By Rehan Iqbal
Blog articles suggesting that Reverse Osmosis (RO) water is dangerous has caused some people to wonder if it’s safe to drink reverse osmosis water. How many of these claims are based in actual science? With so much fake new doing the rounds, it’s hard to separate myth from reality. We’ve searched for the facts in order to debunk the myths about RO water.
The Hard Facts about RO Water
Reverse osmosis (RO) has been used to desalinate and purify water for over 60-years. It has generally been accepted as the best way to provide pure drinking water in arid areas. It has also become one of the favored methods to filter the water supplied to our homes.
Naturally, I was surprised to see a blog article suggesting that drinking RO water is dangerous. Claims were made, quoting a World Health Organization (WHO) Study that demineralization (a stage of RO water filtration) causes serious health risks. After searching the WHO website, I found that no such document exists.
Concerned that the claims about RO water being unsafe to drink may be fake news, I did my own research to find the facts about reverse osmosis. The Water Conditioning and Purification Magazine is one of the leading authorities on all matters relating to water purification. In an article entitled “Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water: The Myths and the Facts” I was able to find a lot of useful scientific information about RO water.
In the interest of providing credible information about the safety of drinking RO water, I’ll be sharing what I discovered from my research.
What is Reverse Osmosis Water?
Reverse osmosis sounds like a very fancy term, but in reality is a very simple concept. At its base, it is simply a filtration system that removes unsafe impurities (we cover the impurities in tap water down below) from water, leaving behind only pure, fresh, potable drinking water.
The process involves running water through a semipermeable (meaning it only allows certain things to pass through) membrane and carbon filters so that chemicals, viruses, and other impurities are taken out. The membrane is only wide enough for water to pass through, meaning that when water is squeezed through it, all of the impurities are caught. What’s left over is water in its purest form. It’s the same concept as any filtration system you’ve ever encountered.
Does RO Work?
These are some of the claims made about drinking RO water:
Are these statements genuine or are they myth? In finding answers to these important questions, it’s best to rely on certified scientific research, rather than popular blogsites that could be responsible for propagating fake news. To this end, I’ve used the following research papers as resources:
Is Reverse Osmosis Safe to Drink? | Debunking Common Myths
For all of its great benefits, reverse osmosis water is not perfect. There is a major drawback that is a source of negativity: it is totally purified. While that might sound great at first, it’s not actually as good as it sounds. Since water contains hundreds of nutrients, some of them are bound to be good for you. In fact, water contains healthy amounts of many essential nutrients. This leads many to believe that reverse osmosis water is not safe to drink or at the very least inadequate.
RO Water and Demineralization
Removing hard minerals is an essential part of the RO water filtration process. However, the demineralization stage of RO filtration also removes healthy minerals that are important for our good health. This has led critics to claim that RO water can be hazardous as a result.
It is suggested that adults should drink 9 – 13 cups of water per day (depending on body mass). This ensures good hydration, allowing the kidneys to function properly and remove toxins from the body. However, many scientific research papers have indicated that drinking contaminated water is unhealthy and can lead to serious health conditions, even death.
Up to 90% of diseases can be attributed to water and contaminated water is responsible for about 80% of deaths in developing countries. According to WHO, water filtration is necessary to promote good health and save lives.
Among the most dangerous chemical, mineral, and organic contaminants in water the following are relatively common in many areas:
These are but a few of the numerous harmful contaminants that are removed using a RO water filter. It is true that healthy minerals are also removed during the purification process. This is inevitable as the RO membrane cannot distinguish between health or unhealthy dissolved solids. Essentially, all particles less than a certain size (usually around 0.5 micron) are removed.
It is therefore an accepted fact that RO filtration removes both healthy minerals. However, we only absorb small amounts of these minerals from drinking water. Most of our minerals are found in the food that we eat.
In the end, a balanced diet requires that we eat food products that contain sufficient essential minerals. Many people also consume minerals supplements to ensure that they are receive a sufficient supply.
Removing healthy minerals, like calcium, magnesium, and potassium from our drinking water should have no effect on our good health as these minerals are abundant in many food products. The health benefits of removing dangerous minerals, like lead, are more important to our good health than the small amounts of healthy minerals that are found naturally in water.
