05/24/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bottled vs. Tap -- What's the Difference?

Do you know what you're drinking when you get a drink of water from your tap at home? Or from your little sink water filter? Or do you just drink bottled water?

I wasn't sure that I really wanted to know what was in my water, but I had to find out because I really wanted to stop buying bottled water. Bottled water is so easy and convenient, but, as it turns out, most of them test positive for toxins -- and to make matters worse, many of the plastic bottles do not end up getting recycled.

So much of it ends up in our rivers and oceans that there are literally fish-sterilizing wastelands of debris the size of Texas, like the one that drifts north of Hawaii in the North Pacific Gyre. This island of plastic spans a distance one and half times the size of the United States. In some cases, it extends down 100 feet.

So in my quest to consume less plastic and protect my children, I had my water tested by several companies. There are many options for free tests from companies on-line, and any company wanting to sell you a filtration system will usually test your water for free.

I had both tests done and was shocked to find that my city treated water had contaminants at levels that should not be consumed. Over time these toxins can accumulate in your body, so regardless of size, it will eventually take its toll.

Here's what we found in our water:

1. Aluminum. Level Found: 0.14 ppm
  • Known To Cause: Linked to lung diseases, heart problems and stomach ulcers. Known to cause cancer in laboratory animals. It is poisonous to the nervous system; symptoms include: nervousness, mood swings, emotional instability, memory loss, headaches, and impaired intellect.
  • Where It Comes From: Discharge from petroleum refineries; fire retardants; ceramics; electronics; solder.
2. Arsenic. Level Found: 2.6 ppb
  • Known To Cause: Linked to causing cancer of the skin, lungs, liver, urinary bladder, and kidney, as well as other skin changes such as pigmentation changes and thickening in humans through consumption of drinking water.
  • Where It Comes From: Arsenic is widely distributed throughout the Earth's crust, most often as arsenic sulfide or as metal arsenates and arsenide. Arsenicals are used commercially and industrialy, primarily as alloying agents in the manufacture of electronics. Arsenic is introduced into drinking water sources primarily through the dissolution of natural occurring minerals and ores and some pesticides.
3. Barium. Level Found: 0.05 ppm
  • Known To Cause: Linked to causing difficulties in breathing, increased blood pressure, heart disease (affecting heart rhythm), stomach ulcers, brain swelling, muscle weakness, damage to liver, kidneys, heart and spleen.
  • Where It Comes From: Barium is present as a trace element in both igneous and sedimentary rocks. Although it is not found free in nature. Barium compounds, including barium sulfate and barium carbonate, are used in the plastics, rubber, electronics and textile industries, in ceramic glazes and enamels, glass making, brick making and paper making, as a lubricant additive, in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, in case hardening steel and in the oil and gas industry as a wetting agent for drilling mud. Barium is released to water and soil in the discharge and disposal of drilling wastes, from the smelting of copper, and the manufacture of motor vehicle parts and accessories.
4. Chlorine. Level Found: 2.4 ppm
  • Known To Cause: Linked to increased risk of cancer. Byproducts of chlorine are linked to liver, kidney or central nervous system problems. Asthma can be triggered by exposure to chlorinated water. Also linked to dermatitis.
  • Where It Comes From: Chlorine is produced in large amounts and widely used both industrially and domestically as a disinfectant and bleach. Water companies typically add chlorine to water because it is a cheap disinfectant.
5. HAA5's (Haloacetic Acids). Level Found: 14 ppb (May be higher at your home).
  • Known To Cause: Linked to causing liver, kidney or central nervous system problems, increased risk of cancer, reproductive Difficulties.
  • Where It Comes From: Byproduct of drinking water disinfected by halogenation. It can also be found in ozonated drinking water.
6. Trichloroethylene. Level Found: 1.2 ppb
  • Known To Cause: Linked to causing neurological, liver, and kidney problems, adverse reproductive effects, such as spontaneous abortions, increased risk of cancer, known to cause cancer in laboratory animals.
  • Where It Comes From: Primarily used for dry cleaning and textile processing, as a chemical intermediate, and for vapor degreasing in metal-cleaning operations.
7. TTHM's (Trihalomethanes). Level Found: 46 ppb (May be higher at your home)
  • Known To Cause: Linked to causing liver, kidney, or central nervous system problems, reproductive difficulties, increased risk of cancer.
  • Where It Comes From: Byproducts of drinking water disinfection with chlorine.

The only good news was that the water was clear and the other contaminants found--copper, fluoride, lead, and nitrate--where not at dangerous levels.

What kind of filtration system will eliminate chemical contaminants in water? Everyone selling a system will tell you their filtration process will give you the cleanest, best tasting water, but only distillation will eliminate chemicals, heavy metals and pharmaceuticals. That's right, there is such a high saturation of prescription medication in retreated water that municipals aren't certain that it can be filtered completely. Most systems that are available and affordable for homeowners use reverse osmosis with a combination of carbon filters and some UV. Those kinds of systems work well when you are trying to remove pathogens from water like spores, bacteria, ecoli and viruses but none of them remove the chemicals or metals listed in my water reports.

I chose to install a small home distiller for drinking water and a basic whole house filtration system. It was not an easy decision. Distillers can use a lot of power and create a lot of heat in the process. Ultimately, I decided that my plastic consumption needed to end not only for the planet but also for the health of my family. It is also necessary to re-mineralize your water for flavor and to make it more biocompatible. Sounds complicated, but only involves adding a few drops of liquid minerals that are widely available.

Free Water Testing:
AquaMD: 1-866-278-2634 or

Basic Home Filtration Systems:
Culligan: 1-877-412-2750 or

Home Distiller:
Pure & Secure:

Liquid Minerals:
Concentrace-Trace Mineral Drops at Whole Foods