Pure Water Occasional

Posted October 7th, 2013

The Pure Water Occasional for October 7,  2013

With  articles about activated carbon, the unquestioned superstar of modern water treatment, how wasting food wastes water, the growing problem of arsenic, the emerging villain tricosan, the trashing of our oceans (and why that is such a bad idea). There is also lots of world water news, and, as always, much more.



Filter Carbon: What It Does and What It Doesn’t

by Gene Franks

If you’ve wondered what makes water filters effective, this article will give some answers. Water filters aren’t magic. Except for rare specialty items, what we call a water filter works because of a single ingredient–activated carbon. The present article is a slightly truncated and revised version of one that’s been on Pure Water Products’ main commercial website for a number of years. – Hardly Waite, Editor.

Granular activated carbon is a water treatment medium used to remove tastes, odors, chlorine, chloramines and chemicals in general from water. It is one of the most versatile and useful of all water treatment tools. Filter carbon is a manufactured product, made from coal, nut shells, wood, and other substances.–Pure Water Annie’s Glossary of Water Treatment Terms.

 Activated carbon is the essential ingredient in most modern water treatment processes.

The largest single section in the “EPA Regulated Water Contaminants” list is the section on Organics (including VOCs, or “Volatile Organics”). In this category the EPA lists numerous very nasty organic chemical contaminants—many with familiar names like benzene, 1,1 dichlorethylene, carbon tetrachloride, dioxin, styrene, toluene, chloroform, and vinyl chloride. To give an idea of the extensiveness of this list, a single item,  “Total Trihalomethanes,” consists of hundreds of chemicals, some  still undiscovered or unstudied, that are formed as by-products of the chlorination process. The EPA’s maximum allowable level for trihalomethanes, many of which are suspected or known cancer causers and are present in virtually all chlorinated tap water, is less than 1/10 of one part per million.

For the Organics category, the primary treatment in all cases and the only recommended treatment in most cases, is activated carbon.

The EPA’s Pesticides category lists many familiar poisons such as Aldicarb, Chlordane, Heptachlor, and Lindane. In all cases, activated carbon is the only recommended treatment.

Of the Herbicides listed (2,4-D, Atrazine, etc.), activated carbon is the only treatment recommended.

In short, for Organics, Pesticides, and Herbicides, which together make up 90% of EPA’s regulated substances, the standard treatment, and in many cases the only treatment recommended, is activated carbon.

What carbon filtration does not do can be seen in the remaining three categories of the EPA contaminant list.

Microbiological contaminants.  Carbon is listed as a treatment in only under one category–turbidity. It is not recommended for coliform removal or for cysts, though in reality some of the very tight solid carbon block filters now on the market remove bacteria (though manufacturers seldom make this claim), and many carbon block filters are now certified for removal of cysts (giardia and cryptosporidium).

Inorganic contaminants.  Carbon appears in the EPA list only as a preferred treatment for mercury.  Carbon filters are also frequently engineered to remove lead (by the addition of ion exchange resins) and some carbon filter makers claim asbestos reduction, but by and large carbon is not a good treatment for most inorganic water contaminants.

The same is true in the final category, Radionuclides, where carbon is ineffective and reverse osmosis (RO) and ion exchange are definitely the treatments of choice.

Chloramines and Chlorine

Chlorine was not considered in the discussion above because the EPA does not consider it a water contaminant. Nevertheless,  chlorine removal is a top priority of water filter purchasers.  Chlorine removal is what carbon is best at, and nothing else equals carbon’s ability to remove chlorine. Carbon, especially the specially processed carbon known as “catalytic carbon,” is also the best treatment by far for chloramines, the increasingly (un)popular chlorine substitute. Standard filter carbon can reduce chloramines, but catalytic carbon does the job faster, allowing the use of smaller filters and faster flow rates.

Fluoride, another EPA-unlisted additive that people frequently want removed from tap water, is not readily removed by carbon filtration.  (Although carbon can remove fluoride under the right circumstances, its performance is sporadic and unpredictable, so it is  best not to count on it.) I should note, too, that a unique carbon called “bone char,” which is made from animal bones, is widely used as a fluoride remover in some parts of the world, though rarely in the United States.

TDS, “total dissolved solids,” the count of the total mineral content of water, is not affected by carbon filtration. The EPA suggests a non-enforceable upper limit of 500 parts per million (ppm) total dissolved solids. TDS can be reduced only by reverse osmosis or a distiller or by a very expensive process called deionization.

