For Jodie Larson, the whole-house water filter she had installed in her Sea Cliff home about a year ago was a long time coming.
She also still uses a reverse-osmosis filter that she installed under the sink several years ago after drinking only bottled water and later, water from large refillable jugs. Before that, she installed a reverse osmosis filter under the sink several years ago after drinking only bottled water and later, water from large refillable jugs.
"I’ve been aware of water since high school," said the schoolteacher. Because bottled water wasn’t available in the 1970s, Larson continued drinking from the tap but was concerned about how many people she heard had developed breast cancer, she said, thinking it might have something to do with the water.
After years of drinking bottled water, it was a "natural progression to move over to a reverse osmosis water filter," she said.
"It’s peace of mind to know that you’re drinking filtered water free of chemicals and PFOAs and you’re helping the environment."
But Long Island’s water authorities insist the water they provide homes is free of contaminants.
While there are more than 10,000 compounds in the environment, state and federal laws have mandated testing for about 200, and more are always being added to the list, said Richard Passariello, chairman of the Long Island Water Conference, which represents the Island's water providers.
All Long Island public water meets or surpasses water quality standards for those 200 or so compounds, Passariello said.
Still, many are concerned about the quality and taste of drinking water and choose to invest in expensive filtration systems.
Here’s what you need to know about your drinking water and what you can do to ensure your filtration system is safe and healthy:
State regulates emerging contaminants
The state Department of Health’s Public Health and Health Planning Council last year adopted drinking water standards for 1,4-dioxane, a likely carcinogen found in more than two-thirds of Long Island’s public wells. The new standards impose a maximum of 1 part per billion of the industrial solvent that's also present in some household products.
The state also imposed a maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per trillion each for perfluorooctane sulfonate, or PFOS, found in firefighting foams, and perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, used in nonstick and stain-resistant products.
Local water districts have begun construction of complex new treatment systems to remove 1,4-dioxane, while PFOS and PFOA are easily removed using carbon filters, according to Passariello.
Several water suppliers have advanced treatment systems up and running, while many others are working on new ones. So far, Long Island water suppliers have spent hundreds of millions to design and construct the treatment systems, with many more hundreds of millions expected to be spent over six years, Passariello said.
Water providers can apply to defer complying with the new maximum contaminant levels for up to 36 months, while monitoring wells and working on installing the needed treatments, according to the new state standards.
Water suppliers say they will continue to remove contaminants
Water providers, such as the Suffolk County Water Authority, already have some PFOS and PFOA carbon filters in place removing the contaminants "very effectively," according to Dennis Kelleher, executive vice president of Melville-based H2M Architects and Engineers, who works with water supply clients.
But removing 1,4-dioxane will be a longer haul, Kelleher said. "It’s very expensive to design and build a treatment system" for these chemicals, he said.
Because water providers remove major contaminants, only people with private wells that aren’t tested by a water authority could benefit from water filters, Kelleher said. Those people should test their water annually, either with mail-away tests or by hiring a water testing company, and the results of those tests will determine whether filters are needed.
"If you get your water from a water supplier, you should feel comfortable that you don’t need a water filter," Kelleher said.
Some people dislike the taste and odor of the chlorine that water providers must add to the water supply, and if that’s the case, a filter can help, he added.
On the other hand, not changing filters regularly can be detrimental, Kelleher said, because it would release the chemical at a higher level than when it came in and allow bacteria to grow.
"It’s no different than running water through a sponge," Passariello added. "After a while, that sponge is going to become saturated with whatever it's removing."
When to buy a filter
Whether consumers are concerned about emerging contaminants like PFOS or PFOA or filtering minerals, they should read their provider’s annual water quality report and compare the water standard to what the supplier is finding in their test, says Sarah Meyland, director of the Center for Water Resources Management at New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury.
People can also pay for water testing, but should get it done by a company that is not selling a filtration product, Meyland advises.
The type of filter you need would depend on what contaminant you want to remove, whether it is fertilizer-based chemicals like nitrates and perchlorates or other contaminants, Meyland noted.
No matter what, she advised people not to consider filters that attach to the end of the faucet.
"It might improve the taste but it’s not really going to do much for the quality issues that most people have in mind," she said.
That’s because unlike single-faucet systems that fit under the sink or whole-house systems that treat the water before it flows through the house’s pipes, the small amount of charcoal in the little canisters "doesn’t really allow enough contact time for things to be substantially removed from the stream of water."
Filters cannot solve all water problems, Meyland cautioned.
"When we’re talking about these emerging contaminants, first, there are no home systems for 1,4 dioxane," she said. "If that’s your concern, you can just move on because you can’t buy a system to deal with that pollutant."
While people have concerns about their drinking water, many are just as concerned about what water can do to their pipes, according to Preston Kraus, president of Culligan Water Treatment Systems of New York.
About 60% of their water filter sales are for whole-house systems that treat the water before it touches any pipes in a home, softening hard water and neutralizing pH that can harm a home’s infrastructure, he said.
They also sell whole-house carbon filters that help improve the feel and smell of the water, including removing the chlorine that water providers must add.
"Carbon filters will reduce that and will improve the aesthetic of the water," Kraus said.
Those whole-house filters, depending on the type and size of the house, cost between $2,800 and $4,500, plus maintenance fees between $160 and $289 every one, two or three years, depending on the filter, Kraus said.
Filters for under the kitchen sink, referred to as point-of-use filters, are slightly less popular than whole-house filters because they don’t protect pipes from potentially harmful acidity and minerals, Kraus said.
Most people want the reverse osmosis filter — which costs about $1,500 and includes a storage tank to have a ready supply of filtered water — because it filters out even the smallest particles.
They recommend that filter for people who say, "I want to know that everything’s out of the water," Kraus said. But for those who do want fluoride and other minerals to stay in their water, they recommend the non-reverse osmosis filter, which costs between $600 and $900, and doesn’t filter the finest particles.
"What we recommend is a function of how concerned they are about their drinking water," Kraus said.
As for maintenance, the more water used, the more often it needs to be checked and maintained, he said.
He recommends changing point-of-use filters every year-and-a-half, costing between $250 and $400, with the need to replace parts every several years, he said.
Filter units can last a decade or longer, depending on how vigorously they are used, Kraus said.
'Well worth it'
When he lived with his family in Valley Stream, Karim Mozawalla didn’t like the taste of the water, so he spent several thousand dollars on a whole-house water filtration system.
"It was well worth it," he said. "I felt a big difference, water is essential; it’s critical for all of us."
An unexpected result of the change was a decline in skin problems like eczema most of his six children were experiencing, he said. "I noticed the eczema was a lot less; for my kids it almost disappeared," he said.
The Mozawallas moved to Woodbury at the end of last year and plan to get the system added to their new home.