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Water Filters: Are They Necessary?

Water is Love, Water is Life

Water is the second chief component for human survival, the first being air itself. The human body is composed of about 60% water and can go only mere days without water before succumbing to extreme dehydration. In contrast, a healthy body can last three weeks without food.

However, the presence of water alone doesn’t guarantee a healthy body. Take, for instance, the infamous Flint Water Crisis – in 2014, Flint, the largest city in Michigan, USA, discovered that its municipal water systems were tainted with dissolved lead. Drinking this toxic water can cause lead poisoning, resulting in symptoms such as irreversible kidney damage and miscarriage. To this day, the city struggles to fix this gargantuan problem.

Bottled Water Distribution
Bottled water distribution in Flint, Michigan by the US National Guard. (Image © Michigan National Guard)

Fortunately, Singapore’s Public Utility Board (PUB) ensures strict oversight and regulation of public utilities to keep our water safe. The government goes a step further with additives in the water to ensure hygiene and increase health benefits.

But what are these chemicals and are they safe for us?

Cancer In Our Water: Crying Wolf?

The two most well-known additives to our water are chlorine and fluorides. Most people know that chlorinated water is a necessity – it keeps water pipes clear of bacteria, algae, and slime as the water is transported from water refinement centres to our taps. Meanwhile, fluorides strengthen our teeth and even reverse signs of dental decay. However, most people are unaware that chlorinated and fluoridated water poses a risk of cancer. Studies have shown that chlorinated water is associated with an increased rate of colorectal cancer and bladder cancer in city populations, while fluoridated water has been associated with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer.

Osteosarcoma
Osteosarcoma is an aggressive and deadly cancer that grows in bones around the knee or lower thigh. (Image © Wikicommons)

So why does the government continue with this practice?

It is because studies have shown that the benefit of reduced dental problems, which have far-reaching health implications like heart disease, greatly outweigh the unconfirmed association of fluorides with cancer.

Meanwhile, with present technological levels, chlorinated water is a necessity for transporting clean water throughout a large, densely-populated city. The same cancer study on chlorine further indicates that simply boiling water for five minutes reduces carcinogenic components by over 90%. This means that while water in our pipes must be chlorinated, the water you drink can be chlorine-free.

Liquid Pool Chlorine
Swimming pool water is chlorinated to kill bacteria and keep the water clean enough for recreation. However, the level of chlorine is much higher than that in tap water. (Image © Wikicommons)

What Else Is In My Water?

Singapore’s tap water is well within the safety standards set by the World Health Organisation, according to water quality studies done by the PUB. While our tap water is generally safe, there is no doubt that sediments are present in tap water, albeit in very minor quantities. However, are these quantities always negligible?

In the past few years, there have been a few disruptions to water standards, specifically this one in Punggol and this notably grisly one in Woodlands. In the Punggol incident, the PUB commented that the discolouration was due to accumulated sediments in water pipes being stirred up by maintenance work. While the PUB assured the public that the discoloured water was safe for drinking, it is hardly a risk that most would willingly take.

Should I Boil All My Water All The Time Then?
Yes, and no.

While boiling water every day – and waiting hours after if you want cold water – is a possible solution, it is hardly the most ideal one. Given modern technology, there are many types of filters that give you clean, safe water on demand, while saving you a chunk of cash every month on gas or electricity. The energy savings also help combat climate change in a more personal way.

Filters Galore

Consumer-end water filters come in a dizzying number of varieties, from high-tech bacteria-shredding ultraviolet lights, to humble but capable microscopic-level filters. Here’s an introduction to some of the most commonly-used and efficient water purification methods.

Sediment Filters

Sediment Filters
Sediment filters are often made of natural fibres or layers of sand substrate. (Image © Wikicommons)

The most basic form of filtration, sediment filters are commonly made of fibres or natural sand substrates that trap tiny sediments such as rust flakes and dirt in your water. They will not, however, filter out bacteria or chemicals.

Semi-permeable Membranes

Semi-permeable Membranes
Forcing water through a semi-permeable membrane traps foreign bodies and produces clean water. (Image © Wikicommons)

If you’ve read about Newater, you’d certainly recognise this filter type. Reverse osmosis is the process of forcing water through a semi-permeable membrane, trapping impurities on the membrane while allowing water through. The water is passed through multiple membranes with decreasing pore size, trapping increasingly fine impurities until relatively pure water is produced. While this gives water a distinct taste, since it’s so pure, it’s certainly an effective method of filtering water.

Carbon Filters

Carbon Filters
Activated carbon is a wonder material known for its ability to absorb chemicals rapidly. It is used in many purification processes and even in medicine. (Image © Wikicommons)

These filters involve the usage of activated carbon and carbon blocks. Activated carbon is carbon that is treated to have many tiny pores, increasing its surface area by an extreme amount. One gram of activated carbon has a surface area of over 3,000 square meters, greater than the size of 24 5-room HDB flats. The carbon efficiently absorbs nearly all chemicals in your water, including chlorine. Unfortunately, activated carbon absorbs a portion of fluorides in the water as well, based on how long the water is exposed to it. Your teeth will hardly thank you for that.

Ultraviolet (UV) Disinfection

Ultraviolet (UV) Disinfection
An ultraviolet disinfection water system in a military base in the US. (Image © US Army, Clem Gaines)

The most efficient way to kill waterborne bacteria, ultraviolet purification tears apart microorganisms with ultraviolet radiation and cleans your water without changing its taste. Unfortunately, this does not remove chemicals, such as chlorine, from your water. This filtration method, while effective, is expensive and largely unnecessary in developed countries such as Singapore, where water is already clear of any bacteria that can survive our digestive system.

Other Chemical Filters

Other Chemical Filters
Chemical filters can produce PH neutral or alkaline water while removing any remaining unwanted chemicals.

This loose category of filters involves the use of passive chemical compounds that neutralise any remaining chemicals in the water after other filtration methods. Some of these filters also deliberately alkalise the resulting filtered water.

Which Filter Is Right For Me?

If you’ve been paying attention in the filter section, you will notice that while each filter excels in a given aspect of water purification, no single filter does every job. All modern water purification systems, including those used to purify an entire city’s water, rely on multiple stages of filtration to efficiently and effectively achieve clean water.

Hydroflux offers a four-stage water purification system that protects you at home or at work, with the added benefits of alkaline water and the luxury of hot and cold water. To find out which one of our systems is the best fit for your family or office, visit our product catalogue or drop us a message for a more comprehensive consultation on your needs.

To find out more about the benefits of water purification systems, stay-tuned for next week’s in-depth post on Hydroflux’s water filtration process.

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