Should you filter tap water?


Certainly yes! But let us admit that the conflicting information and recommendations from various authorities leave us confused. Or rather let us blame ourselves for falling for advice that is not specific to our localities.

In your quest for the right answers on whether or not you should filter tap water, you perhaps land on an article addressed to residents of Switzerland – which we understand has some of the cleanest tap water in the world. And yet you are from Mexico – or even Congo, Pakistan, Bhutan, Ghana, Nepal, Cambodia, Nigeria, Ethiopia, or Uganda. For your information, this is an updated list of the top 10 countries in the world with worst drinking water.

Your country or state perhaps falls between the above-mentioned two extremes. What then? Know how clean your tap is.

How clean is tap water?

Wherever you live, there is  a high chance that there is a regulatory authority that sets the legal limits on certain contaminants in water. Whether the water is sourced from a man-made dam, a river, a fresh-water lake, or a borehole, it must undergo a treatment process to reduce the concentration of certain contaminants which would otherwise pose a health risk to the residents. 

Below is a typical extract from a water quality standard.

ContaminantPotential health effects from exposure above the maximum contaminant levelPublic health goal
ArsenicSkin damage, circulatory system problems, cancer0
Asbestos fibers greater than 10 micronsBenign intestinal polyps7 Million fibres per liter
BariumHigh blood pressure2
BerylliumIntestinal lesions0.004
ChlorineStomach problems, eye and nose discomfortMaximum residual disinfectant level goal =  4
CopperDigestive system discomfort, liver damage, kidney failure1.3
CyanideNervous system damage, thyroid issues0.2
DichloromethaneLiver damage, cancer0
FluorideBone fracture, mottled teeth4.0
LeadRetarded growth, reduced attention, high blood pressure0
MercuryKidney damage0.002
NitratesBlue baby syndrome, death10
NitritesShortness of breath1
VirusesDiarrhea, cramps, vomiting0

Remember that the actual standard may least hundreds of contaminants. Activists argue that some of the legal limits are far too lenient. Worse still, some water treatment facilities may not adequately meet the laid out standards. This menace is especially rife in those countries where law enforcement is a bit relaxed. 

For contaminants like fluoride, just a slight increase above the recommended maximum can have far reaching effects on the population. For instance, American authorities recently had to lower the fluoride content in water from the initial 1.2 milligrams per liter to 0.7. This was after several decades of outcry from the public and human rights activists.

Even so, some governments still stick to age-old standards.  Too much fluoride in drinking water causes dental fluorosis(which is characterized by white streaks and specs on tooth enamel), skeletal fluorosis (weak bones and joints), thyroid problems, and several neurological problems.

On the other hand, the body still needs some fluoride to reduce tooth decay, rebuild weakened tooth enamel, and prevent growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth. 

The good thing is that you can get fluoride from supplements, mouth rinses and toothpaste. 

The bottomline

We could tackle the issues surrounding the other water contaminants, but space and time won’t allow it. The key takeaways from the above narration are as follows:

  • Some government standards on drinking water requirements are quite lenient
  • Not all water treatment facilities attain the specified standards

In addition:

  • Issues in the distribution network may lead to addition of more contaminants before water reaches your tap.

It is not a myth that poorly maintained drinking water systems promote bacterial growth. Flakes from rusted pipes may directly drop into your cup – and stomach for that case. Too old water distribution pipes with algae may alter the smell and taste of water. Leaking points may cause entry of faecal bacteria and all manner of dirt into the drinking water that comes to your tap.

In a nutshell, there are dozens of ways that water can be contaminated even after being treated at the local water treatment plant. 

So don’t risk it. Prevention is better than cure. Get yourself a reliable water filter and be sure that you are drinking clean water. You can effectively remove hazardous contaminants like lead, mercury, nitrates, nitrites, chlorine, barium, chromium, bacteria, viruses, and other heavy metals. You’ll also be able to enhance the taste of water to a pleasing one that nags you to drink more and more – all to your benefit. 

All you need to do is first know the characteristics of your tap water and correspondingly choose a water filter that can make it clean enough.