I’ve noticed something odd with a lot of people that I know: they drink filtered water yet cook with regular tap water.
Some people are under the impression that boiling water gets rid of heavy metals and other harmful chemicals. Others don’t even realize that there are harmful chemicals in their tap water in the first place. They think that the sole purpose of a water filter is to remove bacteria and other microorganisms.
Yes, boiling your water will kill microorganisms that can make you sick. But you cannot kill heavy metals or other toxic chemicals with heat. If anything, heating chemicals only makes them more reactive which increases the chances of turning them into a more harmful compound. Boiling water also releases those chemicals into your home by vaporizing them, which you then inhale. The only way to remove toxic chemicals from your tap water is with a filter or distillation system.
In an ideal world, the only chemical compound in your tap water would be H2O. But unfortunately tap water is treated with chlorine to kill illness-causing microorganisms and can also be contaminated with pesticides, lead and copper (in older homes that still have lead and copper pipes). Chlorine can react with organic matter in water to form disinfection by-products (DBP’s) such as trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids, which have been linked to cancer2 It is not the chlorine itself that is the problem, but the DBP’s.
I’m not saying that municipalities shouldn’t chlorinate water. I am grateful to be living in a developed country where I do not have to worry about access to safe drinking water. If it comes down to a choice between having chlorine in my water or E. Coli, I’ll take the chlorine. However, with today’s technology we can have water with neither. With the variety of water filters in the market today we can easily remove chlorine and other chemical contaminants to ensure we are drinking the purest water possible. DBP’s may not pose an immediate risk to our health in the same way illness-causing microorganisms do, but the damage caused by long-term low level exposure should not be ignored.
This is especially important when mixing baby formula with water and making baby food. Babies are more susceptible to the harmful effects of toxic chemicals in water due to their small body size and the fact that they are growing and developing so rapidly. Pregnant women should only drink filtered water since exposure to certain DBP’s during pregnancy has been found to be correlated with genomic damage which in turn raises cancer risk3.
Chemical contaminants in your water can cause reproductive problems and cancer over time 4. If you don’t have an under-the-sink filtration system, a filter jug or countertop filter
will work just fine. It is definitely more tedious to keep refilling a filter jug in order to get enough water to fill a pot for cooking; but wouldn’t you rather put in the extra effort than eat food that has absorbed chlorine and it’s carcinogenic by-products during cooking?
If you really want to limit your long-term exposure to chlorine and DBP’s, consider investing in a shower filter. People absorb more trihalomethanes (a DBP) through showering than other methods of exposure1. The vaporized chemicals also disperse throughout the rest of your home, contributing to indoor air pollution.
Remember that although the risk of getting cancer from your tap water is small, it is still a risk and combined with all of the other “small” risks in your daily life it can add up to a much bigger risk. The cumulative effect of all of these small risks is the bigger concern. And as always, the toxic effects are worse in children because their bodies and brains are still developing. That’s why it is so important to protect yourselves and your children by minimizing as many of these seemingly small risks as possible.
1. Backer LC1, Ashley DL, Bonin MA, Cardinali FL, Kieszak SM, Wooten JV. Household exposures to drinking water disinfection by-products: whole blood trihalomethane levels. J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol. 2000 Jul-Aug;10(4):321-6.
2. “Chlorinated Water”. Canadian Cancer Society. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.
3. Stayner, Leslie Thomas; Pedersen, Marie; Patelarou, Evridiki; Decordier, Ilse; Vande Loock, Kim; Chatzi, Leda; Espinosa, Ana; Fthenou, Eleni; Nieuwenhuijsen, Mark J.; Gracia-Lavedan, Esther; Stephanou, Euripides G.; Kirsch-Volders, Micheline; Kogevinas, Manolis. Exposure to Brominated Trihalomethanes in Water During Pregnancy and Micronuclei Frequency in Maternal and Cord Blood Lymphocytes. Environmental Health Perspectives. Jan2014, Vol. 122 Issue 1, p100-106. 7p. 3 Charts. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1206434
4. “The Water We Drink AN INTERNATIONAL COMPARISON OF DRINKING W ATER QUALITY STANDARDS AND GUIDELINES.” David Suzuki Foundation. 1 Nov. 2006. Web.