Fluoride in Your Drinking Water—How Much is Too Much?

by Diana M Published 3.21.2014

I frequently get calls from people asking about fluoride in their water. Some people call about removing the fluoride, and some call about making sure it remains in their water supply. These opposing opinions piqued my curiosity about fluoride. What is it? How does it get into the water supply? Should it be removed, or is it a good thing to have in your drinking water?

It turns out there are mountains of documentation available on the subject of fluoride, but two points really stayed with me. First, there are all sorts of natural sources of fluoride in addition to intentionally fluoridated water and toothpaste. I had no idea! Second, the debate about the pros and cons of fluoride is endless.

As Ed R says in this his post, fluoride can be found naturally in water, food and the atmosphere. In fact, it’s the 13th most abundant element found on earth. 5 major global fluoride belts run through the earth, transversing approximately 31 countries. A percentage of this fluoride is soluble, and ends up in the water supply—even the oceans contain some fluoride.

Fluoride can also be found in the atmosphere. Some of it comes from airborne dust with naturally occurring fluoride, and some comes from industry.

Additionally, fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides used on fruits and vegetables usually contain a level of fluoride. If you’re one of the folks trying to keep your exposure to a minimum, giving the fruits and vegetables a good washing can remove most of the fluoride from produce. Choosing organic produce also eliminates exposure to the pesticides that leave fluoride residues.

So, if I have so much fluoride exposure naturally, why are some water supplies fluoridated intentionally? Well, as early as the late 1800’s, it was noted that children exposed to higher doses of naturally occurring fluoride had healthier teeth. At that time, several studies were launched both overseas and in the US which showed that fluoride’s presence in the mouth could prevent tooth decay. Adding fluoride to water supplies seemed to be the logical approach to dental health, because it resembled the natural method of exposure.

The United States is one of few countries that add fluoride on a consistent basis. Here, the decision to add fluoride to the water is up to the city or town. Grand Rapids, MI was the first city to add fluoride to the water supply in 1945, and many cities and towns followed suit until recently, in 2012, 72% of the US received fluoridated water from their municipalities. But in 2011, approximately 200 cities and towns in the US decided to stop adding fluoride to the water. Not only would removing the fluoride cut costs, but more data was becoming available on the negative aspects of overexposure to fluoride.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), children have the highest risk of over exposure. In a household, the child and adult may consume the same levels of fluoride, but because of the child’s body size and weight, the same dosage can be an overexposure. Children overexposed to fluoride will have “fluorosis”—pittingand/or grey discoloration—of the teeth. One of the concerns of overexposure to adults is bone degradation. It’s believed that too much fluoride will actually weaken bone density. Organizations monitoring the use of fluoride all recommend that we have conversation with our dentists and physicians regarding our personal limits.

According to the World Health Organization, the average adult is naturally exposed to approximately .6 milligrams of fluoride per day using an un-fluoridated water supply. Their target exposure guidelines suggest that .8-1.2 milligrams per litre per day will maximize the benefits of fluoride and minimize any possible harmful effects. In the US, the EPA has set a maximum contamination level of 4 milligrams per liter per day. If you’re not sure whether your water is fluoridated or how much fluoride it might contain, you can check with your water supplier. They will have published detailed reports about the contents of your water.

Now, when people call about fluoride in their water, I know more about what they might be thinking. As with anything found in and around water, we at Kinetico encourage you to learn about the water in your home and how it affects your life. Take charge of the water you drink, as your body is the ultimate water filter.

Contact Diana M.


How does hard water affect my coffee and tea?

by Mark B Published 12.11.2013

A cup of tea or coffee is 99% water, so the water used for brewing makes a big difference in the quality of what you drink. There are hundreds of compounds that are released when hot water hits the beans and leaves. When we taste, we actually use both the tongue and the nose to create a complete picture. (Just try eating soup with one hand pinching your nose…it won’t taste the same.) So if the water isn’t especially good, it can rob you of what should be a pleasurable break—chlorine and hardness are major culprits.

