Arsenic is a naturally occurring semi-metal that exists in rocks and soil. When it gets into the water source, it is hazardous to your health. The EPA sets the maximum contaminant level (MCL) at ten parts per billion (PPB).
It most commonly enters the water supply through mining and farming. It is a common by-product of industrial processing and is heavily used in pesticides.
Once dissolved into the water, there is no taste or odor. Unless you are living in an area of known contamination, the symptoms of low-level, chronic arsenic toxicity can baffle the most astute doctors.
Over time, Arsenic exposure can lead to adverse health effects like cancer and liver disease. Arsenic deactivates over 200 enzymes, interrupting the cellular ability to use energy and communicate with other cells. According to Medical News Today, [What is Arsenic Poisoning?] the leading cause of arsenic poisoning is through contaminated water supplies.
How can you remove arsenic from your water? We discuss suitable and cheap water filtration options.
Arsenic Removal From Water With Filters
The first thing to realize is that no water filter will remove 100% of a contaminate. They can help reduce your toxin load by 98% or more. Additionally, if you use a multi-stage filter, you can remove more specific toxins and a higher percentage of total dissolved solids from your water.
With arsenic, you want to remove as much of this material as possible, especially if you have small children in the house.
Even a Brita filter pitcher is going to help reduce contaminants like arsenic. However, these cheaper filter options are going to do a minimal amount compared to some of the more robust options. You want something that is going to keep your contaminant exposure below the USEPA’s recommendations consistently.
Here are the most accessible arsenic water filters that you can buy online
Reverse Osmosis (RO) [oxidization required]
Filtered Media (Non-RO) [oxidization not required]
Water Distillation [oxidization not required]
The Importance of Oxidization
Arsenic is found in two types: Arsenic V and Arsenic III. The Arsenic III is the more challenging type to remove. It needs first to be oxidized, and then it can be filtered using one of these other methods. Arsenic V – the pentavalent form — can be easily removed by most filters.
A common oxidizer of Arsenic III is chlorine. The challenge is that it is dangerous to try to oxidize your water at home with harmful chemicals if you lack the training and testing tools required. Ozone is another one that is commonly used by water treatment facilities.
To get around this limitation, you’ll want a filter with oxidizing media.
However, arsenic is typically found, bound to other materials such as lead or iron. The bonding helps make it easier to remove from the water and means that you can get the bulk of it out of your water supply if you have the correct filter.
A new alternative to oxidization is the KDF 55 filter, which uses the galvanic action between copper and zinc to attract the heavy metals out of the water.
For my house, I want the KDF 55 whole house filter as an oxidizing pre-treatment, and then we have the reverse osmosis at the sink for the water that we drink.
Point of Use (POU) versus Point Of Entry (POE) Treatment
The best option is to remove as much contaminated water from your house as is possible. To do this, you will need a point of entry water filtration unit. These whole house water filters are typically installed in the garage or under the house where the main water line can be accessed. The positioning enables you to filter all of the water coming into the house.
The other, more affordable option, is just to filter the water right before you drink it. This might mean installing a filter only on your drinking water supply. This particular device might look like a reverse osmosis unit that is mounted under your sink cabinet.
Many homeowners use both. A whole house water filtration system will decrease the overall toxin load that their family experiences through showering and the laundry, while a point of use system will provide that added step, which reduces their internal toxin intake.
Unless your Arsenic levels are over 500 parts per billion (PPB), your water should be safe for bathing as it does not readily absorb through your skin. However, where one contaminate is present in a high concentration, it’s likely others are as well.
Well, water requires a sedimentation pre-filter and may also need a bacteria filter. If you are on a private well, you may be even more interested in getting an independent water test to make sure your arsenic concentration isn’t too high.
Does Reverse Osmosis Remove Arsenic?
Reverse osmosis is the gold standard when it comes to water filtration. It is the only system that is capable of removing fluoride from water and is the ideal system for removing the maximum number of impurities.
It should be able to remove up to 95% of Arsenic complexes from your water.
Once set up, RO is one of the easiest systems to maintain. Change the filters annually, and you are good to go!
The downside is that it can only process the amount of water that a family drinks, and aren’t suited for high volume scenarios.
Our favorite Reverse Osmosis systems:
Home Master TMAFC-ERP
The Home Master brand doesn’t have the same grasp on marketing as some of the other players. But what they lack in blond models and pictures of happy families, they make up for in quality.
