The Latest Advances in Water Filtration Technology
Home water purification has come a long way since the days of carbon filters and salt-based water softeners. Many of today’s home purifying systems combine old and new technologies. To help choose the right system for you, take a few minutes to learn about the latest advances in water filtration technology.
Filtration reduces contaminants by trapping them in the pores of the filter or by other filter media in the system. Some water filters are designed to target specific contaminants such as chlorine, while others can remove a wide range of contaminants including mercury, lead, asbestos and volatile organic compounds. The two most common water filter systems in use today are activated carbon and reverse osmosis systems.
Conventional Activated Carbon
Activated carbon is used in many water filtration systems. It is sometimes used alone or in conjunction with other water treatment technologies as a pre- or post-filtration media. Activated carbon filters work by passing water through a filter containing carbon granules or a carbon block. The carbon bonds with contaminants as water passes through the filter. Many carbon filters just remove chlorine, but some also remove mercury, lead, asbestos, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
Reverse Osmosis systems pass water through a semi-permeable barrier that lets the water pass through, but stops contaminants. The barrier is a thin-film composite membrane (TFC) that is made of several thin layers of material, which are designed to block undesired materials while letting water flow through.
Water softener systems remove calcium and magnesium from water to reduce scale buildup within pipes and fixtures. They also make soaps and detergents more effective. Conventional water softeners such as ion exchange systems are expensive to maintain and produce harmful waste water. The latest advances in water softener systems have made softening water more efficient and easier on the environment. Modern softener systems also remove excess minerals to soften the water, and they are much more efficient and more environmentally sustainable.
Conventional Ion Exchange Systems
Traditional water softening systems rely on ion exchange to remove calcium and magnesium from the water. Essentially, they replace the unwanted minerals with sodium or potassium. This process uses a large amount of water and introduces large amounts of chlorides into waste water, which makes municipal water treatment more difficult. Because of this, many municipalities have banned these systems or restrict their use.
Early Alternatives – AMT and Electronic Softeners
Early alternative water softening systems attempted to reduce the effects of hard water by passing it through a magnetic field or by subjecting it to high-frequency electronic pulses. But these systems are controversial; there is little evidence that scale inhibitor devices such as anti-scale magnetic treatment (AMT) or Electronic Softeners are effective. They are generally regarded as scientifically unproven.
Modern TAC Systems
The latest alternative softener systems transform minerals rather than remove them. They work by using a process called template assisted crystallization (TAC), which changes calcium and magnesium from their ionic form to a more stable crystalline form. In a crystalline form, calcium and magnesium cannot attach to pipes, appliances, and fixtures. The crystals are tiny and easily rinsed away. This system is more environmentally friendly. It uses a lot less water than conventional softeners, does not use extra electricity, produces no waste water, and does not add salt to the water.
Ultraviolet (UV) disinfection systems use ultraviolet light to kill microorganisms such as bacteria and parasites. UV disinfection removes harmful microorganisms, but it cannot remove chemical contaminants or dangerous minerals. It does not use chemicals such as chlorine. It is also more effective than chlorine against Giardia and Cryptosporidium, which can cause severe illness especially in young children and the elderly. Many private well systems and some municipalities use UV technology to treat their water.
Distillation purifies water by removing minerals, microorganisms, and chemicals. To distill water, it is heated until it turns into vapor then the vapor is cooled through a condensing coil until it becomes liquid again. Distillation works because when water becomes vapor it separates from the microscopic organisms, salts, and minerals. Many distillation systems treat the water many times to ensure most contaminates are removed. It is a relatively simple process, but it requires a significant amount of energy to heat the water.
Treatment Systems for Emerging Contaminants
Traditionally, water contaminants are placed into two categories: those with health effects, or those with aesthetic effects. In recent years, a third category of water contaminates was created for compounds whose impacts aren’t well understood. These include remnants of medications and toiletries which pass into the water. Some conventional water treatment methods are effective for removing emerging contaminants. There are also many other new technologies currently under investigation.
Whether you rely on a private well or on municipal water, ensuring your water supply is safe and tastes good is no simple task. Water contaminants can vary between communities and homes and there are more treatment options than ever to choose from. The truth is, there are a lot of different water contaminants and no single method removes them all. But by understanding your local water supply and choosing the appropriate system, you can do a lot to protect yourself and your family.