Archives : 2012 : July

Can You Drink Distilled Water?

July 30th, 2012

Are you concerned about contaminants in your drinking water and searching for ways to purify your water? Distilling water is one option to remove impurities and involves boiling water and collecting the water vapor as it condenses.  Boiling the water kills microbes and most contaminants are left behind in the boiled water, making the condensed water vapor contaminant-free. The process seems simple and safe enough doesn’t it? There are some things you should consider however before you start drinking distilled water.

Affects the taste of the water

Distilling water removes all impurities from the water, including natural minerals such as calcium and magnesium. While drinking demineralized water seems appealing because it is essentially pure, it can have some drawbacks. Natural minerals add flavor to the water so distilled water may actually taste flat due to the lack of minerals. Of course you can eventually get used to the flat taste but the lack of minerals can cause health problems as well.

Disrupts the body’s electrolyte balance

Water in your body is not pure but instead contains electrolytes, or salts, like sodium and potassium. When you drink distilled  water that lacks salts, the water takes these electrolytes from your body. Drinking distilled water for long periods of time can decrease the electrolyte levels in your body causing you to feel tired and weak. You may also experience headaches and muscle cramps.

Removes nutrients when used for cooking

Just as distilled water pulls electrolytes from your body, it may also remove nutrients from food if used for cooking. Meat and vegetables contain numerous essential minerals but may lose these nutrients when cooked in distilled water. This is important to be aware of since most nutrients are ingested with food. In a study where soft water, which only contains sodium but no other dissolved minerals, was used for cooking, up to 60% of magnesium and calcium were lost from the cooked food. Over time, the decreased intake of minerals may lead to a deficiency which can cause many health problems.

Reduces mineral intake from water

We usually assume that all of our essential nutrients come from food but water also provides our bodies with minerals as well. Studies of communities in other countries have shown that women, especially pregnant women, who drink only demineralized water can experience loss of calcium from their bones. If you are already deficient in a mineral found in water, drinking distilled water can worsen this deficiency as well.

More Information and Alternatives

Very little information is available about the benefits or disadvantages of drinking distilled water. The World Health Organization (WHO) published a paper in 2005 titled “Nutrients in Drinking Water” that, in addition to other topics, discusses the health risks of drinking demineralized water. It contains very technical information but is a good review of different research studies.

Since there are potential drawbacks to drinking distilled water or any other type of demineralized water, you may want to consider other options when removing contaminants from your water. Water filters are available that remove harmful contaminants but do not remove healthy minerals.

 

Rainwater Harvesting: An Innovative Way to Collect Drinking Water

July 20th, 2012

Rainwater harvesting is an age-old practice of collecting and using rainwater that has become more popular in recent years. Some people are trying to reduce water usage costs while others are concerned about water quality and possible contaminants in their drinking water. If you are considering rainwater harvesting read below for some useful information to help you better understand the process.

A rainwater harvesting system consists of several components:

  • The catchment surface:  This can be a roof or other apparatus that initially collects the rainwater.  If using a roof, please note that composite or asphalt shingles are not appropriate for drinking water collection.
  • Gutters or downspouts:  These help to channel the water from the catchment surface.
  • Leaf screens:  Use screens to remove large debris like twigs and leaves from the rainwater. You may also want to use a first-flush diverter which prevents the initial flow (usually several gallons) from entering a storage unit. This device diverts water containing smaller impurities like pollen, dust, and bird feces away from the storage unit, often to a planted area for fast absorption.
  • Storage tanks:  Storage tanks, also referred to as cisterns, store the water for future use. The storage tanks can range from trash cans and steel drums to tanks made of fiberglass, polypropylene, stone, or even wood. The type of storage tank depends on precipitation rates, water demand, length of dry spells, catchment surface area, and other considerations.
  • Delivery system:  Complex rainwater harvesting systems also have a delivery system that allows the water to be gravity-fed or pumped to the location where it will be used.