Chlorine will attack the flavor compounds and may be strong enough to compete with the aroma from the cup. A good carbon filter is all that’s needed to eliminate this bad actor from your diet, and the rest of your drinking water will taste better too.

Hardness is typically Calcium and Magnesium and maybe a little Iron that’s dissolved in your water. (Learn more about hardness or iron). When these minerals combine with compounds in tea and coffee, they bind together to form solids. Flavors and aroma are tied up and taken away from your mouth and nose. A water softener and/or reverse osmosis system are effective ways to fix this problem. My personal preference is an RO system, because it has a carbon filter for the chlorine, a membrane to purify, and a mineral cartridge polisher to ensure a complementary balance of ions for the tea and coffee to steep in.

Here’s something you can try just for fun if you have hard water at home or work. It also makes a simple, but safe and effective science fair project. Buy a bottle of water at the supermarket, making sure to pick one that’s been treated by reverse osmosis. Brew two cups of tea at the same time in the microwave: one with hard water, and the other with RO water. About 90 seconds should do it. Take the cups out of the microwave and remove the teabags. Now compare color; is one muddier than the other? Smell and taste; the cup made with RO water will be brighter and livelier on the palate, and you may also detect a cleaner flavor. It’s easy to observe that just because a cup of tea is darker does not mean it is stronger or richer, or that is has a full range of flavors for you to enjoy.

I did this “tea test” with a standard bag of Lipton black tea and then took these photos.

Can you guess which is which?

The tea made with RO water was, you guessed it, the one on the left. I chose a black tea (instead of a green or white) because I thought the result to be visually more striking. Doing this with a highly aromatic tea such as orange pekoe, or a more subtle green tea also demonstrates what a profound difference the right water makes.

Life is just too short for a bad cup.

Contact Mark B.


How a Reverse Osmosis System Works

by Abbey R Published 9.27.2013

With every passing year we learn more about what is in our water and the effects those contaminants can have on our health. It takes the EPA years of study to figure out what is an acceptable level for contaminants in our water or how best to treat them. Contaminants in residential drinking water can include almost anything, from industrial waste that was dumped in a river, to fertilizers and household cleaning products. Many times, treatment involves adding a chemical to the water to neutralize the contaminant—for instance, chlorine is added to water to control the amount of microbes—but these chemicals can give water undesirable tastes or odors. Technology like reverse osmosis systems exists to remove contaminants from water without adding any chemicals.

Reverse osmosis (RO) systems are becoming an increasingly important, needed appliance in our homes. RO systems utilize your water pressure and a semi-permeable membrane to reduce contaminants for great-tasting water without adding any chemicals. They are typically used to purify drinking water which is where contaminant levels matter the most. Some areas, however, have such terrible water that an RO system is used for the entire home.

Every reverse osmosis system has at least four parts: a prefilter, an RO membrane, a storage tank and a postfilter. Water supplied by the city or a well enters the system through the prefilter, which protects and extends the life of membrane by filtering out the things that can harm it, like chlorine and sediment.

A reverse osmosis membrane uses a semi-permeable membrane to separate water molecules from other molecules. “Semi-permeable” means that some things can pass through and others can’t. A familiar example would be your furnace’s air filter, although, semi-permeable membranes for water treatment allow passage based on the size of the particle as well its molecular charge whereas typical air filters separate the contaminants exclusively by size. Holes or pores in the membrane are sized just big enough for the passage of a water molecule—even small contaminants such as tobacco smoke or paint pigments are too big to go through an RO membrane. At this point, because the membrane only lets certain molecules pass through, there is some waste liquid with a highly concentrated amount of contaminants that goes to the drain. The virtually contaminant-free water that makes it through the membrane, called a permeate stream, is safe to drink and tastes great.

Reverse osmosis technology relies on pressure to push the water molecules through the. Water pressure varies with your water source. City water is usually supplied between 40 and 100 psi (pounds per square inch). Well water is usually less pressure, delivered between 20 and 60 psi depending on your pump. The production rate of the membrane is dependent on factors such as temperature, pressure and Total Dissolved Solids levels. Because flow and production rates vary, most RO systems also have a storage tank, allowing more pure drinking water to be available on demand, so you can fill your glass or pitcher much faster.

