Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rethinking the water filter

For the last few years, I've dutifully filtered all the water we drink in the house.  Recently, I noticed green algae in the bottom of my plastic filtered water pitcher.  Ewww.  While, I realized I could stop this by keeping the pitcher in my frig, it got me wondering if I really need to filter my water.  I'm antiplastic, and here I am filtering my water through a plastic filter and storing my drinking water in a plastic pitcher.  While some Whole Foods will recycle used Brita filters, not all stores do.  Preserve will also recycle them, but I have to go to the Post Office to mail them in. These filters are only good for 3 months and they generate a lot of plastic over time. Alas, was I on an off-ramp on my road to a plastic free - or at least plastic-less life??

The Brita vs. Kishu Experiment

About the same time, I started hearing about binchotan- a white charcoal made of oak trees found in Japan that is used to filter water.  So, I bought a water sampling kit, a stick of  Kishu and put it to the test against my Brita.   The results: there was no detectable difference in the water quality. Hmmmm.
Living in a house that was built in the 1880's, I'm most concerned about lead in my water.  As I know charcoal filters only have limited ability to filter out lead, I bought a lead test kit, and found that the water that was coming RIGHT OUT OF MY TAP was below the EPA action level of 15ppm.  Yay!

Then, I interviewed my neighbor Carl, who works on water quality at EPA about his drinking water consumption.
  • You work at EPA on water quality issues, right? YUP,specifically drinking water quality issues and overseeing regulation of drinking water systems and Underground Injection Control (UIC) wells.
  • Do you filter the DC water that comes out of the faucets at your house? NOPE, no filter on faucets.
  • Why or why not?  I believe what bad stuff is likely to pass thru the DC treatment thru the distribution system to the house will not make me immediately sick (i.e, no acute effects), the closest contaminant of most concern to me is lead and I flush the sitting water out of the faucet before  using, and the pathogens and other chronic contaminants that were in the source water have been removed before reaching my faucet.  I'd be more cautious if young kids or old folks lived in the house.
So, I'm not sure whether I need a water filter at all. I am convinced that I don't need to buy Brita filters anymore, so I'm putting my pitchers up on Freecycle DC.  I'm not sure if I'll keep buying the Kishu or not (it's got quite the carbon footprint if it's shipped here from Japan)...but for now it looks cool in the bottom of my glass water pitchers and in a few months, I'll just throw it in the compost bin.


  1. Filtered water is Australias premier manufacturer of filtered boiling and chilled water units for use in private and commercial applications. Manufactured in Victoria and represented nationally.

  2. Tell us more about your procedure and results. How long did you leave the binchotan stick in the water? What did you test for exactly? How well did the filters remove lead?