How to get the cleanest drinking water in the UK

June 12th, 2023 | Water and Taste, Water and Wellbeing

Where does our water come from?

We are fortunate to have very clean tap water in the UK, which is managed by our water companies. They take our water, from reservoirs, aquifers, lakes and rivers, and process it to remove impurities. The water is taken through a coarse filter which removes larger particulates, then it goes to a sedimentation tank, where the heavy particles fall to the bottom and are removed. This is followed by a set of sand and gravel filters which remove impurities to around 150 microns in size, which is similar in size to an ant. Once the filtration is complete, then water companies often add chlorine to combat bacterial growth, to ensure the water is fit for consumption.

The water is then transported to homes and businesses via a vast network of pipes – copper, iron, lead and plastic.

Image of water processing in the UK from BBC Bitesize. It shows how water goes in through a screen, then it is filtered and flows through to a sedimentation tank. The next process is a fine filter. Then chlorine is added before it is stored.

Source image: BBC Bitesize

Is adding chlorine good for our health? What are the pros and cons?

Chlorine is added into mains water to ensure the water delivered to our homes and businesses is free-from bacteria. Chlorine not only impact taste but has been shown to have some health side effects too, such as, adversely affecting asthma sufferers, and it has been reported to be a cause of some food allergies. The biggest impact though is the fact that the taste of the chlorine stops people drinking tap water.

Does our drinking water get contaminated by our pipe network?

Water drinkers have expressed concerns over the UK’s antiquated pipe network. When water is transported in metal pipes, the metal can leach into the water and cause taste issues, as well as health concerns. There have been cases of lead poisoning coming from corroded lead pipes . Many authorities have moved to plastic pipes, but these also have issues. Biofilm – a slimy layer sticking to the interior surface of the water pipes, causes the pipes to start to block, to corrode and of course bacteria can replicate and enter the drinking water from here, and then make its way out of your tap. To remove these hazards or reduce the impact, you need to look at copper piping (which also leaves a taste) or use a filter system.

What impurities aren’t removed from our drinking water by the water companies’ processing methods?

There are many reports of pollutants hitting our water systems that are not removed by the standard water processing we have in the UK. There have been concerns over nitrates, heavy metals, hormones, medical residues, bacteria, viruses, and micro and nano-plastics being found in our water, our food chain, and our bodies, leading to concern for our human and environmental health. Further filtration of the mains water is now big business, as consumers push for guarantees of clean water, free from impurities.

What additional types of filtrations can we put our tap water through for cleaner drinking water?

To improve the quality of your drinking water, you can apply a variety of additional filtration processes. Many offices now use a hot tap, which will have a sediment and activated carbon filter.

A Sediment filter is designed to remove particles and sediment in the water. The filter acts like a net trapping the dirt as the water flows through the filter. It can filter the tap water through a 5-micron filter, removing some larger particulates such as plant spores, dander, algae, rust, insecticides, and some bacteria.

Carbon filters can remove both sediment and particles, but also volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nasty tastes, and odours. The activated carbon in the filter binds to the impurities taking them out of the water. Over time the binding sites are filled, and the filter loses the ability to further filter the water. In some cases, bacteria can start to grow on the filter and replicate. This is why it is important to change an active carbon every 4-6 months. These filters remove impurities to around 2 microns in size, which means they can remove more bacteria and moulds, as well as iron and spores.

Sediment and Activated Carbon Filters don’t generally remove micro-impurities.

We are seeing more and more articles on micro and nano impurities. It is said that we ingest many particles of microplastics every week through our drinking water and food, so there is now an expectation for filters to remove these smaller impurities as well.

There are various types of micro and ultrafiltration on the market, but which to choose?

Particle filtration can remove impurities up to 0.3 microns in size, so this can remove heavy metals.

Microfiltration can remove impurities up to 0.1 microns in size, so that includes lead dust and paints.

Ultrafiltration can remove impurities to 0.001 microns in size, which includes pesticides and herbicides.

Reverse osmosis filtration is more effective than ultrafiltration, and all the other filter systems on the market as it can remove impurities to 0.0001 microns in size.

What impurities can be removed by these ultrafiltration methods that can’t be removed by a sediment filter?

–             50 microns: Dust, pet dander, human hair, and plant spores

–             40 microns: This is the limit in size for what the human eye can see

–             30 microns: Algae and solvent particles

–             25 microns: Salt, Sand, Rust, and white blood cells

–             10 microns: Red-blood cells, fertilisers, insecticides

–             5 microns: Some bacteria, such as giardia, some mould, coffee grounds

What impurities can be removed by these ultrafiltration methods that can’t be removed by an Activated Carbon Filter?

–             4 micron: Bacteria, bone dust, mould, iron, spores

  •       Chlorine, volatile organic compounds, some pesticides and herbicides, benzene & THM’s

What is left in your water if you don’t use a finer filter like a Microfilter, ultrafilter or reverse osmosis filter?

–             1 micron: Car emissions, anthrax, cryptosporidium

–             0.7 micron: Asbestos

–             0.2 micron: Heavy metals such as cadmium, copper and nickel

–             1 micron: Bromine, oral contraceptives, micro plastic particle, medical residues

–             0.5 to 0.1 micron: Make up, clay, copier toner, paint, insecticide dust, lead dust, skin flakes

–             0.05 micron: Dusts

–             0.001 micron: Pesticides and herbicides, nano-plastics

–             0.0005 micron: Viruses

–             0.00065 micron: Carbon dioxide

Other ways to treat water so you can guarantee its purity:

Distillation:  You can use distillation to purify your water, this is where the water is vaporised so that it leaves behind inorganic minerals. When the water recondenses, you have de-mineralised water. A clean water, but with no taste, as the minerals have been removed with this process.

Ozonation: Ozone gas is used as an antimicrobial agent that kills microorganisms. Water is infused with ozone as a disinfecting process. The ozone naturally breaks down from O3 to O2, leaving a free oxygen to combine with other impurities such as iron and sulphur forming oxides, which can be filtered out. Not all heavy metals can be removed this way.

UV-light treatment: Ultraviolet (UVA & UVC) light is also disinfecting agent that kills microorganisms, including bacteria and viruses. The UV light breaks the microorganisms on a cellular level making them inert or killing them. UV light can kill organic impurities, but not remove inorganic impurities such as plastics and heavy metals.

The LUQEL Water Station uses all the main processes to ensure the cleanest drinking water possible. The dispenser uses sediment and carbon filters as well as a reverse osmosis filter to remove 99+% of impurities from the water, including nano-plastics, medical residues, and heavy metals. It then adds back in natural mineral salts, to replicate the tastes of 30 different mineralised waters. There is a RO filter flush to remove build-up from the filter, A bacterial count before and after the filters, a thermal nozzle and UVC light to stop inbound bacteria, and a stainless-steel casing to reduce any bacterial growth. This water dispenser can guarantee clean drinking water consistently over time, using state-of-the-art technology. Delivering the cleanest and best-tasting drinking water from the mains supply.

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