Understanding Reverse Osmosis Water Purification: Pros and Cons
Clean, safe drinking water is a precious resource, often difficult to obtain in certain regions. In countries like South Korea, particularly in areas with poor infrastructure and limited resources, accessing potable water can be a challenge. Even in our own homes, concerns about tap water toxicity are a reality. Tap water can contain harmful substances such as arsenic, mercury, lead, copper, microorganisms, bacteria, fertilizers, and medications. Over time, these contaminants can pose health risks because our liver and kidneys struggle to eliminate them. While techniques like reverse osmosis and ultrafiltration are commonly used to purify water, the question remains: Are these techniques truly beneficial for us? Let’s delve into the process of reverse osmosis and weigh its pros and cons.
Understanding the Reverse Osmosis (RO) Process:
Reverse osmosis (RO) systems have gained popularity as home water purification solutions since their introduction in the 1970s. These systems utilize pressure to force water through tiny pores in a semi-permeable membrane, creating pure water. During this process, chemicals and minerals are filtered through various membranes and carbon filters, with the filtration level dependent on the size of the contaminants. Typically, contaminants larger than water molecules are filtered out, while smaller ones remain in the drinking water.
Is RO Water Safe to Drink?:
The safety of consuming reverse osmosis (RO) water is a topic of debate in the water purification world. While RO systems effectively remove impurities, they also eliminate essential minerals. In fact, the RO process can remove 92-99% of beneficial minerals like calcium and magnesium.
Some scientists and researchers argue that RO water may not be ideal for health due to several reasons:
Mineral Removal: RO removes essential minerals from water, leaving it devoid of the minerals vital for our cellular metabolism, growth, and vitality.
Acidity: RO water can be acidic, which some consider a potential health concern.
Purity: The extreme purity of RO water, akin to distilled water, raises concerns about its impact on health.
On the other side of the debate, some experts suggest that RO water is safe for consumption by healthy individuals. According to wqa.org, low-TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) water resulting from RO treatment does not pose health concerns for healthy populations. In normal, healthy individuals, the body can regulate the release and absorption of minerals, irrespective of TDS levels in the ingested fluids.
Reverse Osmosis Water vs. Distilled Water:
Both RO and distilled water are demineralized, typically containing a similar amount of impurities on a TDS scale (ranging from 5 to 40 ppm).
Potential Health Risks of Reverse Osmosis Water:
One of the primary concerns surrounding RO water consumption stems from a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), which suggested that drinking demineralized water could lead to electrolyte imbalances in the body. Magnesium, an essential mineral, plays a critical role in various bodily functions. Long-term consumption of water low in magnesium can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, pregnancy disorders, and motor neuron diseases.
Which Filtration System is Suitable for Normal Water?:
If your tap water has a TDS level below 500, installing an RO system could reduce the TDS level to 5-40 ppm, potentially detrimental to health. In areas with good water quality (TDS less than 500), alternative technologies like ultrafiltration (UF) or gravity-based purifiers with carbon activated filters may suffice.
Is Installing a Reverse Osmosis System Beneficial?:
Before installing an RO system, assess your tap water quality in terms of TDS levels. If your home’s water TDS level is less than 500, installing an RO system could excessively reduce TDS levels to 5-40 ppm, which may not be suitable for health. According to research, the permissible TDS level for drinking water ranges from 50 to 150, with less than 50 being potentially harmful. Consider these key points regarding RO water:
- Mineral Removal: RO eliminates not only harmful particles but also essential minerals, crucial for cellular metabolism and vitality.
- pH Levels: RO may slightly reduce pH levels, as it removes both healthy and unhealthy inorganic minerals from tap water.
- Mineral Selection: RO cannot filter out harmful elements while retaining beneficial ones.
- Wastage: The RO process can result in water and electricity wastage.
- Mineral Deficiency: Removing all minerals, vitamins, and other essential components from your water supply can impact your health by causing mineral deficiencies.
- Suitability: RO may be suitable for areas with highly contaminated water (TDS level over 500 ppm) or as a short-term solution, such as for camping.
- Quality Matters: Be cautious of low-quality RO filtration systems that claim to combine UF, UV, and RO filtration. These systems may use inferior components that could compromise your health and that of your family.
Key Points Before Purchasing a Reverse Osmosis System:
- Assess your tap water quality in terms of TDS levels.
- Ensure the quality of the purifier components, avoiding aluminum UV filters in favor of stainless steel ultraviolet filters.
- Understand the function of a TDS controller in RO systems, which helps regulate the TDS level in water.
TDS Levels in Drinking Water:
The acceptability of TDS levels in drinking water varies according to different standards. WHO suggests:
- Less than 50 ppm: Unacceptable due to a lack of essential minerals.
- 50–150 ppm: Acceptable for drinking.
- 150–350 ppm: Good and acceptable for drinking (considered the healthiest for cardiovascular health).
- 350–500 ppm: Fair.
- Greater than 500 ppm: Unacceptable for drinking.
It’s important to note that TDS levels can vary based on different government recommendations and water sources.
How to Measure TDS Levels:
You can measure the TDS level in your tap and filtered water using two methods:
Digital TDS Meter: Purchase a digital TDS meter for accurate measurements.
Filter Paper and Scale: An economical method for home use.
The debate over the safety and benefits of reverse osmosis (RO) water continues. The right choice depends on your location and water quality. Before installing an RO system, determine your water’s TDS level and assess the quality of the purification components. Your decision should prioritize both water purity and health.
In closing, here’s a famous quote to ponder: “Early Death Comes From Drinking Distilled Water, Disease and early death is more likely to be seen with the long-term drinking of distilled water, reverse osmosis water.” – Zoltan P. Roma MD MSc.