Q: I use a water filter on my kitchen sink faucet, but I hear an under-the-sink reverse osmosis filter is much better. Do I really need to invest in one? And how safe is bottled water?
— Dave L. Cleveland
A: You’ve asked a lot of questions! First, faucet, pitcher and refrigerator filters (usually carbon filters) are great at capturing heavy metals, chemicals and some bacteria. But Gary Ginsburg (he’s on our RadioMD.com radio show) says reverse osmosis filters have the best available technology for removing uranium and radium (up to 99 percent), as well as contaminants such as arsenic, nitrate and microscopic parasites like Cryptosporidium, which causes diarrhea.
But before you upgrade your filtration system, find out what kinds of contaminants are generally found in your municipal water supply. We also advise testing the water, because water pipes can be a source of contamination, even if the water coming into them is OK. And in some parts of North America, because of new threats to aquifers and ground water posed by pipelines and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” (where there’s little or no official oversight), testing is ever-more necessary.
You can test on your own (kits can test for pH, total chlorine, hydrogen sulfide, iron, copper, nitrites and iron bacteria) or send samples to a lab. Then you’ll know what you want filtered out of the water and purchase the system that does the job.
As for bottled water: The Environmental Protection Agency’s bottled water standards are the same as for tap water and cover chemical, microbial and radiological contaminants. Bottled water plants must operate in accordance with the Food and Drug Administration's good manufacturing practices. And bottlers must list on the label the type of water: spring, mineral or from a public/community water system. Yes, they can use your water (usually they filter it) and resell it to you; they just have to tell you on the label!
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