Hardness, another frequent problem that carbon is not used for, is readily removed by ion exchange (a conventional water softener)  or reverse osmosis.

Sodium, Fluoride, and Nitrates

Tap water ingredients that people most frequently want removed that are not readily removed by carbon filtration are fluoride, nitrates, and sodium. (Sodium is measured in water as part of the Total Dissolved Solids, discussed above.) Reverse osmosis and distillation remove all three. so either of them, combined with a high quality carbon filter, provides complete treatment. All three can also be removed by selective, non-carbon filters designed for the purpose. For example, you can obtain a double filter with one fluoride and one carbon cartridge if fluoride removal is desired. The fluoride cartridge does not contain carbon but a specialty medium called Activated Alumina.

Some Vendors Are Not Good Sources of Information

When distiller sellers or zealous home marketers show you a chart that indicates that reverse osmosis (RO) units do not remove chlorine or certain chemicals, keep in mind that RO units contain one or more carbon filters. In fact, “thin film” RO units, the most common type, must remove chlorine from the water as the very first operation else the unit’s membrane will be destroyed. Such statements are simply advertising cheap shots that are technically true but in reality totally false and intentionally misleading. It’s surprising and disappointing that some large companies actually do this in their promotional literature.

A reverse osmosis unit that has at least two high quality carbon filters is the best and most complete drinking water treatment for the home. When people say they want a water treatment system that “removes everything,” reverse osmosis is as close as you can get.

The Paper Gazette

We’ve started issuing a simple two-page paper Gazette that goes out with packages and business mail.  It consists of short, simple articles that get right to the point.  Here are a couple of examples from the current issue.  You can read the whole issue on the Gazette’s website, if you like.

One-fourth of all fresh water used in the United States goes for what?

An amazing fact: About a quarter of all fresh water used in the United States goes into the making of food that is thrown away. Amazing fact #2: Americans throw away 40 percent of the food they buy. An even more amazing fact is that a large part of the food that we throw away is tossed out simply because Americans do not understand the expiration dates that manufacturers label food with. The expiration date is not a mandate that the food is unsafe for consumption past the stated date; it is, actually, nothing more than an inventory control device that manufacturers put on the product for their own convenience. And it is, in fact, very convenient for Jiffy when you throw out your jar of perfectly good and safe peanut butter at the date on the label and buy a brand new jar.

Arsenic in US Water

Natural arsenic contamination of US drinking water was once considered fairly rare and insignificant. It was also believed that although arsenic was lethal in high doses, exposure to small amounts was of no consequence.

Opinions have changed. A number of studies suggest that arsenic is an astonishingly versatile poison, able to do damage even at low doses. Chronic low-dose exposure has been implicated not only in respiratory problems in children and adults, but in cardiovascular disease, diabetes andcancers of the skin, bladder and lung.

Trace amounts in the body interfere with tumor-suppressing glucocorticoidhormones, studies show, which is one reason that arsenic exposure has been linked to a range of malignancies. Arsenic also interferes with the normal function of immune cells. It damages lung cells and  causes inflammation in cells in the heart. In countries like Bangladesh where water is often naturally high in arsenic, it is not uncommon for the ability to take in oxygen of “normal” people to resemble that of long-time smokers.

Arsenic is removed from drinking water by reverse osmosis and and by a number of specialty filters.

Water News from Around the World. 

As usual, there is more bad news than good.  Fracking stories dominate.  Surprisingly, there’s little about the government shutdown.

Chemicals from coal ash leaching into groundwater in North Carolina community. Linda Malpass grew up in the Flemington community in North Carolina, just south of Duke Energy Progress’ Sutton Steam Plant, and remembers when wells were polluted by a nearby landfill. Now wells are threatened by another pollution source – coal ash.

California asked to weigh what chromium-6 standard is worth. While water agencies are urging the state to take another look at the economic costs associated with a proposed new drinking water standard to limit chromium-6, some environmental advocates say the state hasn’t gone nearly far enough to protect public health.

State’s proposed chromium-6 water standard draws ire. Some, including the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, think a historic proposed California limit for cancer-causing chromium-6 in drinking water is set too low and so will cost too much to implement.

Is clean water a right or a privilege? I have heard that the wars of the future will be about water, not oil. As our population grows at ever increasing rates, the demand for water for agricultural and human consumption is already outstripping fresh water supplies all over the globe.

