Berkey Filters Blog
Dr. Michael J. McGuire is an environmental engineer whose career has focused on drinking water quality and the history of water. His expertise on the subject of water led him to publish numerous articles and books, such as The Chlorine Revolution. He also frequently updates his two blogs: This Day in Water History and Safe Drinking Water Dot Com, and remains active on twitter. He continues to write extensively on this important world-wide issue.
Since 1971, he has been active in the American Water Works Association (AWWA), and has been a member of other societies such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Chemical Society and the Water Environment Foundation. He received his PhD from Drexel University and has since won awards for his excellence in environmental engineering. In 2009, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.
Q: What sparked your interest in safe drinking water and water history?
A: I was fortunate to land my first job with the Philadelphia Water Department in 1969. The theoretical information that I had learned about water quality as an undergraduate was brought to life as I participated in projects to safeguard the drinking water for that great city. Samuel S. Baxter, the water commissioner for Philadelphia, convinced me that public service associated with providing safe water was absolutely the best way to spend my career.
The water history bug bit me in 2005 when I wrote an article for the AWWA Journal about the revolutions that occurred in U.S. drinking water disinfection over the previous 97 years. Chlorinating the Jersey City water supply in 1908 was the first revolution, and I became fascinated with the people who were responsible and with the barriers they faced to implement effective water treatment processes. At that time, waterborne disease was a leading killer especially of very young children. What Dr. John L. Leal and George Warren Fuller did back then was extraordinary, and their exploits fed my desire to learn more about the roots of our profession.
Japan’s Fukuoka Water Plant desalinates seawater for 150,000 citizens.
Image via Arun Katiyar (Flickr)
The Process of Desalination
If there is one cruel fact none of us can deny, it is that water is becoming a scarce commodity for many people on the planet. Some people blame global warming, others blame climate change; I tend to think one directly affects the other, so it’s both in my opinion. But, whatever the cause, we need to keep America, and the rest of the world, afloat with plenty of safe water. Water desalination is not something new. It is, however, an uncommon form of water treatment. As our water supplies continue to dissipate, we need to consider the desalination process, and how it will help us and the rest of the world ensure that we have enough safe drinking water.
What Is It?
Let’s begin by discussing what water desalination actually is. The process of desalinating water means that we are removing primarily salt, but also other minerals, from saline water. The desalination process is commonly used on sea vessels, particularly those with long-term water-bound missions such as submarines. Desalination allows those on board the vessel access to plenty of “fresh” water without the necessity of storing gallons of H2O, which would account for too much weight and take up too much space. Read more »
Finding Clean Water in the Wilderness
Image via Oakley Originals (Flickr)
I hope that you never become stranded in the wilderness, but in the event that you do, it’s so important that you know how to find safe drinking water – note: “naturally filtered” is a fine claim on bottled water, but in the real world, it’s a bit more involved that that. I want to give you some tips on how to find clean water needed for survival. We hear miraculous survival stories in the news all the time about hikers getting lost or some other unexpected incident where people had to hunker down and survive in the wild until rescued. The one survival tactic all of these people had in common is that they managed to find water. We can live without food much longer than we can live without water, so let’s learn how to find clean drinking water in the wilderness.
Finding Your Water
It might seem as if these initial steps are obvious, but when you’re panicking a bit, it can be hard to keep your wits about you. Survival experts agree there are two key things that anyone must accomplish in a survival situation:
1) You need to find shelter
2) You must find clean drinking water
Fans of Lost might remember how Jack came across a fresh water source complete with shelter to boot! Just like that! Depending on where you are, it’s not going to be as easy as a scripted survival story to meet your needs while you are stranded in the wilderness. Read more »
Ceramic water filtration is effective… just not as effective as other methods!
Image via William Brehm (Flickr)
A Comparison of Black Berkey and Ceramic Filters
Forgive me, because this is going to sound like a sales pitch, but if you are looking for the best water filter to protect your family’s drinking water then you need to look into a Black Berkey filter. I know you are thinking, “Lynn, that’s a sales pitch.” Honestly, however, it’s not. The Black Berkey has the right to stake its claim as the best, and I’m going to tell you why in this blog post. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll realize that I’m not “selling” you anything; I’m ensuring you and your family have the cleanest drinking water possible, which is what I’m passionate about and why I do what I do.
Ceramic Water Filtration
Pacify me for just a second here, because I’m going to get a little scientific on you. In order to understand why the Black Berkey filter exceeds other water filters on the market, you need to understand how water filters work. Because I am talking about tap water purity, I’m going to compare the Black Berkey to a ceramic filter, a popular household water filtration system.
