The Truth About Filtering Tap Water: Is It Really Safer?
The answer is that depends. Not all water filter tap systems are the same. Some are exceptional quality and really do make a huge difference while others and I use the term kindly are just junk.
Selecting a filtered tap water system is not hard if you look out for a few things.
While the filtered water tap must be designed to protect your family from toxins, it’s really what lies beneath the sink that counts. The type of tap water filter system makes all the difference to the kinds of potential toxins that can “slip through” and into your glass.
Tap filters are each assigned a “standard” depending on the level of protection they offer. Unfortunately, the average hardware store tap filter will only carry the NSF42 accreditation. The NSF42 filtration standard does not guarantee protection for you, from most microbial, toxic metals, toxic chemicals, and animal/plant-based contamination. This is because it is a low bar to pass and not a very thorough standard.
What are the most potentially harmful chemicals and contaminants present in tap water?
The kind of contaminant determines not just the level of threat but also the kind of tap water filter that you’ll need to mitigate your risks.
Bacteria, Parasites and Viruses
Examples: E Coli, cyanobacteria, legionella, salmonella, campylobacter, giardia, cryptosporidiosis, amoebic meningoencephalitis, adenovirus, rotavirus, hepatitis
Symptoms: Vomiting, diarrhoea, skin irritations, cramps, fatigue, liver and kidney problems, nervous system toxicity, Guillain-barre syndrome
In 2021, it was storms in the Yarra Valley in Victoria. Before that, Bega, parts of Western Australia, Central Australia, Queensland, and South Australia. Bacteria, parasites, viruses and algae bloom breach Australian water systems frequently. The 1998 Sydney Protozoan Parasite outbreak impacted millions of people, as giardia and cryptosporidium breached the city’s water supply.
What causes it? Usually, it’s a failure of infrastructure or a natural disaster – droughts, electricity supply interruption and floods are the three most common causes of microbial tap water contamination in Australia.
So, does a filtered water tap prevent harm from microbial threats?
Most of the filtered water taps on the market will meet the NSF42 standard. They are not proven to provide you with protection from microbial contaminants. The minimum NSF standard that is proven to protect you from microbial contaminants is the NSF53. Yes, It is confusing.
An easy way to check the filter tap’s ability is to ask for the NATA lab Testing that has been done. It must be a NATA lab. Not just any old science Lab. If they do not have any testing data it is probably best to assume that it’s not the quality you want to get for your family or yourself.
Example: Lead, arsenic, copper, zinc, iron, manganese, mercury, cadmium
Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cramping, organ damage, mental impairment, and in cases of high or prolonged exposure, death
“Not in our water, surely!” Yes, in our “meets Australian standards” water. Macquarie University’s sampling of NSW water found lead contamination in 51% of samples. It wasn’t so long ago that lead was readily used in water infrastructure. The South Australian government has acknowledged that lead can leach in to your drinking water via natural sources and plumbing components that can be found in your home. This can increase the likelihood of lead being absorbed and carried into your water taps.
Does a filtered water tap prevent toxic metal poisoning?
Tap water is generally free of toxic heavy metals although they could be introduced by accidents. Interestingly it’s your tap ware that usually introduces metals like lead into tap water.
Most do not realise that brass is an alloy and one of its components is lead. If your tap at home is brass and it is almost 100% of the time it can introduce lead to your filtered tap water.
Lead is a dangerous metal, particularly for children. It has been proven to affect neurological development in children.
A filtered water tap can have the best filters in the world but the tap can introduce lead! When selecting tapware for your filtered drinking water tap it is paramount that the filtered water does not touch brass. Look for a filtered water tap that is completely lined with a potable water polymer. This is a barrier to the brass and ensures no lead can be introduced after the water is purified.
This is a huge issue for inline tap water filter systems. If you hear the line “our filter can make any tap a filtered water tap” then do not buy it. In other words, instead of the water filter coming with its own special purification faucet, they offer to hook it up to any old mixer tap.
Examples: Herbicides, pesticides, chlorine, chloroform, dichlorobromomethane, dibromochloromethane, bromoforms
Can you see, smell or taste them; These are 100% undetectable by sight or taste
Potential Outcomes: Low birth weight in babies, reduced cognitive ability, bladder and colon cancer, cardiac anomalies
While farming runoff and industrial spillage are ongoing concerns for water purity, there is one group of toxins in ALL drinking water called trihalomethanes. To deliver potable water to your taps, the Australian government uses chlorine. While chlorine is a particularly effective disinfectant and tested as “safe” in numerous studies, it’s the chemicals referred to as disinfection by-products that pose a significant risk. These chemicals, known collectively as trihalomethanes (THMs) occur when chlorine reacts with other matter in your pipes and chlorination at the treatment plant. THMs have been linked to a host of serious illnesses, including pregnancy risks and cancer. A growing group of scientists are urging governments to seek alternatives to chlorine in sanitising water.
