Emerging Contaminants: 4 Water Treatment Options
Where drinking water is concerned, emerging contaminants (ECs) are the hot topic of the moment. The term describes up to 90 different chemicals, herbicides, over-the-counter medications, pesticides and pharmaceuticals that routinely show up in minute amounts in public drinking water supplies.
According to one federal study, 53 out of 74 waterways used as drinking water sources contained traces of one or more prescription medications along with other chemical contaminants. While there’s no irrefutable evidence these micropollutants pose a significant threat, many Americans are concerned about the possible health effects on infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly and ill.
If you too are concerned, home treatment is your best option, because there are no federal regulations defining maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) or mandating EC removal by water utilities. Not all water treatment systems are capable of removing these worrisome contaminants, however, so it helps to know your options.
A variety of independent studies indicate the most effective treatment methods relied on:
Granulated Activated Carbon (GAC). A variety of advanced carbon filters can effectively remove 99% of the most common drugs.
Ozone. Ozonators and ozone systems effectively remove 99% of the most common drugs.
Nano filtration. Nano filters are composed of fine membranes capable of screening out 99% of the most common drugs, and in tests they could eliminate up to 95% of particularly recalcitrant ECs like TCEP.
Reverse osmosis. An effective RO system can remove 99% of the most common drugs found in drinking water and remove up to 95% of tenacious contaminants such as TCEP.
Where water treatment is concerned, systems that utilize two or more technologies tend to be more effective against a broader range of drugs, chemicals and similar micropollutants. The most effective systems tend to feature a primary technology supplemented with GAC filtration, or they combine technologies such as ozone and UV light to remove a wide variety of trace contaminants.
If you’re investing in a new whole-house or point-of-use treatment system, focus on those that feature one of the proven technologies above. If you have an existing system, consult with the installer to determine if you need enhanced filters or other upgrades specifically designed to remove ECs.
In both instances, look for devices and systems specifically certified for emerging contaminant removal or reduction. To help consumers make informed decisions, the National Sanitation Federation (NSF) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have issued standards to define objective performance criteria for the 15 most common emerging contaminants.