Whole-house water treatment systems and the Flint water crisis

Do whole-house filters work for minimizing your exposure to lead in drinking water? The answer may surprise you.

There have been multiple concerns with the water in Flint, Michigan, including bacteria, disinfectant breakdown products, Legionnaires’ disease and primarily lead. People have complained of water taste issues, skin rashes and more. Homeowners have been provided with water filters for their drinking water, but with all these concerns, some are considering whole-house filters to deal with these issues.

One of the difficulties with this wide range of problems is that not all treatment systems remove all contaminants. An overview of water systems is available from eXtension’s “Selecting a Home Water Treatment System” and Utah State University’s “Drinking Water Treatment Systems.”

Whole-house water treatment systems tend to be more expensive to purchase, install, operate and maintain than systems designed for only treating drinking water. They also use excess water during the treatment process, taking between 4 and 9 gallons of water to produce 1 gallon of treated water.

Another consideration with the Flint water issue is the lead may be coming from the pipes in people’s homes. A whole-house water treatment system, such as reverse osmosis, may remove contaminants from the water, but in the process make the water more acidic. Water that is more acidic may leach lead from the pipes in the home, and increase the amount of lead coming out at the faucet. In areas where lead in household pipes is an issue, whole-house reverse osmosis systems are not recommended, unless chemicals are added to reduce acidity and corrosion.

For drinking water with lead concerns coming from in-home pipes and solder, the best treatment is as close to the faucet as possible. Visit Michigan State University Extension’s Fight Lead Exposure website for more information and resources on lead exposure.

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