What the Flint Water Crisis Taught Us about Water Filtration

Water, Water Everywhere

Water Filtration

In April 2014, in an effort to hugely cut water costs, the city of Flint, Michigan switched water sources from Lake Huron to treated water from Flint River. Following the switch, residents began complaining about the water’s color, taste and odor. Various organizations, including a General Motors plant in Flint as well as the Flint Public library, discontinued use of Flint water as little action was being taken to make Flint’s water drinkable. Tests from various officials deemed the water safe and meeting all health standards despite the water’s toxic levels of chlorine byproducts, corrosive properties and coliform bacteria. It was eventually discovered, with virtually no help from state or municipal officials, that the river water’s high acidity was corroding old lead pipes and lead was leaching into the water supply at extremely high levels. 

While Flint water officials maintained that they had detected safe amounts of lead in Flint’s water supply, the effects of Flint’s water were devastating and unmistakable to its citizens. The health effects listed in a class-action law suit against city and state officials included skin lesions, hair loss, high levels of lead in the blood, vision loss, memory loss, depression and anxiety. While the city eventually announced that it planned to switch back to its former water supply, the effects of the Flint Water Crisis will likely haunt the city for years to come: chronic illnesses related to the crisis (there is no cure for lead poisoning), as well as a well-deserved distrust of city and government officials, are still pervasive. While government-issued tap water filtration devices were issued to Flint’s citizens following the crisis, they were tested and found to not effectively filter the water to a drinkable level. The New York Daily News  urged for industrial grade filters in every home in Flint, as many claim that the water system is forever tainted, regardless of attempts to fix it. 

With a crisis like Flint’s, coupled with governmental assurance that everything’s just peachy, you may wonder if your drinking water is safe. How much do you know about the quality of your drinking water? What detrimental health effects attributed to your water quality might be lurking unnoticed within your household? How do you protect yourself and your family in the event of a tainted water supply?

Flint’s high lead levels aside, drinking water in 33 states poses a threat because of the level of PFAs detected in it according to a recent study. Studies have shown that PFAs may be associated with developmental delays, fertility and hormonal issues, a weakened immune system, changes in liver enzymes and prostate, kidney and testicular cancers. Unsurprisingly, government data is lacking in the safety measures of PFAs. One recommended way to find out if your drinking water is healthy is by checking the Consumer Confidence Report, an annual water quality report sent to you with your water bill. You can also check the Environmental Working Group’s National Drinking Water Database. If you’re still not convinced, certain other quality measures can be taken to ensure that your water is completely safe. 

The Bottled Water Industry

First, if you’ve switched from tap to bottled water, bear in mind that there’s little empirical evidence to suggest that it’s actually any better for you. In fact, the bottled water industry currently holds a reputation as being less regulated than the municipal water industry, as bottled water is regulated by the FDA but city water is regulated by the EPA. What’s more, various plastic compounds like BPA (that scary ingredient in your water bottle) have been proven to be carcinogenic. The  FDA initially claimed that levels of BPA in common plastic items are safe for use, but adjusted its position to express “some concern.” Ingestion of BPA in humans has been associated with hormonal and brain imbalances, cancer, heart problems and other conditions that have been reported to affect children at a much higher level, as BPA is harder to process and eliminate in younger bodies. 

Boiling Your Water

Your mother may suggest that you boil your water to ensure it’s safe, but boiling only eliminates certain contaminants from water. It kills germs, sure, but a big concern of water from pipes is its heavy metal content, which boiling does not affect at all. If parasites or bacteria are what worry you, purify your water by boiling it for five to ten minutes. 

Types of Water Filters

There are four main kinds of filters available for consumer use: activated carbon filters, ion exchange units, reverse osmosis units and distillation units. These all work to eliminate different contaminants based on your region and water source. The first removes organic contaminants that affect the water’s taste. Some more advanced carbon filters have the ability to remove heavy metals like copper and lead. Ion exchange units aid in purifying “hard water” of minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Reverse osmosis units remove nitrates, sodium, pesticides and harmful petrochemicals. Distillation units boil water for purified, distilled water. Again, some of these filters may not work for your water purification needs, so educate yourself as a consumer before purchasing. Further, purification units require maintenance because an unclean filter actually does more harm than good once chemicals and metals build up on its surface. 

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