Advanced Water Filtration offer a wide range of quality water filtration systems and replacement cartridges. Choose from carbon, KDF or ceramic cartridges for use in a wide range of applications. The information provided here will help you to make an informed choice or call us on 1300 255 345 and we will answer your questions honestly for the best water filtration system for you and your family.

How Water Filters Work

Filters are composed of a substance which traps, adsorbs, or modifies pollutants in the water which flows through them. This substance is called medium. There are many different types of filter media. Some mechanically trap pollutants with an ultrafine sieve or strainer, while others use a process called absorption in which contaminants are retained within the microscopic pores of the medium.

The rating of a water filter or purifier tells you what size particles it will and wont remove. Filters are rated in micro metres or microns. A micron is one millionth of a metre. A human hair is 70 microns in diameter, a cryptosporidium cyst 4-6 microns and a Giardia cyst 8 - 12 microns.

There are two types of filter ratings: nominal and absolute. A nominal rating indicates the smallest particle size that the filter should remove or reduce, in accoradnce with its design criteria. It is an estimated value, not a precise one. A 5 Micron nominal filter, for example should trap 95 per cent of all particles 5 microns or larger.

On the other hand, an abslute filter rating refers to a certified reduction rate, usually 99.9 per cent. Therefore a 5 Micron absolute filter will remove 99.9 per cent of particles 5 microns or more in diameter.

Sediment Filters


Sediment or particulate filters are fine sieves which reduce dirt and other particles. Using one as a pre-filter will protect a water purifier from damage and exten its life, because it will take longer to become clogged with unwanted media.

Sediment filters range from coarse to fine, so they are rated accordingly.

Sediment filters can be made from wound string, rigid foam (Polyspun) or pleated film. They are usually mounted under the sink. The life of a sediment filter depends on the rubbish in the water - six to twelve months is average.

Activated Carbon Filters


Activated carbon filters are particuularly effective at removing pollutants which create unpleasant taste, colour, and odour in water. These fast-acting filters can eliminate or reduce the levels of chlorine by-products, pesticides, herbicides, and other organic and industrial chemicals.

Activated carbon is made from a variety of organic materials such as coal,coconut, lignite, and wood.

When these are activated by exposure to high tempratures in the absense of oxygen, the result is a substance with millions of microscopic pores and a vast surface area; half a kilo of activated carbon provides more than 50 hectares of surface with the capacity to cling to or absorb smaller organic molecules.

There are two forms of carbon in general use: granular and block. Carbon granules are about the size of coarse sand while carbon block is finely powdered carbon compressed into a solid mass.

To get the most of a carbon filter, it should be kept free of sediment and heavy organic impurities by the incorporation of a sediment filter as an integral part of the system design. It is imperative that filter cartridges be replaced regularly before they reach their expiry date, rather than after.

Ceramic Filters

These are effective against bacteria, parasites, and sediments. Some models can filter down to .9 of a micron absolute. 
The ceramic filter has a hollow core of ceramic which can be scrubbed with a soft bush or scothbrite cloth when cleaning becomes necessary. This type of ceramic filter can be used as a sediment pre filter in replacement of a standard string wound, foam (poly spun) or pleated pre filter.
Some ceramic filters are fitted with an additional activated carbon block core to increase their taste and odour reduction efficiency and chlorine removal qualities.

Reverse Osmosis Purifiers

Osmosis is a process which occurs when two solutions of different concentrations are seperated by a semi-permeable membrane. Reverse osmosis water purification works by forcing the water under pressure against an ultrafine semi-permeable membrane designed to allow single water molecules to permeate through, while at the same time rejecting most contaminants. The membrane acts as a mechanical filter, straining out particulate matter, micro-organisms, asbestos, even single molecules of heavier organic compounds.

A typical RO purifier consists of four filters in series plus a storage tank. The fisrt is a sediment filter, the second a carbon block, the third a membrane and the fourth a activated carbon block to remove any remaining chlorine by-products.
Such a system removes a wide spectrum of impurities from water; the only energy required is that of mains-water pressure.