Not all areas have the same concentrations of healthy minerals present in the water. This means that many water sources may not contain these minerals and is some areas the minerals are found in high concentrations, causing discoloration of the water, and affecting the taste. Basically, we don’t really need minerals in our water, and they often makes the water unpleasant to drink.
In conclusion, there is no scientific basis to any claims that demineralization, resulting from RO water treatment, is unhealthy. In contrast to this, removing dangerous minerals prevents many potentially dangerous medical conditions. Removing minerals like calcium can improve the taste and appearance of our water. Demineralization has additional benefits, like preventing blockages in water-pipes and staining of plumbing fixtures.
Does RO Water Attack the Body?
It has been suggested that RO water is too pure. As a result, the water will attack sensitive mucous membranes in the body.
For some time there was concerns that water with low total dissolved solids (TDS) could be responsible for health problems. Since RO membranes remove TDS, this lead to the belief that it could actually attack the body and cause unwanted harm.
Subsequent research, included in WHO reports, refute these initial suspicions. The scientific view is that low TDS water has no harmful effect on the body. By removing these solids, the risk of illness through contamination is also negated, making the water safe to drink. Even distilled water, which has virtually no TDS, is considered safe for drinking.
Tap Water: Too Much Contamination, Not Enough Regulation
The majority of us don’t think twice about the water we drink from the tap. We turn it on, drink the water, and get on with our day. But the truth is that the water coming from the tap is not nearly as safe most of us think it is. In the wake of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, public water has come under scrutiny, and the findings have made many uneasy.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, nearly 77 million people were served by community water systems that were in violation of the Safe Water Drinking Act in 2015 (source). This is nothing new, though. The New York Times reports that companies including chemical factories and manufacturing plants have violated regulations and pumped the environment full of harmful chemicals over half a million times (source) in a recent study.
Even well-regulated tap water can contain harmful toxins, chemicals, and other contaminants that can put children and adults at serious risk.
Filtering your water effectively eliminates the risk of exposure to lead, parasites, viruses, herbicides, and more.
Get Educated: Water can be full of hidden contaminants. Read up on which ones are commonly found in your water on the Water Quality Association’s website.
Does RO Filtration Waste Water?
The RO filtration process involves flushing or backwashing to remove contaminants from the filters. This prolongs filter life, albeit at the cost increased water consumption. Because water is a valuable commodity and is scarce in many areas, concerns about wastewater is an obvious concern.
The question is whether using one commodity (water) to save another (filter media) is worth the payoff. Water filters utilize a wide range of products like resin, activated carbon, and other media. Manufacturing and disposing of these products has an impact on the environment and may affect natural water sources if not managed responsibly.
Since water cannot be destroyed, using it clean away contaminants from an RO filter is not entirely wastage. While the water used to backwash an RO filter should not be consumed by people or animals, it can be used for other purposes like cleaning and watering plants. With responsible water management, RO filters need not waste any water. It can be used for other purposes or recycled through wastewater treatment facilities.
Is Reverse Osmosis the Most Effective Method of Water Filtration?
When all is said done, there are many ways to provide clean safe drinking water. Reverse osmosis is only one of these and is often the most expensive. This begs the question, is RO filtration worth it?
RO water filters are the only viable way to remove salt from seawater. This is what made the technology so popular in the first place. Since the implementation of RO membranes for desalination, it has become the preferred method of filtering and purifying bulk water supplies in many municipalities.
Home RO water filters have also become very popular. The reason why RO water filtration has gained so much recognition is its efficiency. It is the most economical to remove over 99% of contaminants from large volumes of water. RO filters last much longer than any other for every gallon of water that they purify.
For a bulk water supply, or a whole house domestic water filtration system, there really is no solution as practical and economical as reverse osmosis. Using multiple stages, Revers osmosis filtration systems can do much more than remove dissolved solids. It is possible to install RO water filtration systems that kill bacteria and viruses, as well as remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and every type of chemical contaminant.
Reverse osmosis is considered by most in the know to be the best way to filter large amounts water. RO is about the safest method of supplying clean drinking water, regardless of how contaminated the supply may be.
Claims that RO water is unsafe to drink are absolutely fictitious, without any factual basis. After reviewing the scientific evidence, it should be clear that RO filtration is the one of the best ways to manage this valuable resource effectively and efficiently.
Chapter 12 of this report is the W.H.O. report that this article suggests did not exist. It is there. However, I am still finding a great deal of information that suggests the data is old an not particularly reliable.