New drug problem for Cape Cod? Tired of hearing about wastewater, runoff, fertilizers and nutrient pollution of the ground water? Well, there are nearly undetectable and untreated chemicals in the groundwater to worry about as well: drugs used and unused, pesticides, fire retardants, artificial hormones, caffeine, antibiotics, and more.

As water cleanup commences, Beede story shows Superfund law’s flaws. Later this month a New Hampshire water treatment plant will switch on in Plaistow to clean ground water at a notorious former oil dump. The total bill for the cleanup of what’s now known as the Beede Superfund site could reach nearly $70 million dollars..

Lake Huron pipe rupture costs more than $1 million to repair. Last year’s huge water pipe rupture – that stopped the flow of drinking water from Lake Huron to half-a-million people – cost more to repair than expected. The final tally for the May 2012 break was released and it added up to $1.3 million.

What happens when the government shuts down 94 percent of the EPA? Most of the government workers monitoring your air quality, water, and chemical spills got sent home. What now?

Davis rejects fluoride and we all save money. For now it appears that fluoridation in Davis and Woodland is a dead issue, and from a cost perspective that’s a good thing.

Keep those poisons coming (a government shutdown message). Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn) declared that the best news out of the government shutdown was the hobbling of the Environmental Protection Agency. Spoken like someone who’s obviously not too worried about poisons in her water or exposure to child-lethal pesticides or toxic compounds seeping into her food.

From toilet to tap for water-scarce city. In a few years, residents of the eThekwini municipality in the port city of Durban in South Africa could be drinking water that was once flushed down their toilets, as authorities are planning to recycle some of the municipality’s sewage and purify it to drinking quality standards.

Fracking produces annual toxic waste water enough to flood Washington D.C. There are growing concerns over radiation risks as a new report finds widespread environmental damage on an unimaginable scale in the U.S.

Using human waste to grow food, and fight climate change. Synthetic fertilizers have helped fuel a food boom over the last century, but they also contribute mightily to climate change. So now there’s a growing push for a return to the ancient practice of using human waste as fertilizer, but with modern sanitary safeguards.

China presses waste industry to clean up its act. Communist authorities are clamping down on an industry that has helped the prosperous West dispose of its waste but also added to the degradation of China’s already pollution threatened natural environment.

Doctors call for tests on ‘mystery’ pollution found in India’s Yamuna river. In India, Delhi Jal Board officials stumbled upon some “mystery” pollutants which are found to be deteriorating the water quality of the Yamuna river to a dangerous level, with a rise in levels of cyanotoxins and other unidentified pollutants

Victoria sewage pollution found over wide ocean area, environmental groups say.Sewage pollution has been found to exceed federal limits as far away as William Head, near Metchosin, and Trial Islands, near Oak Bay.

Troubled waters at Gallagher Beach? Opening Gallagher Beach for swimming is “probably impractical from a public health standpoint” because of stormwater pollution, sediment contamination and neighboring toxic sites, a consultant for the Erie County Health Department has concluded.

High levels of radiation found in creek near drilling wastewater site in western Pennsylvania. A new study published in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology has found high levels of radiation and salinity in a creek near a drilling wastewater treatment facility in western Pennsylvania.

Zebra mussels threaten Central Texas reservoirs. With the discovery of invasive zebra mussels in Central Texas’ Belton Lake, experts are now worried that the destructive bivalve’s spread will create long-term logistical and ecological complications for the state’s reservoirs and drinking water.

Fracking wastewater contaminated Pennsylvania streambeds, study finds. Outflow from a treatment facility that handles fracking waste in Pennsylvania left radioactive hotspots and elevated levels of contaminants in sediment near and downstream from a discharge pipe, the study found.

Fracking may be polluting river with radioactive waste. Scientists found elevated levels of radioactivity in river water at a site where treated fracking wastewater from oil and gas production sites in western Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale is released into a creek.

Sea Turtles: Spiraling loggerhead deaths linked to fishing gear off Baja California. One thing hasn’t changed since Wallace Nichols began studying loggerhead sea turtles in Mexico’s Baja California more than 20 years ago: North Pacific sea turtles are dying. And the main culprit — bycatch — is easy to spot, he said.