Reverse osmosis effectively removes turbidity, sediment, collodial matter, total dissolved solids, toxic metals, radioactive elements, pesticides, and herbicides. This can have significant health benefits.

A typical system produces water at a slow rate - almost drop by drop - so most under sink systems have a pressurised storage tank and a seperate dedicated faucet or all in one three way mixer installed on the sink. Water drawn from the faucet or mixer comes from the storage tank.

A counter top system works the same way except without a pressurised tank. Instead these systems attach directly to an existing faucet and used to fill a bottle or glass directly from the system. These systems are suited for use when renting, unable to plumb a system in, or for travel.

The average system produces about 300 liters per day*, more than enough for  an everage family.
(* Depending on inlet water pressure and membrane capacity.)

The average domestic RO will use about 40 litres per day to flush contaminants - average household consumption is around 1000 litres per day.
Unlike filters, RO membranes dont accumulate pollutants but the membranes themselves gradually degrade with use. While the sediment and carbon filters will probably need replacement every 6 - 12 months, membranes should be changed every 3 - 5 years or as specified by the manafacturers.

Drinking Water Facts

Chlorine, heavy metals, pesticides – even residues of the drugs we take, they all end up in our drinking water. Here’s what you can do about it.

What is the problem with tap water? As Australian tap water makes its way through the catchment and distribution system, it meets many contaminants: livestock waste, fertilisers and pesticides from agriculture and industry, chemical run-off from industry, heavy metals from mining, and the waste from our own cities. Fortunately the tap water is ‘purified’ before it is finally sent to your tap, but what does this really mean?

In many respects Australian tap water is very good. All water regulators in Australia must adhere to guidelines laid down by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The latest set of guidelines is available to the consumer in the document Water Made Clear: A Consumer Guide to Australian Drinking Water Guidelines 2004. At first glance, the safety standards seem quite adequate. Municipal water is monitored for 70 different contaminants, including cryptosporidium, bacteria and some pesticides.

Chemical Cocktail

But is this good enough? If you consider the thousands of chemicals that are polluting our environment, monitoring for 70 things is not very reassuring. The other problem is that Australian regulators monitor water according to health data for individual contaminants over the short term, rather than for the long-term effect of a chemical cocktail of over 300 chemicals found in food and water. And – make no mistake – the cocktail is much more toxic than the simple sum of the individual chemicals. When the body’s detoxification pathways become occupied with one toxin, they cannot take care of the others properly. Research has shown that when people are exposed to more than one pesticide, the blood concentrations of the individual pesticides are up to 100 times greater than during exposure to a single toxin.1

Another consideration is the fact that some toxins, such as lead from lead solder in your house pipes (legal in Australia until 1989), occur when the water is already on its way to your tap. Furthermore, chlorine, which is used to disinfect, and has been considered to be ‘safe’, has actually been linked to many problems, including increased rates of miscarriage. There is also the fact that some people, especially children and pregnant women, are more sensitive to toxins than the average population.

The bottom line is that even the best water regulators can monitor safety only according to health information that is widely available. For micro-organisms, the information is fairly good. This means that when you are told the water is ‘clean’, it is generally meant that the water is ‘disinfected’. Information on other toxins is sketchy, at best. Before you convince yourself that your tap water has been ‘tested’, you may want to ask exactly what it has been tested for.

Contaminents: A Moving Target

Every municipal water supply is going to differ in terms of the chemicals that it has to deal with. The following is a discussion of some of the most common issues in Australia.

Chlorine

Chlorination of water is regarded as one of the most important advances in modern civilisation. Effective water disinfection helped to remove deadly diseases, such as dysentery, typhoid and cholera. Chlorinated water has saved lives, but new evidence suggests that it may not be without cost in terms

Chlorine is extremely reactive when it is in its molecular form, so much that elemental chlorine simply does not exist in nature. The chloride ions in the table salt and our bodies are fundamentally different in terms of chemical behaviour and health. Humanity’s first real introduction to molecular chlorine was not until the early 20th century, when chlorine gas was liberated and bound to organic molecules. This marked the beginning of the chemical age, and was the direct reason for the invention of solvents, plastics, pesticides (e.g. DDT), dry-cleaning solution, and dioxin, which is considered to be one of the most toxic compounds known to humans. Today, there are about 15,000 chlorine-based chemicals in common use, and all of them are toxic, including the elemental chlorine used to disinfect water.