According to the Colorado State University Extension website, rainwater can contain contaminants like arsenic and mercury which are absorbed from the atmosphere. The water may also contain small fecal matter, microorganisms, and other impurities that the screens and diverters do not remove. If the water is to be used for drinking, it needs to be tested and treated.  One treatment solution is to use a water purifier to remove harmful biological and chemical contaminants.  While the rainwater may contain harmful contaminants, it will lack minerals like calcium and magnesium which are normally found in groundwater.  Since these are beneficial to have in drinking water, you may want to consider adding minerals to the water.

While you may be intimidated by the initial process of setting up the rainwater harvesting system, keep in mind that it will be worth the effort.  For every square foot of catchment area, you can harvest about 0.6 gallons for every one inch of precipitation.  So if you are using a 1,000 square foot roof as a catchment surface, you can expect to collect approximately 600 gallons every time it rains one inch!  It is very important to understand average precipitation amounts for your area. The Western Regional Climate Center has maps that show the annual average precipitation for every state.  If you are thinking about constructing a rainwater harvesting system be sure to check with state and local regulations as there may be permits or other requirements that may apply.

For more information about creating a rainwater harvesting system, the Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting is very useful. If you would like a professional to design and install the system, the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association (ARCSA) offers a searchable online directory.

 

“Go Green”: Reduce Your Plastic Water Bottle Usage

July 13th, 2012

Within the past few decades, our society has become much more environmentally conscious. Like many others, you may be trying to “go green” by practicing environmentally responsible behavior in the hope of minimizing impact on the environment. While it is overwhelming to think about changing your lifestyle altogether to “go green”, consider starting with one small change that will reduce waste. A good place to start, for example, is reducing plastic water bottle usage.

In 2011 National Geographic reported that Americans purchase approximately 29 billion plastic bottles of water every year. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (USGAO) bottled water consumption doubled from 1997 to 2007 and it is likely that it will continue to increase. The USGAO also reported that in 2006, 76.4 percent of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic water bottles, which are the most common water bottles, were discarded. This equates to nearly one million tons of PET plastic water bottles discarded every year.

The PET plastic is essentially an inert material and is not known to leach chemicals. Unfortunately, however, the USGAO reports that the plastic water bottles will take thousands of years to decompose in a landfill. The slow decomposition rate occurs because the water bottles are compacted before they are deposited in a landfill which prevents them from being exposed to sunlight and the atmosphere. These elements are essential for decomposition.

In addition to contributing to landfills, plastic water bottles impact the environment in other ways as well.  Any discarded plastic water bottles that do not make it to the landfill become litter both on land and in the water. This can possibly disrupt wildlife and is an eyesore as well. Furthermore, researchers at the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California evaluated the energy needed to manufacture, process, transport, and chill the plastic water bottles. They discovered that the energy cost of producing bottled water can be up to 2000 times the energy cost of producing tap water. The manufacturing process also requires extensive amounts of crude oil which is a natural resource. According to a National Geographic article, 17 million barrels of crude oil are used annually to produce the plastic material. The author of the article mentioned that the amount of crude oil needed to produce one water bottle would fill the bottle approximately one-quarter full.

If you would like to start to “go green” by reducing your plastic water bottle usage, there are several options available to you. If you are purchasing bottled water because you do not like the taste or quality of your tap or well water, consider purchasing a water filter that removes contaminants, such as chlorine, from the water. This will allow you to drink from a re-usable glass instead. Many people also prefer plastic water bottles for the convenience of being able to carry their water with them to run errands, go to work, or other purposes. If you would still like the convenience of a water bottle consider using a re-usable water bottle. Some water bottles are now available that have filtering capabilities as well so you can filter water at any location.

Remember, it is estimated that a person will consume about 30 gallons of bottled water per year which is more than 200 16-ounce water bottles. Try to “go green” today by reducing your plastic water bottle usage and you will contribute less to landfills, litter, increased energy costs, and natural resources consumption as well.

 

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