Water Purification: Getting Clean Water

Glass of water and ice cubes

It’s important to drink plenty of pure water every day. I use a Berkey system that purifies my water and eliminates 99.9% of harmful microorganisms, including trihalomethanes and chlorine. Berkey sells fluoride filters if your water supply is treated. Trihalomethanes are suspected cancer-causing agents and are the result of organic matter interacting with chlorine. For a long time, these were plentiful in my town’s water supply and were my greatest concern about showering in unfiltered water.

Your skin absorbs contaminants through the pores. Shower filters do not remove trihalomethanes, although I found a couple companies that claimed their shower filters could do just that. Research, and several calls to manufacturers, revealed that the medium required to filter THM’s doesn’t work with hot water, and a cold shower is tempting only in the tropics.

At home, you have a few options for getting filtered water:

  • Distillation
  • Boiling
  • Gravity filtering (like Berkey)
  • Chemical treatment
  • Reverse osmosis
  • UV light treatment

Advantages of the Berkey system, besides the efficacy in purifying the water, are that the housing is stainless steel, it’s portable, and it does not rely on electricity. There is no waste of water as in Reverse Osmosis. In an emergency, I can get my water from any source available and run it through my Berkey. A Berkey system will purify thousands of gallons before filters must be replaced. Berkeywaterfilterseurope.com claims that black Berkey purification elements remove viruses to greater than the EPA purification standards. On the website BigBerkeyWaterFilters, the claim is made that Berkey’s black filters eliminate 99.9% of Chromium 6, a contaminant found in most drinking water in the US.

Distilled water is obtained by boiling water and condensing the steam into liquid. Impurities and minerals are removed in the process.There are many people who will drink only distilled water and others who will never drink it. It is often used in equipment like your household iron to avoid mineral corrosion. Distilled water will leach minerals from anything with which it comes in contact, which may include you and the container in which it is stored.  Evidence suggests that drinking demineralized water increases diuresis and the elimination of electrolytes.

One online article by a seller of distillation systems states that the minerals in water are not used by the body and that you must get your minerals from food.  Medical studies and publications affirm that water is an important source of minerals for the human body.  On the other hand, too many minerals in your water can be harmful as well.  Distilled water may be useful for short cleanses because it has the ability to absorb and expel toxins.

Unless you have a significant store of distilled water, you won’t be able to use it in an emergency without electricity and a good supply of water.

Boiling water works to purify but it doesn’t eliminate solids and it uses fuel. It doesn’t seem practical to boil all your drinking water and you can’t do it on your kitchen stove if an earthquake damages the gas or power lines.

Chemical treatment with the use of iodine is easy and effective (it kills viruses and bacteria), but it is chemical and not advised for pregnant women. It might be a useful method if you are hiking in the wilderness with no room to pack your travel Berkey.

Treatment with chlorine has inherent problems as it can convert chromium into a more harmful form. Also, as mentioned above, trihalomethanes are formed when chlorine comes into contact with organic matter, which you will find in any reservoir, lake or stream.

Reverse Osmosis (RO) can remove fluoride, dissolved solids and other contaminants. There are disadvantages, however. It is a slow process and uses a lot of water to do the job—up to three gallons of water for every drinkable gallon of water–and because the membrane through which the water must pass does not filter out particles of some herbicides and pesticides, it still may require a carbon filter back-up. Trace minerals are filtered as well as harmful substances, and may not be as healthy for you as mineralized water. RO requires water pressure from your plumbing system and a vast amount of water, so it won’t do you much good in a true emergency where plumbing is damaged and the only water available might be from puddles in the street.

UV water treatment is good at removing microorganisms but will not remove heavy metals, pharmaceuticals or petroleum products, and it won’t work on dirty water, so you would need a companion method of purification to get the kind of drinking water you want. In an emergency with power outages, it will not work. UV has the advantage of treating a whole-house system and a clean shower is appealing, but you’d still need other filtering to get rid of all contaminants.

If you decide on a Berkey for your drinking water, it is useful to get the water-level indicator with spout as an added purchase. There is no way to see how much water is in the lower portion of the stainless steel housing other than lifting the top portion, but even that doesn’t tell you how much water to add to keep it full. I find this the biggest failing of the system; it’s so easy to overfill. If that happens on a wooden counter or spills onto a wooden floor, then you have damage. My solution is to empty it before I refill, which always leaves me with a big pitcher of water to cool in the fridge. It’s also a good idea to buy a stand for ease of use.


Orb Media conducted tests on the water from 250 plastic bottles (including national brands) bought in nine different countries.

The research, which took place at the University of New York at Freedonia, found that 93% of the water was contaminated with microplastic–over 10 particles greater than 100 microns and over 314 particles smaller than 100 microns per liter.

Here is what Berkey has to say about complex micron ratings in filtration.

For more information about the Orb Media study, click here

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