Chlorine has long been suspected of causing bladder and colon cancers, but new research shows that it may cause other problems. A Norwegian study in 2002 found that 5 glasses of chlorinated tap water per day increases the risk of miscarriage by 14%, and may increase the incidence of stillbirth and birth defects. 2 Chlorine can trigger thyroid disease by reducing the uptake of iodine.3 (Fluoride does the same). Chlorine also raises cholesterol levels4, possibly by damage to vitamin E. Consumption of elemental chlorine kills friendly intestinal bacteria, and decreases stomach acid, resulting in irritable bowel syndrome and gastritis. Showering in chlorine strips the moisture from hair and skin, and may trigger eczema.

Unfortunately, the direct effect of the elemental chlorine is just the tip of the iceberg. Because it is so reactive, chlorine binds with the organic matter in water supplies, forming toxic by-products such as trihalomethanes and chlorinated hydrocarbons. Chlorinated hydrocarbons are a class of molecules that also include dioxin and DDT, which are known endocrine disruptors, and they have been linked by 100s of studies to decreased sperm count, infertility and reproductive cancers, such as breast cancer.5

Non-chlorine methods of disinfecting water do exist, such as ozone and UV radiation. At the moment, none of these methods are considered to be cost-effective on a large scale (Ed note: ozone is used to treat many bottled spring waters, this treatment has its own issues), so chlorine may still be the best option for keeping water safe from bacteria until it reaches your tap. But why should this mean that you actually have to drink the chlorine? A carbon filter removes 99% of chlorine and chlorinated hydrocarbons. Chloramine, which is a combination of chlorine and ammonia, is now used in some Australian water supplies, as a supposedly safer disinfectant. Chloramine does not form chlorinated hydrocarbons, but the few by-products it does form, such as iodacetic acid, are potentially even more toxic. According to the American Environmental Protection Agency, iodacetic acid is the most toxic disinfection by-product ever tested.6

Bacteria: Blue-Green Algae and Cryptosporidium

Water contamination by bacteria is a serious problem worldwide, but fortunately, it is generally not an issue in treated municipal water. Australians who rely on rainwater used to take extra precautions in this regard. Also at some risk are those with lower immune systems, such as children, the elderly, and those on chemotherapy. According to research from the Harvard School of Public Health, 10% of hospitalised cases of childhood diarrhoea in the US are attributed to the drinking water.7

Chlorination is usually effective for preventing bacteria, but unfortunately, bacteria is not the only problem. Blue-green algae in Australian water supplies produce dangerous toxins that cannot be removed by disinfection. The toxins have also been linked with stomach upset, skin rashes, and a long-term risk for liver cancer. Blue-green algae can be removed by carbon filter. Another problem is the cysts of Cryptosporidium and Giardia, which are resistant to currently used disinfection processes. When ingested in large enough quantities, these parasites can cause digestive problems such as diarrhoea and intestinal pain.

Pesticides

Hundreds of different pesticides are used in Australia, and many of them are used within the catchment areas for our drinking water. Water regulators do consider pesticides, but only in cases of accidental spillage. According to the 2004 Australian Water Guidelines, “there may be agricultural activities within some catchments, but industrial and chemical industries are generally absent. Thus, regular monitoring for organic compounds may not be justified [except during accidental spillage]”. (page 10-8 Australian Water Guidelines)

But is this sensible? New research has linked chronic low level exposure to pesticides with serious neurological disease and cancer.8 Furthermore, pesticides do accumulate in the groundwater, even without “accidental spillage”. When American streams and groundwater were sampled in 1999, scientists found over 60 pesticides and their breakdown products, including chloroform, industrial solvents and pesticides9,10.

