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Isn’t water quality the responsibility of the municipality?

Yes, it is, and in most cases water quality is maintained with reasonable care. The issue is whether tap water at a “reasonable” standard is up to the level of purity we actually want to consume.

What’s the downside of chlorine?

Chlorine reacts with naturally present organic substances in the water to form chlorine byproducts, or trihalomethanes (THMs). Moreover, chlorine does not kill parasitic cysts like Cryptosporidium or Giardia. Did we mention that the taste and smell of chlorine is a powerful disincentive to drinking an adequate daily supply of water?

What is “reasonable care” of the water supply?

The primary responsibility of any municipality is to assure that the water supply is free of bacteria that would quickly make people ill. For a large city, that means injecting a large dose of chlorine.

If there are other, safer disinfectants, why do cities still use chlorine?

It’s the disinfectant with a long residual. There is nothing a city can do about conditions within the miles of pipes between a treatment plant and its final destination: your faucet. The only thing to be done is to inject enough chlorine so that at the end of the run there is still enough residual to assure that bacteria remains under control.

New York is supposed to have great water. Does it?

Yes and no. The unusually low levels of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and minerals make New York City water in some respects simpler to bring to a high standard of purity, as does the absence of contaminants like arsenic and nitrates. On the other hand, the “softness” (low mineral content) results in a highly aggressive water. (Sounds like New York, doesn’t it?) What that means to us is that the water partly dissolves whatever it contacts. Copper, for example, is commonly found in NYC tap water because of copper water lines. High levels of iron and manganese, and an abundance of fine particulates (in the 1 - 3 micron range) all originating in the reservoirs, are characteristic of New York City water. So are chlorine and its byproduct trihalomethanes (THMs), as well as periodically varying levels of Cryptosporidium.

What exactly is filtration?

Filtration ordinarily consists of two separate functions: Physical filtration of turbidity (dirt and particulates), and adsorption, a physio-chemical process to remove contaminants that primarily exist in dissolved form. In practice these functions can overlap.

Isn’t reverse osmosis (R/O) superior to filtration?

It depends on the actual water conditions. Where the level of total dissolved solids (TDS) is low, (New York City is a primary example of low TDS water), there is no advantage in R/O over fine filtration. Reverse Osmosis is also more expensive, more complicated to install, processes a limited amount of water each day, and sends about 3 gallons of water down the drain for every gallon it yields. In circumstances that require the R/O process, definitely consider the technology. But it’s not a matter of one technology being superior to another. What counts are your actual water conditions.

I was advised to drink distilled water. Isn’t that the best of all?

We disagree. Water is not better to drink according to an absolute measure of how little, besides H20, is in it. The purest waters, used e.g. for laboratory analysis, can be deadly to drink. Why? Because the less minerals there are in water, the more water becomes an aggressive solvent against the body. A balance of minerals is a good thing in water.

But the body doesn’t absorb the minerals in water anyway, so what’s the difference?

That misses the point. We’re not talking about the ability of the body to make use of minerals in water. We’re talking about the impact on body tissue of water that has had its mineral content extracted.

If my building already has a filtration system at the main, why would I need another?

There are different qualities of water appropriate for different uses. As a theoretical matter, we could supply bottled quality water for an entire building’s domestic water supply. (We just might need to take over the building next door to house the equipment.) As a practical matter, it makes more sense to divvy up the workload: For water used for purposes other than consumption – more than 98% of water use – at the main (“primary stage”) filter out particles only. Downstream, at outlets (“secondary stage”) where water will actually be consumed, install bottled-quality filtration (submicron, along with activated carbon and other media) for water that will actually be consumed. New York City water in particular has an exceptionally high turbidity level – i.e. it’s full of dirt. True drinking water filtration requires a controlled ratio of flow rate to filtration media. It is a waste of resources to use exceptionally fine, complex filtration media to reduce coarse particles.

I read reports that say bottled water is less regulated than tap water, and so it’s no better. Is that true?

Our view is that most (if not all) brand-name bottled waters contain high quality water within – at least to start with. There is evidence that water sitting around in plastic bottles leaches phthalates. Our issue is less with the quality than with the un-sustainability and expense of plastic bottles, from the petroleum used in production through the pollution attached to the distribution and disposal of plastic bottles.

How do I know when it’s time to replace the filter cartridge?

It depends on your actual water conditions. In most cases, and especially with fairly turbid water (look for the turbidity NTU value on the posted water report for your city), diminishing pressure and thus a slowing flow rate gradually to the point of inconvenience, will indicate it is time to replace. If your water is not especially turbid, and there is a high level of some contaminant(s) that you are relying on filtration to reduce to a negligible level, then you will want to replace your cartridge on a stricter, more frequent schedule. (NYC water is one of those waters in fact so turbid, that you will see substantially diminished flow long before the capacity of a submicron cartridge to reduce typical dissolved, non-physical, contaminants is exhausted.)
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