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Taking Water Purification to Next Level

Kate Nolan, Scottsdale Republic

Arizona water is hard, meaning it contains minerals picked up in aquifers or along its run from the riverbeds and mountain tops to Valley bathrooms and kitchens. It also contains chemicals resulting from industry and agriculture.

Municipal water systems succeed in removing chemicals and minerals deemed dangerous by federal health authorities, although regulations can change quickly as science reveals new causes for concern. In public water systems, chlorine is added to kill micro-organisms.

The chlorine taste is one reason many people here drink only bottled water. Another is to avoid trace chemicals city water systems leave in. But some people want to take water purification beyond their drinking water and are turning to home purification systems.

Studies show that the body can take in chemicals through the skin's pores or from breathing vapors in the shower. Some people question whether federal standards, based on ingestion of substances, can be applied to inhaling or absorbing substances through the skin.

Like many substances, chlorine in large supply is carcinogenic. The amounts used in purifying public water supplies are based on safe ingestion of it, which has been studied. Inhaling or absorbing it may be a health risk, but safety levels are not established. Some people are simply hypersensitive to chlorine and need it removed.

Home treatment

The only way to remove chlorine or other substances that you don't want to breathe or absorb is to cleanse all the water that enters a home. Water softeners don't do the job. They remove magnesium and calcium, which leave scales and scum on pipes and tubs, but they don't filter out many substances, and they dump a lot of salt into the public water system.

Reverse osmosis, a type of filtering technology, removes chlorine, but it uses a lot of water to produce a smaller amount of purified water. And then the purified water sits, without the germ protection of chlorine, until it is used. Most Valley water conditioning companies provide water softening and reverse osmosis.

But a Scottsdale company offers a complicated filtering approach that removes more impurities without the downsides. Energy One's system treats water as it is used. It softens water in a saltless process, but doesn't store water for use, meaning there's little risk of bacterial growth, since chlorine is active until water is drawn for a shower or a drink.

Its main asset is a patented system that filters out a long list of chemicals and minerals. The system is built to last for 30 years. Business has been good for the company, operating since 1980 in Scottsdale and Tempe.

Owners Alex Chrys and Janice Wight say the Southwestern drought, now in its fifth year, has been making water worse by concentrating impurities. "All of Arizona's water is run-off; it's all been used somewhere else," Chrys said. He says customers see damage to their pipes from hard water, and some develop skin rashes before they call his service.

The process starts with testing the water, looking for thousands of chemicals not treated in public systems. Chrys said Valley water can contain heavy metals like manganese, nitrates and chemicals like arsenic, among other things. Then a filtering system is chosen that corresponds to the house size and individual water use. The filter will keep pools less scaly, but they still need to be chlorinated. (Saltwater pools are an alternative to chlorinated ones.)

The system is a six-stage filtering process that hinges on the fact water is treated as it is used. It removes the chlorine, which medical authorities suspect may be dangerous, but the water doesn't sit.

"We say you can either buy the filter or be the filter. Chlorine treatment kills bacteria, but it creates other toxic byproducts like chloroform, so we remove it," Wight said. Lesley Hayes, a north Scottsdale resident, said she and her husband got the system last year for two reasons: her husband's salt-restricted diet and crud in the water. "It was just all the mineral build-up in the shower. We didn't need to be ingesting it," said Hayes, who used to drink only bottled water. She feels more confident about the tap water now and drinks it freely. But she experienced another bonus. "My skin is so smooth. I'm so excited about it I told my neighbors," Hayes said.

Municipal treatment

David Mansfield, Scottsdale's general manager of water resources, has no objection to people taking their water to the next level. But he stressed that Scottsdale water conforms to federal standards for drinking water. Standards for arsenic were recently tightened and the city is adjusting its treatment accordingly and intends to comply before the 2006 deadline.

Mansfield said that standards for public water supplies are far tougher than those the Food and Drug Administration issues for bottled water.
"One thing we are vigilant about is that if people go to a home system, they don't use one that discharges a high level of salt," Mansfield said. Salinity is an increasing problem in Arizona water. Mansfield agrees that the current drought concentrates salt, but the city adjusts its treatment to correspond to the levels. "The government puts out standards, and we meet or surpass all of them," he said, but he keeps a close watch on potentially dangerous substances.

"Health impacts are a great debate. The EPA's (Environmental Protection Agency's) review lists are closely monitored and challenged a lot," Mansfield said. "We can measure a lot of things more minutely now," he said, and as more research is completed, water quality standards become subject to change.
Meanwhile, if people are going to have home systems, they should make sure the system is not wasteful and doesn't produce undesirable byproducts, Mansfield said.

For more information contact Energy One: (480) 968-3400