One pesticide is of particular concern. Banned in some European countries as a cancer causing agent, Atrazine is still legal in Australia and the US. In one 1999 US study, the pesticide was found in tap water delivered to 10.4 million people. In some of the samples, the chemical was found at 14 times higher than the EPA safety standard, and was believed to increase the lifetime risk of cancer by 20 times.11 11 Atrazine is also a proven endocrine disruptor, increasing the risk of hormonal imbalance, reproductive problems and cancers.4

Atrazine was also detected in Australian groundwater by a Department of Land and Water Conservation study in 1997. The level of Atrazine alone did not exceed safety guidelines for an adult, but the authors of the study were concerned about the levels of pesticide degradates, which were also present, but are not covered by safety guidelines. Australian guidelines also fail to account for additive effects of Atrazine with other pesticide compounds. Other pesticides were found, including diuron, fluometuron, metolachlor, simazine and trifluralin.12

Pesticides and their residues can be removed by carbon filters and reverse osmosis.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)

These hazardous pollutants are common, and include petrol, benzene and some chlorinated hydrocarbons, such as perchloroethylene. Many VOCs are proven carcinogens. They are primarily of concern as air pollutants, but they do end up in water.

VOCs can be removed by carbon filters, but not by reverse osmosis.

Heavy Metals

  • Lead. Contaminates drinking water when lead building materials or paint leach into rainwater tanks, or when house pipes contain lead solder (legal in Australia until 1989). Monitoring for lead in the municipal distribution system will not detect contamination in the home. At the same time, a test of home water may miss the problem, because the majority of the lead is suspended in the first flow of water in the morning. Lead poisoning causes high blood pressure, headaches, joint pain, reproductive problems and many other symptoms in adults. In children, it has the devastating effect of impairing growth and brain development.
  • Mercury and cadmium. Enter the groundwater primarily from fossil fuel emissions, industrial smelting and mining operations. Mercury is considered to be a serious pollutant by the Australian National Pollutant Inventory, and is monitored in municipal water supplies.
  • Arsenic. A problem in parts of the world, such as Asia, where it is concentrated in the bedrock. It is not perceived to be a problem in Australia.

Heavy metals can be removed by reverse osmosis and metallic resin. Avoid first-flush lead by running the water for 30 seconds before using tap water in the morning.

Fluoride

Fluoride is unique as a water contaminant because it is added as medication to prevent dental cavities. It is the only example of mass medication in the world.

There is a strong lobby in Australia to fluoridate water, despite the fact that 98% of western European countries have discontinued it, including Germany, Belgium, France and most of England. Furthermore, the practise of fluoridation has been firmly denounced by many prominent scientists, including Dr J. William Hirzy, a senior member of the US Environmental Protection Agency, and Nobel prize-winner Dr Arvid Carlsson.13 These scientists argue that the decreased incidence in dental caries in the last decades cannot be attributed to fluoridated water alone, and that furthermore, fluoride’s benefits to teeth is from direct application, and not from ingestion.14

Fluoride is known to cause damage to bone and teeth called fluorosis, and it has been strongly associated with cancer, arthritis and nerve damage and metabolic disease.15 It is also believed to increase the absorption of aluminium. The use of fluoridated water for baby formula is of particular concern to nutrition experts.16

All major cities in Australia now have fluoridated water. Fluoride can be removed by metallic resin, reverse osmosis and ionisation.

Plastic

Plastic residues, such as phthalates may end up in the water from PVC pipes and plastic water bottles.17

Phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and have been linked with hormonal imbalance and reproductive cancers.

Plastic water bottles are designed for single use only. Concentrations of residue increase with reuse, especially after the bottle is stored in the sun or a hot car.

Phthalates can be removed by carbon filters and reverse osmosis.

Pharmaceuticals

Medications and their breakdown by-products make their way into the water supply. A 2000 study by the US Geological Survey found residues from antibiotics, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, painkillers, chemotherapy agents, and antidepressants in 80% of streams sampled.18 The true extent of the problem is not known, but it is known that most pharmaceuticals pass into human waste unchanged, and that many drugs, such as oestrogens, may persist in the groundwater for years, Pharmaceuticals can be removed by UV light and carbon filters.