Can tap filters protect you from toxic chemicals including THMs?
Yes, NSF53-certified tap water filters and watermark NATA lab testing can eliminate harmful chemicals if they have been tested and proven they will be removed. Under-sink water tap filters may eliminate these from drinking water, and whole-house point-of-entry water filtration systems are unlikely to prevent exposure through bathing and other contacts with skin. A point-of-use system targeting these contaminants is the best but hard to find. For example, an NSF53-approved system and tap under your kitchen sink will catch these, this is called point of use. A point of entry system is generally outside and not at the tap point in which you are using it. Regular filter changes are paramount for maximum chemical removal and to ensure one is reducing chemical intake.
Plant and Animal Waste
Example: Blue algae, hormones, antibiotics, particulates including seeds, insect eggs and organic matter, fungi
Symptoms: Skin irritation, respiratory illness, gastrointestinal issues
While Australian tap water is carefully monitored, pastoral lands near water reserves pose a risk beyond the runoff of pesticides and herbicides. The increase in “factory farm” style food production has introduced concerns about hormones and antibiotics escaping into our waterways NEED A REFERENCE. This is in addition to small particulates including insect, marine and amphibious eggs, potentially toxic seeds and the ever-present threat of blue-green algae blooms. A lot of work is done to try to reduce this kind of contamination but it is difficult if not impossible to completely eliminate
Can a tap filter prevent harm from plant and animal waste?
At the source of the water supply, extensive particulate filtering does eliminate some of the larger organic contaminants, but most of us have poured water fresh from the tap and seen a “floaty.” The best prevention is a dual-system filter. (See how the Puratap Dual Water Filter System works here)
The first filter eliminates organic matter like small eggs and plant matter. This is vital not only for the clarity of your water but because plant and animal matter can provide a breeding ground for bacteria. The second step is to remove all matter larger than 0.5 of a micron(nominal). This is the “gold standard” of tap filters. Very few filters on the market achieve this, so it’s vital to check that your tap water filtration system has been tested for pore size. Only accept NATA lab testing.
What illnesses can drinking tap water cause?
The majority of illnesses from drinking unfiltered, tap water initially present with gastro symptoms. The more potentially dangerous illnesses, are caused by disinfection by-products, and cannot be detected by taste. They have no taste, no smell and cannot be seen. Trihalomethanes (THM’s) are facing heavy scrutiny from the scientific community as they’ve been linked to both pregnancy complications and cancer.
The truth is no one knows if ingesting small amounts of these contaminants over a long period of time whether will give you cancer. If your filtered water tap is tested and proven to remove them then the risk is eliminated.
Just as a side note. These contaminants are stored by the filter and will cease to be removed after approx. 12 months. Protection from these contaminants is dependent on the service that is provided by the product you buy.
Another side note. Very, very few water filter taps on the market remove these contaminants. Always insist on seeing NATA Lab testing for THMs. Do not accept NSF 42. If the filter Claims NSF 53 Standard then ask for the specific NATA Lab testing on THMs or Watermark NATA lab testing for THMs. If the organisation you are potentially buying from do not know what THMs are then probably safe to assume the product they are promoting doesn’t remove them.
Another side note. Avoid any inline water filter tap system. I could devote a whole article as to why these just do not work but they are an opportunistic product and best to avoid them at all costs. They are generally promoted by builders, plumbers and kitchen outlets. There is a good chance they will be outlawed due to a very high carbon footprint; with these the whole plastic canister is thrown out, instead of reusing it and just replacing the filter inside. Or priced out of existence. They are very environmentally unfriendly. They filter all the water, even to do the dishes, so have poor longevity performance. They usually hook these up to a normal mixer tap, which is susceptible to lead and not a special purification faucet (polymer-lined filter tap). You only need a thorough filter tap to use for cooking, drinking etc., and not one to wash the dishes.
How do I know if tap water is safe to drink?
Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell with the naked eye (or taste buds).
Is tap water safe to drink if filtered?
The only real way to feel confident is to invest in and maintain an NSF53 water filtration system or Watermark certification listing contaminant reduction and safe tapware. The days of the ugly filtered water tap are long gone. You can now get lead-free water taps built specifically to be free from potential contaminants while looking “designer chic.” Check out the range of designer Filtered Water Taps.
How do you purify tap water?
Installing a purification system ‘under sink” is the ideal way to purify tap water in Adelaide. The Puratap tap water system is already in hundreds of thousands of Adelaide homes because we’ve been at the vanguard of safe water technology for decades now. We also understand that filter changes are one more thing you don’t want to think about. So, as a Puratap customer, we also let you know when it’s time to change your filter to keep you safe and provide a free filter change service. We make it easy to own a water purifier.
It’s what you can’t taste that makes ALL the difference! It’s what you can’t see or smell that is the reason we’ve won awards for our innovative approach to water purification. Join the hundreds of thousands of Adelaidians already protected by our class-leading system.