We recently installed one of these under the sink in my grandparents’ house. At first glance, all of the hoses look a little dodgy, but if you have basic plumbing experience, it is a cinch. We also priced having a local plumber do it, and he offered to get it in for under $200.
This one is unique in that the replacement filters come in a modular design. That means that instead of keeping the dirty, contaminated filter housing from year to year, you get a whole new unit. Additionally, as anyone who has changed a conventional under cabinet water filter will tell you, these filter housings are full of water and quite sloppy. This new modular design works well to reduce leakage and makes for a much easier yearly filter change.
As with most RO units, this one offers a 98% reduction in all contaminants. What sets it apart is the new pump system that offers a higher GPM flow rate, which means you can fill up more sippy cups in less time.
Overall, as a household filter, this is one that I would recommend time and time again for use under the kitchen sink.
Water Filter Systems
Weco Anion Exchange
The commercial way to remove arsenic involves anion exchange.
With this methodology, a polymer resin is embedded with a large number of ionizable groups. These groups have a strong affinity for arsenic. When water is introduced, the arsenic and other hard metals are bound to the resin. This results in water softening and nitrate removal.
Following the exposure to arsenic, the resin loses its ability to remove any more arsenic. At this point, the system back flushes itself and refreshes the resin so that it can go back to work.
Weco makes a filter that uses an iron-embedded resin. However, that filtration requires you to add salt to the backflushing system.
With this nano titanium resin, you get the same benefit of the commercial anion-removal process without the added hassle of having to monitor the salt levels.
The end result is a highly effective water filter with a long lifespan, thanks to the continual back-flushing process.
This nano titanium model is a cost-effective way to get the point of entry whole house water filtration while removing arsenic, lead, cadmium, and hundreds of other dangerous chemicals.
This clever filter cartridge is sought after for it’s superb iron removal. However, the same Bayoxide E33 oxidization material that removes the iron from the water, works well for binding to and removing arsenic.
In fact, many users who test their water before and after are reporting 0 ppb following filtration with this system. The company itself states their filter can remove up to 99% of total arsenic from the water.
Since this filter has an extremely slow flow rate of .5 gallons per minute (GPM), it’s going to be another point of use filter. It is also only good for 1,000-3,000 gallons of water treatment.
This filter is designed to fit inside any of the industry-standard 10-inch filter housing (often called “big blue”). This filter is one of the more affordable and easy to install designs since you just need one hose to bring water in and one hose to flow water out).
Putting this one to the top of the pack is its NSF 61 standardization. AdEdge is a massive, commercial water system company.
Crystal Quest Filter
The Crystal Quest is another strong filtration system. It has an “arsenic-selective resin” that contains the KDF-55 and KDF-85. While they don’t go into more detail on how this works, we’re assuming that it functions similarly to the other oxidizing filters.
The manufacturer states that it was designed for both arsenic V and arsenic III. The few customers who have measured the flow of water from the filter states that it lowers the arsenic levels to below the EPA’s standard.
Abundant Flow Water
These guys offer an affordable 3-stage filter system. It uses activated alumina to help reduce the arsenic and capture it.
This three-stage filter is handy for city water, where you also want to improve the taste. The first stage is to remove sedimentation from the water. The 1-micron filter is highly effective at removing particulate matter.
Then there is the activated carbon filter that removes chlorine and chloramines (chlorine by-products) from the water, creating tastier drinking water.
Finally, the activated alumina reduces the amount of arsenic and even fluoride in the drinking water, making this one of the only filters on the market (outside of an RO system) that can truly remove fluoride from the water supply.
Out of all of these systems, distillation is going to provide the best water quality. The distillation process involves heating the water to a boiling point. The pure steam is then condensed onto coils and collected as drinking water, while all of the impurities that are heavier than steam (including heavy metals such as arsenic and lead) are trapped behind in the wastewater.
Here are some of the best Distillers.
Keep in mind that Distiller water tastes quite bland. All of the minerals have been left behind in the distillation process, so your water is rather tasteless. Some people add mineral drops to restore some of the more natural water taste.
The Durastill doesn’t get much love online, but it is one of the oldest and most reliable manufacturers of distillers. I’ve owned three of there distillers over the past 20 years.
The first advantage of this model is how fast it works. When you have a house full of kids, you need about a gallon of water per person for drinking and cooking. Even a small family is going to need 4 to 5 gallons a day.
This one produces an amazing amount of water. Start it in the morning and then top it off at night when you get home from work.
It has a float sensor so that when it has a full tank of water, it turns off the distiller automatically. As you use that water, the distiller turns back on to continue making more.