A Drop In The Bucket

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) advises that consumer filtration is necessary only for aesthetic reasons. This clearly does not take into account the long-term risk from exposure to the trace elements in treated water. We are lucky in Australia that our water is disinfected, but do not be fooled into believing that this is the same thing as purified. As consumers, we have the responsibility to our own health to take water purification one step further.

Unfortunately, the toxins in drinking water are only part of the story. We are exposed to toxins in many other ways. Chlorinated hydrocarbons, for example, are found in flyspray, dishwasher detergent and bathroom cleaners. Car exhaust and cigarette smoke are a primary source of exposure to heavy metals.

Luckily, our bodies are able to detoxify some of these molecules, so it is not necessary to avoid every molecule of toxin. We can, however, take measures to minimise exposure where possible. Removing harmful chemicals from the house, and filtering tap water are a good first step.

LARA GRINEVITCH BSc, ND is a health-writer, lecturer and registered naturopathic practising at Sensible-Alternative Hormone Clinic in St Leonards NSW. Visit www.sensible-alternative.com.au

References

  1. Abou-Donia MB. Neurotoxicity resulting from exposure to pyridosigmine bromide, deet, and permathrin: implications of Gulf War chemical exposures. Toxicol Environ Health 1996. 48:35-65 Mohamed B.
  2. Hwang BF, Magnus P, Jaakkola JJ. Risk of specific birth defects in relation to chlorination and the amount of natural organic material in the water supply. Am J Epidemiol.2002. 156(4):374-82
  3. Bercz JP, Jones LL, Harrington RM, Bawa R, Condie L. Mechanistic aspects of ingested chlorine dioxide on thyroid function: impact of oxidants on iodide metabolism. Environ Health Perspect. 1986. 69:249-54
  4. NW Revis, P McCauley, R Bull, and G Holdsworth. Relationship of drinking water disinfectants to plasma cholesterol, and thyroid hormone levels in experimental studies. Proc Natl Acad Sci 1986. 83(5): 1485-1489
  5. Danzo, BJ. Environmental Xenobiotics May Disrupt Normal Endocrine Function by Interfering with the Binding of Physiological Ligands to Steroid Receptors and Binding Proteins. 1997. Environmental Health Perspectives 105: 294-301.
  6. Renner, R. Hidden cost to treated water? Science Now. Sept 6, 2004.
  7. Treated Drinking Water Not Safe Enough: Harvard Study Shows Elderly Particularly Sensitive to Waterborne Hazards. Harvard School of Public Health Press Release. December 15, 1999
  8. Reigart R, Roberts J. Recognition and management of pesticide poisonings. 5th ed. Arlington (VA): Office of Pesticide Programs, US Environmental Protection Agency; 1999.
  9. The Quality of Our Nation’s Waters – Nutrients and Pesticides. U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1225, May 1999.
  10. Ritter WF. Pesticide contamination of ground water in the United States – a review. J Environ Sci Health B. 1990; 25(1):1-29
  11. Houlihan, J and R. Wiles. Into the Mouths of Babes: Bottle-fed Infants at Risk from Atrazine in Tap Water. Environmental Working Group 1999
  12. Timms, W. Liverpool Plains Water Quality Project 1996/97 Report on Groundwater Quality. 1997. Department of Land and Water Conservation, CNR97.108
  13. Fluoride Action Network March 2002 online.
  14. Diesendorf M, et al., New evidence on fluoridation. Aust NZ J Public Health.1997. 21(2), 187-190
  15. Bryson, Christopher. The Fluoride Deception
  16. Levy, SL, et al. Sources of fluoride intake in children. Journal of Public Health Dentistry. 1995: 55: 39-52
  17. Casajuana N, Lacorte S. Presence and release of phthalic esters and other endocrine disrupting compounds in drinking water. Chromatographia. 2003: 57 (9-10): 649-55
  18. Kolpin, D.E. et al. Pharmaceuticals, hormones and other organic wastewater contaminants in U.S. streams, 1999-2000: A national reconnaissance. Environmental Science & Technology. 2002: 36(6): 1202-1211
  19. Anderson, I. Showers pose a risk to health. New Scientist. 1986 Aug.

This article ‘Water Safety’ by Lara Grinevitch BSc, ND is reproduced in its entirety here.

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