Because the water is so pure, bad tastes and odors from the storage tank’s bladder and walls can find their way into the water during prolonged contact, so they must be taken out. That’s why a postfilter is an important part of the reverse osmosis system; any odors or tastes picked up from the storage tank are removed and the water is once again great-tasting.

To raise the pH if it is too low, whole house systems use a “polisher” after the postfilter, which adds minerals to the water which protect the pipes and which come people feel enhances the water’s taste.

Sometimes seeing is believing. Personally, I love seeing ice cubes made with RO water because they are virtually colorless. Ice cubes made from city-supplied tap water are almost white in color, which tells me that there are minerals mixed in with the water molecules. Whenever I see transparent ice cubes, I know the RO system must be removing a lot from my water. If your home has questionable drinking water, maybe it’s time to check out a reverse osmosis drinking water system—you won’t regret it.

Contact Abbey R.


Drink Local. Drink Tap.: Bringing Safe Drinking Water to Uganda

by Guest Bloggers Published 8.5.2013

Erin Huber is the founder and executive director of Drink Local. Drink Tap., Inc.™ a non-profit organization focused on creatively reconnecting people to local water. She inspires people to become better stewards of water through education and awareness in the west and she designs and implements sustainable water projects in the east (Africa). Huber’s passion for safe drinking water is supported by more than a decade of volunteer work and awards, a B.S. of Environmental Science and an M.S. of Urban Studies from Cleveland State University, emphasizing sustainability policy and new economics.

When I last wrote, Drink Local. Drink Tap. had just returned from drilling 180 foot deep borehole (new water source) in Uganda for St. Bonaventure Primary School. Previously, children had been walking miles each day to collect water they did not know was even safe to drink. We’ve learned a lot in the past few years and made a positive impact in the world thanks to Kinetico, all of our sponsors, volunteers, Wavemaker Program students and you.

This year, we plan to build three sustainable water projects in Uganda at two orphan schools so that children and their community can be healthy, experience a better education and stay safe. In late 2013, we will install a tap system for the children at St. Bonaventure. This phase of the project will help students hydrate, wash, complete chores, cook, grow food, get a better education and experience even less sickness and death. In Masindi, Uganda, we will build a two part project at Family Spirit AIDS Orphanage. A shallow borehole and gravity fed farm irrigation system will be built for the children in order to remove the cumbersome walk for water and increase sustainable food production. This will help the orphan school save funds, improve health and increase nutrition for the already vulnerable children. Just this summer two children have died from HIV and TB; we cannot leave them to continue to worry about death from dirty water too.

We are excited to get back to Uganda, but we can only help others with your help. Youth and adults everywhere are getting inspired and involved, especially the students involved in our Wavemaker Program for schools. We have already worked directly with 30 classrooms this year and can reach another 20 in the fall thanks to recent support from Kinetico Incorporated. The students in our Wavemaker Program take action to care for our water locally, but understand that all water is connected and it’s important to help other students in need of access to safe water. They have been raising funds to help build our safe water projects, volunteering at beach and river cleanups, conserving water and reducing their plastic waste to become positive wave makers in the world.

We’ve also had the help of individuals and organizations to raise money and spread awareness for our next three water projects. In the spring of 2013, David Christof ran and biked from Prague to Morocco (Africa) 3,000 kilometers in 63 days to support phase three at St. Bonaventure. We celebrated World Water Day at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium with Wavemaker Program students and also hosted a private documentary screening event.

It can be overwhelming to think about all of the pollution in the world, the one billion people without access to safe drinking water or the fact that more people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet. But, if we work together to make positive change, we can truly impact those unimaginable statistics- we’ve proved it and will continue to work hard, with you, to save our water and save lives.