This is also one of the most durable distillers on the market. Backed by a company that has been in business for decades, replacement parts are always easy to find. The most vulnerable part of these is the heating element. In my experience, these heating elements are extremely cheap and can be replaced in about a half-hour of work.
We had one distiller that we purchased used and then ran daily for three years, and it needed one new element at that time.
Durability, speed, reliability, taste… this unit wins on all counts.
This is another distiller type that I have owned. The drawbacks to this filter — especially compared to the Durastill — are the massive amount of counter space it requires and the slow supply of water.
However, that is comparing apples to oranges.
For family use, the Megahome is an aggressive distiller that can process 1 gallon every 5-6 hours. If you start it in the morning and at night, you’ll have 2 gallons of pristine drinking water every day.
It even comes with a 1-gallon glass jug for collecting your water. Glass is better than plastic, as there are no toxic chemicals that will leech out of the glass into the water.
This distiller is a perfect first step. It provides the best quality of water in a manner that is accessible to nearly every family.
You can get a good idea of your risk of arsenic in the water by looking at the USGS geological map. If your area has a high concentration of arsenic, then it warrants a closer look.
The EWG maintains a massive database of drinking water reports and offers a search by zip code function. If a local municipality processes your water, this is the fastest way to find out what water problems are in your area.
However, these reports just give you a high-level view. More contaminants can infiltrate your water between the water treatment plant and your house. For example, lead often leaches into water from old pipes.
A test strip kit is an easy, cheap method of checking your water. Ideally, you will want to get strips that not only show if the arsenic is present but also displays the concentration of contaminants.
- Collect your sample during a time of day when water is in peak use. This is typically in the morning when the family is getting ready for the day. It can also be in the evening when the family is getting ready to sleep.
- Unscrew the sediment filter on the end of the faucet and let cold water run for about two minutes.
- Only collect the water in the provided container that comes with your strips. If your kit doesn’t have a water collection container, then dip the strip directly into the water supply.
Arsenic In The Water Supply
You might be surprised how many of these contaminants are in your water supply. In the USA, we tend to have an implicit trust in your municipal water district. However, as we have seen in the Flint, Michigan crisis, it is difficult to find funding to fix water quality issues.
Most of us don’t live in a geographic region where our water contaminants are all over nationwide headlines.
According to the EWG, 107 million Americans are drinking water with an unsafe level of arsenic contamination. [Arsenic Water Standards] Their current count — based on publicly reported water quality testing — implicates over 12,000 utilities.
As we mentioned at the start, the Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) guidelines for water quality is ten parts per billion (PPB) or ten µg/L (micrograms per liter).
Now, we have to keep in mind that we are discussing a known carcinogen. Federal standards acknowledge this and state that levels should be 0 ppb. However, this code is non-enforceable. California does its best with a stricter guideline of .004 ppb. However, in spite of these stricter codes, California is the most affected states, with 26 million residents being served dangerous water.
Furthermore, as you can see from the attached map, there are large swaths of the countryside where we simply have not yet collected enough data. So the problem may be more widespread than we initially thought.
Now, keep in mind that until 2001, the standard for safety was at 50 PPB. So, if you are looking at older maps, the problem won’t appear to be nearly as dire. A concerning thought is that many people used to drink higher levels of arsenic and only recently have tighter guidelines been implemented. It makes you wonder what other dangerous chemicals we are currently drinking, doesn’t it?
Arsenic in Food
Food is the largest cause of arsenic exposure. As mentioned before, old pesticides are a massive source of arsenic. These early pesticides can stay in the ground for 45 years or more. Furthermore, newer pesticides still use arsenic to a lower extent.
Rice and rice-based foods contain large amounts of arsenic due to rice’s tendency to absorb arsenic. We’re seeing more rice-based foods being used as more people shift away from gluten and seek alternative sources of carbohydrates.
This problem affects both organic and “regular” food supplies. The FDA recommends that food only has 100 ppb levels of arsenic. As you can see, this is a massive concern for food, and there is no central measuring or reporting system to highlight these concerns.
So, unlike our previous section, where we can pinpoint which drinking water systems have the worst arsenic ratings, eating rice requires blind faith. Not only is Chinese rice a major concern, but also rice that is grown in Missouri, Lousiana, and Texas. Sadly, these three states account for 76% of the rice on the shelves. [Arsenic In Your Food] According to the CDC report, people who frequently eat rice have arsenic levels that are 44% higher than people who do not.
This just underscores the importance of diet in reducing your family’s arsenic levels.