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Drinking Water Filters - How do you choose?

April 09, 2023 4 min read

A guide for residents of Metro Vancouver

You know bottled water isn’t the answer. So you’re either filtering your tap water, or you’re thinking about it. But how do you choose from the confusing assortment of water filters and treatment methods that flood the market these days?

Learn what is and isn’t in your water

Have you ever wondered what exactly is in your tap water that needs to be filtered out?
Water filters are not like other appliances. A blender is a blender. However,  a water treatment system should to be tailored to the water coming out of your tap. Why? Because every city, every water district has different water conditions.

Chlorine, chloramines, fluoride, arsenic, radon, lead, trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids, herbicides, pesticides, gasoline additives, parasite cysts, pharmaceuticals, nitrates are just a few of the many hundreds of contaminants found in North American water distribution systems.

Which potential health hazards are in your water? And what are the consequences of drinking them day after day and year after year?

Consider yourself fortunate if you live in Metro Vancouver, as your water contains only a few of these noxious contaminants – but which ones?

An accurate answer to this question gives you the key to making a safe and informed choice for a drinking water system that can treat your water effectively.

Where does your water come from?

Drinking water for Metro Vancouver* comes from wilderness watersheds in the North Shore mountains and is captured in the Capilano, Seymour and Coquitlam reservoirs.

Except for wildlife, access to these watersheds is highly restricted to protect our source water from contamination by human activity.

Birds and animals that live in the watershed areas can transfer parasite cysts called Cryptosporidium and Giardia into the source
water. Though not usually fatal, these cysts can cause serious illness. Filtration and/or UV (ultra-violet light) are used to remove or inactivate these micro-organisms at Metro Vancouver's water treatment plants.

Although chlorine is introduced to our tap water as a disinfectant before leaving the water treatment plant, chlorine is not very effective at killing Cryptosporidium cysts.

The consequences of using chlorine

Chlorine (plus ozone at Coquitlam) is the disinfectant used in our water. It ensures that drinking water is microbiologically ‘safe’. That means no harmful bacteria and no viruses.

However, the use of chlorine (itself a poison), especially with surface water rich in organic matter like ours, results in the formation of toxic chlorine by-products that are linked to various cancers, miscarriage and negative effects for pregnancy. Studies indicate that damage occurs at lower levels of exposure than considered ‘safe’ by current drinking water standards. Learn more.

Health hazards in Vancouver’s water

Tap water in the Metro Vancouver area may contain the following potential health hazards:

  • Chlorine
    a biological poison
  • Trihalomethanes (THMs) and Haloacetic Acids(HAAs)
    chlorination by-products known to cause cancer and birth defects.
  • Cryptosporidium and Giardia
    parasite cysts cause intestinal and immune system disorders.
    Although unlike to be present in drinking water after treatment by filtration at the Seymour-Capilano Treatment Plant, these organisms may occasionally occur in drinking water from the Coquitlam Treatment Plant.
  • Lead
    (especially in homes built prior to 2013)
    not found in the water supply itself but introduced into water from pipe fittings and plumbing fixtures containing lead.

Bottled water isn’t the answer

The surge in bottled water use in recent years has proven disastrous for our environment. Under regulated and over priced, it is often simply packaged municipal tap water. 'Spring water' brands may promote the fact that they draw from a pristine, natural source yet they may fail to point out that their treatment processes applied before bottling that water can nullify its 'spring'-like qualities.  Learn more.

Choosing your water filter

If you live in Metro Vancouver, select a water filter that is capable of protecting you from chlorine, THMs, and lead. If your water is supplied from the Coquitlam reservoir (eastern areas of Metro Vancouver) it is also a good idea to include cryptosporidiumand giardiain this list.

Your water filter should have the capacity to protect you from these health hazards for a reasonable length of time, calculated by the number of gallons of water that can pass through the device before loosing effectiveness for filtering each particular contaminant.

These points are obvious once recognized, but rarely addressed in the world of buying and selling water filters.

Most water treatment systems don’t match local conditions

There is a confusing array of water filters and water treatment systems competing for your attention. These products are made and shipped here from all over the world.

Do the manufacturers and vendors of those systems know about the unique characteristics of your local water supply? Unlikely.

Guidelines for choosing your water treatment system

Every type of water filter or purifier has strengths and weaknesses. Here are some important tips on choosing a water treatment
system that will ensure your protection.

Tip #1

Choose a water treatment system capable of reducing hazards specific to Metro Vancouver’s water. Be certain the system can protect you from all know contaminants in your local water.

Tip #2

Find out the capacity of the system for each contaminant. How many gallons/litres can the filter handle before its capacity for that contaminant is exhausted? For example, capacity for Trihalomethanes (THMs) is usually exhausted long before the capacity for chlorine.

Tip #3

A multistage system with several different filters with the right characteristics can cover all the bases. This is because high quality filter cartridges are specialized. Each cartridge will perform a special function.

Tip #4

Avoid systems that are designed for contaminants not found in Vancouver’s water. For example, protection from fluoride is not necessary in Vancouver.

Tip #5

Make sure your water treatment system can filter particles one micron in size or smaller. The system should be able to do much more than just make your water taste better. It should do the filtering, not your kidneys.

Tip #6

Be diligent about maintaining your system and replacing cartridges at recommended intervals. Fouled cartridges can introduce contaminants back into your water.


*The Metro Vancouver Water District services Anmore, Bowen Island, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Delta, Langley (City), Langley (Township), Maple Ridge, New Westminster, North Vancouver (City), North Vancouver (District), Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Richmond, Surrey, Vancouver, West Vancouver.

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