drinking water. (1)
Additionally, as outlined in the EPA’s List of Drinking Water Contaminants, long term exposure to THMs can also result in liver, kidney or central nervous system problems and an increased risk of cancer. (2)
As a result of research to date, the EPA classified trihalomethanes as Cancer Group B carcinogens (shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals). The EPA is currently studying whether the carcinogenic effects occur in humans as well. (3,4)
While these unwanted disinfection by-products are monitored by your local municipality, the regulations are likely not enough to protect you and your family.
Eliminating THMs from your Drinking Water
So, what can we do to eliminate the risks from trihalomethanes? Would doing so improve the overall quality of the water we use every day to a safe level?
Pitcher based water filters are a common way people improve the taste and smell of their drinking water. However, while they do remove chlorine, they do not remove THMs.
Finding alternatives to the large-scale addition of chlorine and other chemicals to municipal water supplies is critically important. However, picking up a readily available filter at Target does not easily solve this problem.
Fixing your home’s water requires a more comprehensive approach that starts with water testing.
After that, the best option available for improving water quality and safety is to install a whole house water filtration system that removes ALL contaminants while retaining valuable minerals — not just chlorine, but also trihalomethanes and other disinfection by-products before they can reach any and all faucets in your home.
When searching for the best whole house filter for your home, be sure to seek one that includes the following characteristics.
- Has a multi-year long filter life (10+ years or 1,000,000 gallons).
- It requires no regular maintenance.
- Removes chlorine, chloramines, THMs, HAAs, other DPBs, fluoride, and heavy metals among other contaminants in a single tank.
- Retains essential minerals.
From my research, very few whole house water systems meet these criteria! If you are in the market for this type of home appliance, I recommend taking a look at the Radiant Life Whole House Filtration System – Series 2, 4, or 6 (size depends on the square footage of your home).
For kitchen only water filtration, a biocompatible multi-stage purification system is an excellent choice.
(1, 3) EPA: Drinking Water Contaminants
(2) American Journal of Public Health, Volume 82, No. 7, July 1992.
(4) Environmental Working Group: Water Treatment Contaminants
I would be interested in smaller filter system using reverse osmosis but do I need to add minerals back in and if so could you give a suggestion as to what to add. I have seen only natural ionic minerals from the Great Salt Lake at my health food store. Are these appropriate to use for the longterm?
Hi Sarah! Thank you so much for your article.
We have a Berkey Royal filter for our family, but I do feel the inconvenience of using it.
I am also interested in knowing on the portable system for people like us who rent.
Keep us posted. Thank you
I always read many article regarding water filters. I wonder if I need one, I live in the country and am on my own well. What should I watch for and get tested in my water? We bring a sample of our water to public health office once a year to get tested to ensure it safe to drink. I have no idea what they test for. Should I be concerned?
Sarah Pope MGA
Yes … you should be concerned. THe public water tests are not even close to thorough enough and only test for a few things. I would recommend getting your water tested with this company. https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/go/water-testing/
Once you have your results, that will give you the info you need to size/select the appropriate filter.
Have you looked at Pelican Water systems?
My problem is, that I live in a NYC apartment. Any suggestions on how to filter the water. Whole house filtration is obviously out of the question.
Sarah Pope MGA
A new apartment size water filter that uses similar technology is set to be available very soon. I will circle back around and post about when it is available soon!
It would be a great help if you would address any options for those of us who are not homeowners — e.g., is the Berkey filter the only thing available? My building has 90-year-old galvanized pipes and I spend a small fortune on various types of bottled water. I don’t even give tap water to my cats (fluoride is implicated in feline gastrointestinal problems). I use a Culligan shower head with replaceable filter. I don’t know the specs on it, but can tell you that the smell of the water is entirely different once it’s passed through that filter.
Sarah Pope MGA
This is a very important point … thanks for bringing this up. I have recently become aware of an option that uses similar technology as a whole house filtration system that is portable and sized for apartments/home renters. I will post about it as soon as it is available.
I use a Berkey and have for about 5 years. I don’t own a house and live my Berkey. Yes, it is a little big but luckily I have a great space for it. My friend also has a tiny apartment and feels it is worth it to have clean and great tasting water. Daulton is also the same company as Berkey now and they are cheaper. Interchangeable filters.
To make gravity fed water filters work for day-to-day use is to not use it directly. My recommendation is to use the filter system to fill several gallon-sized glass jugs of water. Add liquid trace minerals as you fill. As you empty a bottle, refill it from the filter. Fill as many jugs as you see fit. This way, you’re not inconvenienced when you need a large amount within a short time frame.
Alternatively, you can store filtered water or a longer term with five gallon jugs, either plastic or glass.
Do you recommend the Berkey water filter? Thank you!
Sarah Pope MGA
I think the Berkey is great to have in the closet for prepper needs. I have a mid-sized Berkey stored for hurricanes etc when we might lose power for several days or a week and water might become unpotable.
It is very clunky to use … it has to sit on the counter and is quite large taking up a lot of space. You have to pour water into it etc as nothing works on power. Overall, I find a Berkey very inconvenient to use on a day to day basis, but they are excellent for camping and/or emergency/preparedness planning for the home.
For the realities of daily living, an under the counter/sink kitchen filter and a whole house water filter is much more suitable where you can get clean, filtered water anytime you turn on the tap. This is the best system I’ve come across in 25 years researching these types of systems (we live in FL where the water table is inches below the surface of the ground and the aquifer very much loaded with contaminants.) https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/go/house-water-system/
Radiant Life doesn’t state their systems are reverse osmosis. From all I’ve read, reverse osmosis is the only way to eliminate the neurotoxin, fluoride. If I obtain additional data, I’ll post.
Sarah Pope MGA
Radiant Life does utilize reverse osmosis for its under counter kitchen water purification system. However, reverse osmosis is generally not a practical solution for whole house applications given the unique plumbing, water storage challenges, space requirements and overall investment required. As an alternative, Radiant Life offers whole house water filtration solutions that utilize a proprietary blend of natural materials. Specifically, the mineral of choice for addressing fluoride is zeolite. It has proven to be very effective at removing a high percentage of fluoride throughout the home.