Is your Drinking Water Healthy or Merely Safe?

By Michael R. Long

ALWAYS know what you are drinking. A common misconception is that safe water equals healthy water but certified water specialist MICHAEL R. LONG explains the difference.
In the US, it was reported that traces of pharmaceutical drugs were being found in treated drinking water in countries all over the world. This fact has raised many concerns among the Malaysian public, particularly because contaminated water does not necessarily look murky.

Drinking water that is crystal clear can contain numerous contaminants that are odourless, colourless and completely invisible to the human eye yet are potentially dangerous and harmful to human health.


In most countries around the world, water is treated before being piped to consumers. In some countries, people actually drink water straight from the tap. This implies that the water is "safe" or, to use a more technical term, "potable".

Consider that here in Malaysia, even though I don't know anyone who drinks water straight from the tap, almost all of us swallow small amounts of tap water each time we brush our teeth. Since we don't suffer immediate sickness or health problems, we can conclude that the mains water which is being supplied to our homes is "safe" or "potable".


However, we should ask another question: Is our tap water "healthy"? In other words, does it pose a health risk if we were to drink straight from the tap over a long period of time? Many people that I have spoken with in Malaysia are not sure about this.

Thus we need to consider that "safe" does not always equate to "healthy". To illustrate this point, an analogy I often use is this: if you were in an undeveloped country, would you choose to eat at their local stalls or trust an international fast food chain?

Almost all of us would agree that the fast food is the "safe" choice in that you wouldn't suffer a fatal illness or be violently ill after eating it. On the other hand, would you consider eating fast food daily even though it's "safe"? Hopefully not! Everyone knows that fast food is not "healthy" food per se. Thus it is easy to see that "safe" is not necessarily equivalent to healthy.


It is a fact that pharmaceutical drugs - including tranquillisers, heart medication and sex hormones - get past modern wastewater treatment processes and are finding their way into drinking water in countries all around the world.

There may be no immediate health effects from consuming minute traces of drugs in the water, but is it healthy in the long term? Almost certainly there is a potentially harmful cumulative effect on health. The reason is quite simple: drugs are purposely designed to have specific effects on the human body in relatively small doses.

Is this really a threat in Malaysia? I would say that it is a threat in every country where the people take medication. The human body works the same; the methods of water treatment are the same; the disposal of unused medicines is the same. Why, then, would we expect different results?


To date, there are no mandated testing requirements for testing for the presence of pharmaceutical drugs in drinking water. In fact, there are no established safety limits for drugs in water. However, there is active discussion taking place in the wake of the findings of the five-month Associated Press (AP) investigative report being published. In the worst-case scenario, can you imagine your daughter drinking some stranger's heart medication, or your son drinking traces of sex hormones daily? In fact, that is exactly what is happening in many places around the world today!


Drugs are the latest reported threat in water, but they are by no means the only threat. According to the Earth Day Network on CNN, 14 million people in the US now regularly drink water contaminated with carcinogenic herbicides.

In New Zealand, the Southland was singled out as having elevated levels of nitrates in groundwater. High levels of nitrates are associated with the so-called "blue-baby syndrome". What is a major cause of this condition? It's very likely that the mother was drinking nitrate-laden water during pregnancy. Nitrate contamination, common all over the world, is particularly harmful to infants, pregnant women and their foetuses.


Conventional wastewater and water treatment systems simply are not capable of eliminating these traces of powerful and dangerous contaminants. This fact does not apply just to Malaysia. This is the same situation worldwide.

The AP report pointed out that a powerful disinfection compound known as chlorine is used all over the world, at the municipal level, to kill bacteria and viruses. However, the same report pointed out that chlorine can actually make some of the pharmaceutical contaminants even more dangerous. It is well known that chlorine reacts with organic matter which naturally occurs in reservoirs, rivers and streams used as the source of drinking water. This reaction creates disinfection by-products (DBPs) such as trihalomethane.

DBPs are carcinogenic, which means cancer causing. Studies have shown that people who drink chlorinated water have a higher risk of certain types of cancer than people who don't drink chlorinated water. This is one of the reasons that DBP levels are closely regulated in many countries.

According to an environmental working group study, published in 2005, tap water in the US is contaminated with "44 pollutants that are residues of water treatment, storage and distribution, including chemical by-products of water disinfection, are served to 178,679,000 people in 41 states in the US".


People today are increasingly looking for better quality water, and are becoming aware of the importance of drinking just pure H2O. The human body is nearly 70% water! If we don't drink `good' water, how can we expect to have good health? It's just not possible.

All human bodies need pure water: H2O. We don't need, or want, traces of drugs, bacteria, viruses and so on. What about minerals? Do we need or want minerals in our drinking water? Even though there are differing opinions, I am personally very sure that the answer is: NO!

