The Multipure Spotlight for September 2020 is “Know Your Contaminants,” which means that this month, our blog posts and social media will focus on the what, why, and how of specific water contaminants and their treatment to make safe drinking water.
Arguably the most insidious aspect of drinking water contamination is that many of the most harmful and most dangerous contaminants are not detectable by the naked eye. What may appear to be clear, clean water at first glance, may in actuality be a carrier for something quite harmful or deadly. In this article, we will discuss three such invisible dangers in drinking water: lead, arsenic, and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs).
Lead: Unsafe at Any Level
Lead is a natural metallic element, once commonly used in water pipes and the solder used to connect pipes, as well as in brass plumbing fixtures and fittings. When pipes, solder, and fittings corrode – due to the effects of other chemicals and substances in the water, due to corrosive bacteria, or due to acidic water pH, particles of lead can enter the water stream. If this occurs after water has already passed through a municipal water treatment facility, the lead contamination becomes part of your tap water.
Some believe that lead contamination would be detectable in water, because plumbing corrosion can sometimes add a metallic or bitter taste to the water, or the presence of rust can sometimes discolor water. The fact is, lead contamination in water is colorless, odorless, and tasteless.
Lead exposure and ingestion is incredibly harmful, especially for children. Lead poisoning can permanently impair mental ability, cause a loss of hearing, and stunt physical development. At higher levels of exposure, lead poisoning can result in convulsions, neurological damage, organ failure, coma, and death. What is particularly worrisome about lead contamination is that it is not only undetectable in water by unaided human senses, but that initial signs of exposure may appear to mimic symptoms of the flu or gastrointestinal disease, such as cramps, fatigue, vomiting, or loss of appetite.
Lead is one of the worst invisible dangers in the water. Lead poisoning accumulates in the body, so exposure builds up over long periods of time. Even worse, many effects of lead exposure are incurable. There is no safe level of exposure to lead; because of this, the maximum contaminant level goal set by the U.S. EPA for lead is zero.
Arsenic: A Natural and Industrial Toxin
Arsenic is a naturally-occurring metallic element that can contaminate water through both natural and man-made means. Arsenic can be present in the earth in minerals and ores, contaminating groundwater through contact. Arsenic is also used in manufactured products such as car batteries, ammunition, and electronics, as well as pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides; arsenic from these products can contaminate surface water and groundwater through waste disposal and agricultural runoff.
Like lead, arsenic is both highly toxic and undetectable by taste, odor, or appearance in water. The EPA considers all forms of arsenic as a serious risk to human health. A confirmed carcinogen, arsenic can also cause abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle cramping, and death. The EPA standard for the presence of arsenic in drinking water is a maximum of 10 parts per billion (10 ppb, or 0.01 parts per million).
Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAs): The Forever Chemicals
Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAs) include chemicals such as Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS). PFOA and PFOS are part of a group of synthetic chemicals used to manufacture products that resist water, grease, oil, stains, and heat. PFOA and its related compounds are designed to resist extreme conditions without breaking down; because of this, they don’t readily degrade in the environment – thus the term “forever chemicals” to describe them. This means that drinking water contaminated with PFOA, PFOS, or other PFAs will remain contaminated with them forever, unless they are specifically treated by a filter designed to remove those contaminants.
Where does this contamination come from? Anything that requires nonstick or stain-resistant coatings can contribute to PFAs contamination, including nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpets and clothing, microwave-safe products and packaging, water-resistant jackets and materials, and floor treatments and sealants. PFAs enter water supplies through waste disposal, manufacturing industrial waste, and even from runoff of fire-retardant foam. And much like lead and arsenic, PFAs are undetectable in water by unaided means.
It is because it is so easily dissolved in water that PFAs contamination has had a relatively low profile for many years. It is only recently that enough concern has grown over PFAs water contamination to encourage further studies, whose results imply that virtually all water supplies across the U.S. are contaminated by PFAs.
This is even more concerning when one realizes the wide range of negative effects caused by PFAs exposure. PFAs contamination can lead to reduced fertility, birth defects, developmental damage, damage to the immune system, hormone disruption, and cancer. Despite the varied and harmful effects on human health, PFOA and PFOS contamination has only recently been tested for and categorized by NSF International under NSF/ANSI Standard 53 (Health Effects), which means that many drinking water treatment products have not been tested for these dangerous and invisible contaminants. The EPA standard for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water is a maximum of 70 parts per trillion (70 ppt, or 0.001 parts per million).
Multipure Remains the Solution
Although these are only a few of the many potential drinking water contaminants that may be in your water, and only a few of the contaminants that are undetectable by normal means, Multipure remains committed and able to protect your water and your health. All Multipure Drinking Water Systems are NSF-certified to treat the presence of lead in drinking water. Our Aquaperform and Aqualuxe systems are NSF-certified under Standard 53 to treat Arsenic-V in drinking water. And our Aqualuxe is further NSF-certified under Standard 53 to treat PFOA and PFOS in drinking water. In addition to these contaminants, Multipure systems are NSF-certified to treat the broadest range of drinking water contaminants, including chlorine, chloramine, asbestos, toxaphene, radon, VOCs, estrone, naproxen, DEET, and even bacteria and viruses, among many others. Contaminants may be an invisible danger in your tap water, but with a Multipure system, your water remains clean, safe, and healthy for washing and preparing food, for cooking, and for drinking.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and Taste the Difference of Multipure.