Ways to get involved:

  • We are able to offer our Wavemaker Program to a number of schools this fall because of the generous support of Kinetico Incorporated. Send us an email at info@drinklocaldrinktap.org if you’d like us to work with your school.
  • Additionally, you can help by hosting a fundraiser or a documentary screening. You can also donate directly. For information on these fundraising programs, to donate or to read about our recent or upcoming events and projects please visit the Drink Local. Drink Tap. website at drinklocaldrinktap.org.

Faucets: An Unlikely Enemy

by Abbey R Published 8.1.2013

When I was in middle school, one of my friends once told me that you should always let the drinking water fountain run for a couple seconds before taking a drink. This would assure that all the germs would go down the drain. I remember thinking that as long as I don’t put my mouth on the fountain that I couldn’t be picking up any germs. After all, it is wasteful to let water just go down the drain. It never crossed my mind that the bacteria could be coming from inside the faucet. Now that I have been in the water industry for a while, I see how naïve I was.

Faucets do harbor bacteria and even promote its growth. The amount of bacteria is typically related to the style of faucet. Gooseneck faucets (looks just like it sounds) are notorious for harboring germs at their highest point, especially if the faucet is installed near a kitchen sink. The decaying food that you leave in your sink is a breeding ground for bacteria. So, instead of germs coming from your main water supply and out your faucet, as you may assume, the reverse is actually taking place. Germs work their way from the sink to the end of the faucet where the water comes out, up into the faucet itself and down toward the base.

Sink drains can be sanitized to lessen the amount of bacteria in your drinking water. To sanitize your drain, pour one teaspoon of bleach mixed with one quart of water down the drain. Sanitization of your faucet or your drinking water system and faucet will vary by manufacturer. Drinking water systems with proper sanitizing will ensure great drinking water for you and your family.

Contact Abbey R.


The Better Water Blog 1-Year Anniversary

by Kinetico Published 7.1.2013

Time really does fly when you're having fun, doesn't it? Over the last year, we have tried to bring you posts that help you understand, value and respect life's most vital resource: water. We know some of you have been with us from the very beginning, and we're really grateful for that. But for those of you who are new to the Better Water Blog, here are some posts you could start with from this time last year.

Why are Boil Water Alerts So Important?

By Cathy J in The Science of Water

Have you ever had a Boil Water Alert (BWA) issued in your area? These public warnings can be worrisome if you've never heard them before. You may ask yourself, "Is my water really safe?" Cathy answers some common questions about BWA's in this informative first-ever Better Water Blog post.

How a Water Softener Works—Mystery Solved!

By Stuart P in Water Treatment Technology

Stuart's fascinating, lighthearted post clears up some of the mystery behind water softeners. Even if you already know all there is to know about ion exchange, water softeners, soap curds and electrons, you'll enjoy the fun, straightforward video presentation where we get to see how water softening works close-up, featuring Mr. Resin Bead! 

We All Have Our "Just In Case"...Mine Has To Do With My Drinking Water

By Keith B in Water in the News

Keith explains a few of the reasons why he and millions of others rely on reverse osmosis filtration for drinking and cooking water. "Better safe than sorry" is his philosophy as he illuminates some of the effects that fracking and PPCP's (Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products) might have on your water.


Colors, odors and tastes—is your water changing with the seasons?

by Diana M Published 5.17.2013

Another spring is here, a time of change and wonderment. The landscape changes, the types of birds one sees and the songs they sing change. Everything seems to burst with renewed life, including some water supplies!

For well water users and some municipally supplied water users, a change in weather can create a change in water. And friends, change is not always good. Well water may change with a rainy season, which can introduce materials to the aquifer that had not previously been there. Some municipalities change the source of their water supply with the changing seasons and weather conditions. Often times, the supply is from a well, and a different well means different water. Even two wells on the same property can produce two entirely different types of water.

In the spring and the fall, we can count on receiving calls from customers about this very thing. Common unwanted changes to the water include new colors, odors and tastes, which are produced by a variety of causes.

Irons’ reddish brown stains are probably the most familiar to us all. However, tannins—the result of rotting vegetation—cause staining very similar to iron. Shale, organics and manganese can result in black staining. These are just a few causes of color in water. If you find that you have any of these in your water supply, don’t despair; they can be treated.