A balancing act around Lake Tahoe. Protecting this natural wonder, set in a mountain-ringed bowl 6,225 feet atop the Sierra Nevada, would have been difficult enough. But its placement, straddling the California-Nevada border, brings the two states into play, with sometimes-competing visions for the lake’s future.

Radiation in Pennsylvania creek seen as legacy of fracking waste. Naturally-occurring radiation brought to the surface by gas drillers has been detected in a Pennsylvania creek that flows into the Allegheny River, illustrating the risks of wastewater disposal from the boom in hydraulic fracturing.

Fracking produces annual toxic waste water enough to flood Washington D.C. There are growing concerns over radiation risks as a new report finds widespread environmental damage on an unimaginable scale in the U.S

China presses waste industry to clean up its act. Communist authorities are clamping down on an industry that has helped the prosperous West dispose of its waste but also added to the degradation of China’s already pollution threatened natural environment.

Victoria sewage pollution found over wide ocean area, environmental groups say.Sewage pollution has been found to exceed federal limits as far away as William Head, near Metchosin, and Trial Islands, near Oak Bay.

Radiation in Pennsylvania creek seen as legacy of fracking waste. Naturally-occurring radiation brought to the surface by gas drillers has been detected in a Pennsylvania creek that flows into the Allegheny River, illustrating the risks of wastewater disposal from the boom in hydraulic fracturing.

New on the Pure Water Gazette website:

The Health of our Oceans Is “Spiraling Downward,” and Still We Act Like Nothing Is the Matter

by Philip Hoare

This week’s review from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean is a salutary warning.  According to the IPSO, the evidence is clearer than ever that the effect of climate change is being felt most acutely by the world’s seas.  Whilst their vast expanses absorb heat and CO2 – thereby ameliorating the effect on us land-dwellers – the results are having disastrous effects on marine life.  The oceans are increasingly acidifying; warmer water holds less oxygen; and combined with overfishing and pollution from heavy metals, organochlorines and plastics, the outlook is darker than ever.

All this because we seem to ignore the great expanse of water on which we depend.  90 per cent of the earth’s life is to be found in its oceans; its phytoplankton provides 40 per cent of our oxygen.  A large percentage of our food comes from the sea; it carries our trade: 90 per cent of the UK’s trade is conducted via the oceans.  And yet by the very fact of our increasing disconnection from the sea, we allow it to be polluted and ravished.   Please read the rest on the Gazette’s website.

Research: Fight against bacteria is harming environment and humans

By Judy Benson 

Unregulated, potent, germ-killing chemical triclosan, commonly found in cleaning products and cosmetics, breezes through sewage treatment plants to enter waterways, including Thames River

Editor’s Note: The article we’re reprinting here from The Day  focuses on the essentially useless and potentially very dangerous “antimicrobial” chemical called triclosan,  but the overall issue involves the many unregulated chemicals commonly found in cleaning products, antibacterial soaps and additives, cosmetics, articles of clothing, and regular household items that are collectively referred to as “emgerging contaminants.” The problem is that the “emerging contaminants” are being introduced into the environment much faster than regulating agencies can evaluate their safety. This poses a weighty problem for wastewater treatment facilities. – Hardly Waite.

Every time you brush your teeth with Colgate Total, coat your underarms with Arm & Hammer Essentials deodorant, or wash your hands with Dial Complete liquid soap or your dishes with Dawn Ultra, you may be polluting the Thames River.

These and dozens of other cleaners and cosmetics, along with toothbrushes, socks, underwear, yoga mats, hockey helmets, cutting boards and other items carrying labels like “Biofresh,” “Microban,” and “antimicrobial,” contain triclosan. This powerful chemical kills bacteria but also is the target of growing concern about its harmful effects on human health and the environment.

Read the rest on the Gazette’s website.

 Other additions to the Gazette site are Pure Water Annie’s explanation of the concept of “acid demand” in water treatment (you won’t want to miss that one) and Fiona Harvey’s excellent article on ocean acidification.

Coral is particularly at risk with increased acidification of the oceans.

Thank you for reading.  Please come back next week.

Places to Visit on Our Websites in the meantime

Model 77: “The World’s Greatest $77 Water Filter”

Sprite Shower Filters: You’ll Sing Better!”

An Alphabetical Index to Water Treatment Products

Our famous whole house Chloramine Catcher

Pure Water Occasional Archive: Sept. 2009-April 2013.

Write to the Gazette or the Occasional:   pwp@purewaterproducts.com

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