The ceramic water filtration process is a simple one. Ceramic is a porous material through which water can easily flow, but many other substances cannot. Ceramic filtration is effective in removing bacteria, microbial cysts, and protozoa from your tap water. It is not, however, effective in removing viral contamination; viruses are small and can easily fit through the ceramic filter’s pores.
A ceramic filtration system might also leave chemical contaminants in your water if it doesn’t have an added carbon filtration element. Dangerous substances such as chlorine, which is commonly used to “treat” municipal water sources, fluoride, prescription drug residue, and even methane gas depending on where you live, can all “fit” through the ceramic filter’s pores. Read more »
Fresh mountain spring water in your bottle? Probably not!
Image via Alaskan Dude (flickr)
Where Bottled Water Really Comes From
Question: Where does bottled water really come from? Answer: You’ll be surprised! The water bottle industry wants you believing that their water comes from “natural spring” water sources. Sure! They employ a ton of people to hike up into the ole’ mountains with a bunch of plastic water bottles ready for filling! I wish it were true. If it were, not only would I do that for a living, but it also might be worth joining the bottled water drinking craze, because there’s nothing better than a handful of fresh spring water. Well, it’s not true, and you probably knew I was going to say that. So let’s discuss some facts about bottled water and shed a little light on the misconceptions perpetuated by the water bottling industry .
Just the Facts, Ma’am
A man after my own heart, Peter Gleick, wrote a little ditty about America’s obsession with bottled water that stirred up a bunch of controversy at the beginning of 2013… and so it should have. Gleick did a ton of research so we didn’t have to, and he found some very interesting facts about bottled water that he – thankfully – shared with us. Here’s what Gleick found out about our water bottle H2O: Read more »
Galileo said, “Wine is sunlight, held together by water.” I say, “Fine water is like fine wine.”
Image via jirihnidek (flickr)
What Is a Water Sommelier?
If you want to get super technical, the definition of a sommelier has historically been reserved for waiters or stewards of wine. Well, water is taking a stand against grape snobbery, and many fine restaurants are enlisting the service of a water sommelier. “What?” You might be asking. “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard! Wine comes in several varieties; water is just water!” Ah, but truly it is not. Much like how grapes, land, and the vintner affect the flavor of wine, minerals, source, and the processing affects the taste of water. So, yes, water deserves a sommelier – and a little respect – too!
It’s All a Matter of Taste
A water sommelier does seem silly if you look at it only in terms of tap water versus filtered or bottled water. There is a distinctive taste difference recognizable to any palette. This is primarily because when drawing water from the tap, you taste all of the chemicals municipalities use to purify your drinking water – yuck! Filtering tap water, or admittedly buying bottled water, generally removes the chlorine taste that should only be reserved for swimming pools! Now, let’s build on this simple concept to understand why water deserves a sommelier.
Experts of drinking water understand what makes water taste like water, and why water tastes differently throughout the world. You see, water is more than just the chemical mixture of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom that make up H2O. Water is also filled with something us water geeks call TDS, or total dissolved solids . These solids, which are made up of minerals, salt, and metals, give water its taste. Think mineral water for just a second.
Minerals Make a Difference
Have your water tested if you suspect methane gas in your water.
Image via NOAA’s National Ocean Service (flickr)
Methane Gas in Water
Gas is always a hot topic in the news, isn’t it? Gas shortage, gas prices, wars over oil, but I’m not going to talk about that kind of gas in this blog post. I’m going to talk about my passion – water – and gas in our water supplies, which can be a serious concern. Much to their dismay, residents throughout the U.S. have a new gas problem to deal with: methane gas in water. Of particular concern are those whose water supply comes via wells. How does methane gas get into water and what can we do about it?
Q: What is this stuff?
A: Let’s start by discussing what methane gas actually is. The experts at the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and the Indiana State Department of Health explain that methane gas is actually a hydrocarbon that is the chief component in natural gas. It can be found in “coal seams, oil and gas formations, organic rich shale formations, and environments with decaying organic matter such as landfills and swamps.” And, yes, this natural hydrocarbon is one of the baddies that contributes to global warming. But how is it that we are now finding methane gas in well water?
Q: What the frack?
A: You remember my blog post about fracking? Well, many argue that fracking – which sounds like and should be a curse word – is responsible for the methane gas being found in our water supplies. Many gas companies’ frack to extract natural gas from bedrock. High-pressured water and chemicals are used to break up the rock to get to the natural gas, i.e., methane. As with any water-related procedure, fracking produces run-off, and it is argued extensively by environmental specialists that this is one reason why Americans must deal with methane gas in water. Naturally, the gas companies dispute this and, unfortunately, many states and the federal government still allow this natural gas extraction process, despite the fact that methane gas in well water is a common issue for those living near fracking sites.