Odor is another issue that can arise from the changing of seasons or weather. A concern we hear frequently is rotten egg smell resulting from sulfur. This can leave one wondering if an egg was missed in the Easter Egg Hunt. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and we have to admit it is the water. 

Anything that alters the color of water can alter the taste. As an example, iron may produce a metallic taste. We frequently hear from people that grew up on well water and not only expect but enjoy the mineral or metallic taste. If it wasn’t present in your water before, though, it might come as quite a shock.

We even get calls from people with water softeners. Now, you may be asking yourself why your water softener is allowing these changes to come through. A water softener is designed to remove calcium and magnesium. These are the hardness minerals that create scale in pipes, appliances, sinks and tubs. Often times, however, staining and odor require a different type of treatment.

Color, taste and odor can become a permanent part of your water supply or they may be passing with the seasons. Rest assured; with proper testing and treatment, your water can be brought back to normal in no time. Your local water treatment professional can advise you based on their experience as to whether it may be passing or permanent and provide the perfect solution for you.

Contact Diana M.


Using Our Oceans to Produce Drinking Water

by Mark B Published 4.2.2013

Learning to SCUBA dive at an early age in the chilly Gulf of Maine gave me exciting views of an incredible hidden world. This led to other adventures exploring the salty world beneath the waves, researching whales, coral reefs and fisheries. On one of these occasions I spent about six months on a tall ship, where our drinking water was taken from the ocean and filtered by a specialized, high pressure, reverse osmosis (RO) membrane. The RO takes in sea water and rejects the salts, leaving fairly pure, fresh water. People can’t drink sea water directly because it puts the body’s natural balance of salts out of whack—there’s so much salt in sea water that it actually drives the water out of our bodies. Not so good when you’re thirsty. I’m reminded of a line from an old poem, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, where a sailor and his boat were trapped far from land: “Water, water every where Nor any drop to drink.”

It’s incredible that the oceans hold over 97% of all the water on our planet. The remaining is fresh water, most of which is locked up in the polar ice caps and permanent ice on mountains; less than 1% of the Earth’s water is potentially available for drinking. If you filled a five gallon bucket and said that it represents all the water on our planet, nearly all of it would be too salty to drink. In fact, roughly ½ a cup from that whole bucket would represent all that we have in the ground, our lakes, rivers, and ponds. Consider that even less than that is easy to make safe for drinking—not so muddy, brackish or polluted that extra measures are needed. Unfortunately, there are many places where people can’t afford to treat the water and end up drinking it as-is, contaminants and all. The worse the water quality is, the harder we have to work to make our tiny existing fresh water supplies drinkable.

This means, for those who can afford treatment, we put in energy, equipment, disinfection chemicals, time and effort to make it potable. Is all that water in our oceans unavailable to us, like it was for the Ancient Mariner? Like on my ship, when it comes to salts, high pressure RO membranes are now used for many communities around the world (including here in the United States) to make drinkable water from the oceans. Another common way to do this is distillation. These are important technologies for areas with access to salty water but not enough fresh and as you may have guessed they do require significant energy inputs. 

Image courtesy of DewPoint Systems.

Another interesting technology, DewPoint Systems' RainDome,uses naturally cool sea water to draw moisture from the air without electricity or moving parts. In coastal areas where the conditions are right, the fresh water it makes can be used for drinking and even to irrigate crops.Using the oceans to produce drinking water is not only possible, increasingly, it’s a reality for a thirsty world.
 

Want to learn more? Check out the following resources.

Desalination by Reverse Osmosis:

Contact Mark B.


