Cool, refreshing, crystal clear water tastes great on a hot summer day, but most people don’t give much thought to what’s actually in their drinking water. The following is an explanation of how water treatment affects the tap water that people drink every day.
Alum, or aluminum sulfate, is added to water to aid in filtration. Alum acts as a coagulant to bind fine suspended particles together into larger particles that can then be filtered out of the water. It results in water that is clearer, and the alum itself will be cleared from the water. Because the aluminum is filtered back out along with the particles it binds to, it poses no health risk.
The EPA reports that fluoride is added strictly for the dental benefits. Fluoride does not improve the actual quality of the water supply, but it is proven to help protect the teeth of people who consume it. However, water fluoridation is becoming increasingly controversial. The National Water Council currently advises parents not to give fluoridated water to infants. Further, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that one in three children in America have irreversible damage to their permanent teeth as a result of fluoride. Supporters point to evidence showing fewer cavities for people consuming fluoridated water while opponents claim that there are serious health risks, including the risk of cancer. Of all the chemicals added to water, fluoride is the most controversial, and the only one that is not needed for actual water quality.
The EPA reports that chlorine is added as a disinfectant. Derivatives of chlorine, including chlorine dioxide and chloramines, are also added to prevent water supplies from turning into breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. The health problems with consuming high levels of chlorine are clear. However, water departments around the nation are careful to use enough chlorine to kill bacteria without using so much as to cause health problems.
This oxidizing agent is added to lake water. It is used to clear the water of iron, manganese, and some natural tastes and odors. Removing the iron and manganese ensures that the water does not cause stains on clothing and plumbing fixtures. After being oxidized by potassium permanganate, these minerals become insoluble and can be easily removed through basic filtration methods. However, concentrated levels of potassium permanganate can be harmful to the skin.
Used as a liquid substance, polyphosphate helps to isolate the iron, manganese, and calcium in water. When added to water, polyphosphate protects water lines by preventing corrosion of pipes.
Any chemical added to water has the potential to cause health problems. However, it is important to weigh the potential risks against the health benefits that are gained by having clear, clean water that is free of algae, bacteria and viruses. Regardless of where you live, it is a good idea to have an additional filtration system in your own home to remove some of these chemicals.
Want to know about how to filter out other chemicals? See our article on: Different Kinds of Water Filters