Turn that water faucet off!
Image via Jenn Durfey (Flickr)
Could Water Scarcity be a National Security Concern in the Future?
September 11, 2013 marks the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and as a New York City resident, this time always makes me think about national security. An attack of this nature is the type of security threat with which most of us are familiar. When we think of national security, we think of terrorist and war-related attacks. However, I want to talk today about another type of national security concern that also needs to be in the forefront of every American’s mind. This national security threat is water scarcity, and believe me, the threat is very real.
I don’t mean to be a “Debbie-Downer” in this post – any discussion related to national security isn’t generally fun – but if you look at the latest water scarcity facts, you’ll see that this is a discussion we need to have. So, here we go! Let’s take a look at some of the issues surrounding our national water crisis.
Water Is Life
You learned it in elementary school: without water, we have no life. We need water to survive, animals need water to survive, and crops need water to grow. If we have no water, we have no means to sustain our existence. This is why water scarcity is a national security concern. In fact, it’s a global security concern, and we need to look at water scarcity solutions before drought becomes an irreparable epidemic on our home soil.
Think about it. Other nations are already starving to death because they do not have enough clean, safe water to grow food and feed themselves. Can you imagine that in the U.S.? Probably not, but that just might be the source of the problem. We’ve had access to clean water for so long, we simply do not think about not having it, and we need to.
This is one way nature filters water.
Image via John Christopher (flickr)
Tapped, Bottled, Filtered: Which is Best
I’m asked this question all the time: Which is better? Tap water, bottled water, or filtered water? Filtered water gets my vote. Filtering your water removes impurities left by municipal and well water treatment and is the most cost-effective way to ensure your home’s water is safe. Let’s take a look at why this option receives my thumbs up!
Water from the Tap
Tap water comes from your local water municipality or water wells, and as I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, it isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Water is a breeding ground for algae, bacteria, and parasites. To make water “safe” and “healthy,” municipalities “treat” your water with chemicals such as chlorine and additives such as fluoride.
These treatments produce some nasty side effects: stomach irritation, the infamous shower eye sting, your dry, flaky, irritated skin… all of that can be attributed to your tap water. Plus, where do you think that unused prescription you just flushed down your toilet goes? (Don’t flush your prescriptions folks! There are recycling programs to use instead!) Yikes!
- Drinking Water Contaminants
- The Dangers of Drinking Water by Michael Burgess
- Drinking Water Contaminants
Water from the Bottle
Image via Jinx (flickr)
I grew up around water. I love water. I got my degree in Environmental Science because I was tired of seeing people pollute our water. I want to educate people about water. I want them to understand the importance of clean drinking water. You won’t see the heinous effects of polluted drinking water suffered by those in third-world countries here in the U.S. We do have our own set of problems when it comes to clean drinking water, however.
Clean drinking water is new to the U.S. We suffered from polluted water until congress enacted water safety legislation. You would think this wouldn’t be necessary. It’s common sense that if you pollute your water, you suffer the consequences. Unfortunately, many have yet to grasp this concept. Without clean drinking water, facts speak for themselves. Looking at worldwide statistics helps us better understand the importance of clean drinking water here at home.
Some Clean Drinking Water Statistics
- U.S. residents have access to clean drinking water, over 884 million people throughout the world do not.
- 3.5 million of the 884 million who don’t have access to clean water are killed by diseases caused from unsanitary drinking, farming, and bathing water.
- Without clean drinking water, facts confirm that children make up the majority of these 3.5 million; a child dies every 20 seconds from water pollution illness.
- In many cases, these children die from diarrhea caused by the bacteria and parasites in the polluted water.
It boggles my mind when I read these statistics. When considering clean drinking water, facts clearly demonstrate the importance of access to a sanitary water supply. Without it, people die, plain and simple. But hey, it wasn’t always so great here either. Congress didn’t implement protections against water pollution until 1972.
Senator Edmund “Ed” Muskie introduced the Clean Water Act in 1971, which included sub-acts for drinking water under the Safe Drinking Water Act – although most people think of it as the clean drinking water act. The cool thing about the Safe Water Act is it protects all of America’s water, including recreational water for those of us who dive in and pretend we’re fish! Since our topic is clean drinking water, however, let’s focus on what the clean drinking water act portion entails.