Weakening Nicaragua's Cycle of Poverty With Drinking Water Technology, Part 2

by Mark B Published 8.9.2012

In May, 2012, I returned to Nicaragua with Aqua Clara International and Fairmount Minerals. We worked with the slow sand filters that Aqua Clara and a group called AMOS have been installing throughout the country. Access to safe drinking water is a major health issue Nicaragua and in many other places around the world. Slow sand filtration is not new, nor is it unique to Aqua Clara or Nicaragua. The ones I’m talking about provide drinking water to a single household but they can also be bigger to serve a school or community. Household filters come in different shapes and sizes, depending on whose design it is and what materials are available. Basically, it is a container with a layer of coarse gravel at the bottom with smaller and small gravel on top of that, until finally the topmost layer is fine sand. Dirty water is poured in at the top and displaces filtered water so the good stuff just pours out the tap. The sand does more than simply strain out the bad stuff – it supports a biological environment that gives the harmless microbes the opportunity to eat or out-compete the ones that make people sick. It’s a simple but highly effective technology for the prevention of water-borne diseases.

Household slow sand filters are normally made by local people with locally available materials, which serve an overarching goal of helping people to help themselves. When parts and materials are not specially imported, a drinking water filter becomes more financially accessible to the end user and more serviceable. Another important benefit of this strategy is that the builders develop an intimate understanding of how these things are supposed to work – this enables them to also teach about and repair the units.

One of the interviews we had in May included a family that had been using the slow-sand filter for about six months. The father reported that he can now work every day because he no longer feels weak, and specific health issues were better than they had been in years. He felt this was because he was now drinking the filtered water. That made sense considering the consequences for an adult body to be constantly fighting off infections in the gut.

Simply put, slow sand filters can and do change and save lives every day. If you’re interested in exploring further, here are just a few links to some of the many resources available on the subject.

 

An additional list of resources for slow sand filters can be found here.

Contact Mark B.


Weakening Nicaragua's cycle of poverty with drinking water technology, Part 1

by Mark B Published 6.21.2012

Aqua Clara provides point-of-use water filters to impoverished people in developing countries. Kinetico hosted an information session where employees from Kinetico and Fairmount Minerals learned how these slow-sand water filters are made and about the programs that train people in rural communities how to make and maintain them. 

Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the western hemisphere: the average income is about three dollars a day. There are major health problems, especially in rural areas, caused by drinking contaminated water. As a result, people have to spend money on medicines to treat water-borne diseases. Because they are sick so often, they have less time for work or going to school. This reinforces a cycle of poverty and disease that can be difficult to break without outside resources.

The Aqua Clara program includes educating the end-users on why the slow-sand filters are important and how to build, use and maintain them. A key part of program success is regular follow-up visits for additional support. In November 2011, I went to Nicaragua to be part of a team that included folks from Fairmount Minerals, Aqua Clara and Nicaraguans. We went to remote villages to see whether existing slow-sand filters were being used properly and to find out how effective they actually were. Deep in the tropical volcanic hills, we were greeted by village leaders and taken to homes where filters had been installed. The water filters were frequently located in a hot, dark kitchen that was sometimes just 6’ x 7’, had a swept dirt floor, a tin roof, and walls made from whatever was available. Often chickens and other animals were present. 

The filters we examined ranged from months to years old. Our assessments included household interviews mostly with the matriarchs. In many places, it is not unusual for women and older girls to be responsible for making sure the home has enough water for their cooking and cleaning as well as for the family to drink. In many African villages this can mean a child has to walk for miles to bring the water back home, though where we were in Nicaragua water was drawn from nearby wells. Our site visits also included measuring turbidity and taking water samples from the raw source and the filter outlet so we could grow bacteria on special plates and find out just how bad the situation was.

As you can see from the photo, these filters dramatically reduced the amount of bacteria in the water. The blue spots are actually colonies of dangerous E. coli, and the red spots are coliform bacteria.

Once the bacteria plates had time to incubate and I saw the results, I took a moment to look around again. What I saw were toddlers exploring and children laughing, playing and going to school. I saw families who depend on being healthy enough to make whatever living they could from small plots of land way out in the hinterlands. As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, it not only brought back memories, but also reinforced why this kind of work continues to be so important. Health in rural communities like the ones we were in starts with clean water. It’s good to be part of a company that intimately knows the value of water and is committed to sharing our knowledge to help others gain access to safe and adequate supplies.

 

Photos courtesy of Dave Chew.

Contact Mark B.


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