You Might Have Arsenic in Your Drinking Water — But Don’t Panic

Home water purifier

Did you know that there are more than 2,100 contaminants that can be found in tap water? It sounds like a lot, but don’t panic; you’re probably not going to drop dead tomorrow from drinking tap water. Humans can be pretty resilient. However, it may be a good idea to have some of the less desirable contaminants, such as arsenic, removed from your water.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency puts the maximum contaminant level for arsenic at 0.010 milligrams per liter. While water suppliers are required to keep arsenic under this limit and notify their customers if this limit is breached, those getting water from home wells will need to ask their local health department about water contaminants in the area. So, if you’re one of the 48 million people in the U.S. that uses a private or household well, you may want to look into well water filtration systems that can keep you safe during fluctuations in local arsenic levels.

There are four main types of arsenic removal systems: reverse osmosis, adsorptive media, distillation, and anion exchange. These are further divided into point-of-entry (POE) systems and point-of-use (POU) systems. POE systems apply to the whole house; POU systems apply to a specific tap, such as a kitchen faucet. Anion exchange can only be used in POE systems, and distillation methods can only be used in POU systems; reverse osmosis and adsorptive media can be used in either.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the advantages and disadvantages of each type of arsenic removal system:

  • Reverse Osmosis: These systems require less maintenance than others, but create a large amount of waste water in the process, and generally require pretreatment.
  • Adsorptive Media: Unlike reverse osmosis, this system doesn’t create much waste water, but tends to result in a more expensive reoccurring cost, particularly when used without pretreatment.
  • Distillation: Installation and operation of these systems is simple, and they require no pretreatment. However, they tend to use a lot of energy.
  • Anion Exchange: For a whole-house system, anion exchange generally yields a lower initial cost, but it requires maintenance to work reliably, and the waste water it produces can contain higher levels of arsenic.
  • Clean drinking water shouldn’t be seen as a luxury in the U.S.; over 40% of Americans are using home water treatment, according to the Water Quality Association. While it can be expensive, the potential health benefits and peace of mind that having clean water brings can outweigh the cost.

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