Firstly, most minerals in water are inorganic (from dissolved stones) and cannot be easily assimilated or used by our body. Secondly, even if our bodies could use them, there is no home water treatment system in the world that can differentiate between so-called "good" minerals such as calcium or magnesium and "bad" minerals such as nitrates, arsenic, lead, etc.

You can't pick and choose which ones you want - there's just no system on earth that can do it.

If you consider that nature's way of providing the entire earth with water, which is rain or snow, contains no minerals, it stands to reason that our drinking water should be the same. That's why we should just have pure water, with nothing else in it.


There are many different water systems in the market but we must first differentiate between a water treatment system and a water purification system. A treatment system basically removes some particles and maybe smell and colour in water. However, a properly designed purification system does much, much more.

For many people, affordability is a key factor that influences choice. Whether it is a filtration, UV light, distillation or purification system, go for the best that you can afford. The function of a water system is to clean and improve the water, so choose a system that can not only improve the taste of water or its colour but also the other contaminants commonly found in water.

Purchase a system wisely - find out what technology it uses, what contaminants it can remove, what the after-sales service is like, how many years the company has been in the business, whether it has been accredited by an independent body. These are all valid concerns.


One way you can assure yourself that the water is free from contaminants is by investing in a quality water purification system. One of the best ways to produce high purity water, which is just H2O, is by using a process called Reverse Osmosis (RO). This process is used all over the world. In any application that calls for high quality water, you will find RO systems in use.

Very simply stated, in the RO process water is forced (by pressure) through a special membrane and in this way it's purified at the molecular level. The incredibly small pores (or openings) of the membrane  allows water molecules to pass through. However, virtually all other contaminants, be they inorganic contaminants, traces of drugs, etc. are rejected or not allowed to pass through the membrane.

In very high quality RO systems, the effective porosity of the membrane is 0.0001 microns in diameter - that's about 500,000 times smaller than the diameter of your hair!

That is why you find RO being used by major multi-national corporations, especially those involved in the food and beverage industry and by industries where a supply of pure water is critical. In addition to being used for bottled water production, desalination plants worldwide, including Newater in Singapore, also use RO technology to convert sea water into drinking water.

With the UN Global Outlook Report of 2007 stating that by 2025, over one-third of all humans worldwide will suffer from the lack of safe drinking water, it is very clear to many that water will become the next "oil". It therefore makes sense for us to protect ourselves, and improve our health, by investing in a good water treatment or purification system.

* Michael R. Long is a WQA Certified Water Specialist (Level VI - the highest level), Certified Nutritional Consultant, published author and international lecturer. He is also a member of the Water Quality Association's International Standards and Regulations Task Force, which monitors worldwide issues on the legislation, standards and regulations regarding water and is currently a consultant with Elken Bio Pure.


Types of water treatment to produce

* Filtration - to get rid of the smell, taste, organic contaminants and chlorine.
* Distillation, Reverse Osmosis, Electrodialysis, Ion-exchange - to reduce the mineral content 
*Ozone or Ultraviolet rays - functions as disinfectant
* Water softening, Ion-exchange, Reverse Osmosis, Distillation - to reduce water hardness.


Water goes through a series of filters in order to filter out any foreign matters but some volatile residue still remain in the water Filters which are not maintained or replaced according to their stipulated schedule could be breeding sites for both bacteria and algae. Activated carbon filters are commonly used to remove chlorine, organic compounds and their associated odours and tastes from the source water.


Distilled water is produced through the condensation of vapour or steam from boiling water. Germs and other organisms in water are killed through this process. Water that has gone through this process contains hardly any minerals or contaminants. It has a "bland taste" due to the loss of minerals, which provide the taste of water.


Ozone (03) is the strongest disinfectant and oxidising agent available for water treatment. It is 3000 times faster than chlorine at killing bacteria. Ozone is an unstable and colourless gas. Its application in packaged drinking water is approved since 1982 by USFDA as an aim to treat drinking water. Ozonation is a process of passing ozone through water. Ozonation rapidly kills pathogenic viruses and cysts. Like all disinfectants, ozone forms potentially harmful by-products such as bromoform. However the yield of bromoform is not significant unless the bromide is high, for example in certain underground water.

Ultra Violet

Ultra violet (UV) radiation is a good biocide. UV radiation can be effectively produced by the use of mercury vapour or antimony vapour lamps. UV has been employed in a variety of physical configuration. One of the configuration is by surrounding the UV lamps quartz sheaths, and the jacketed lamps are immersed in the flowing water. The other configuration is by letting the water through a Teflon tube surrounded by UV lamps.

Water Hardness

Water described as "hard" is high in dissolved mineral, specifically calcium and magnesium. Hard water is not a health risk but a nuisance because of mineral buildup on fixtures and poor soap and detergent performance. Most of the water sources found in Malaysia are soft water in which the addition of water-softening chemicals is not necessary.

1 comment :

  1. Thanks for the info!

    Hope you can drop by my site and 'follow' me too! =)