Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shower Filters: Eco-Option or Eco-Much?

After another stab at "hot yoga" (update soon!), I was reminded (while in the shower) of a comment left by Julie regarding using a shower filter. I had never heard of using a filter for your shower and my first reaction was: do we really need it? I'm a firm believer that our society is much much too afraid of "germs", resulting in overuse of antibacterial soaps and cleaners which can be damaging to our health instead of "protective". That being said, I also recognize that exposure to increasing amounts of pollutants has been corrolated with increased instances of respiratory and other illnesses. So, I had to look at the why before considering whether it makes sense.

Shower filtering companies will inform you that installing their product will filter out a whole slew of nasty chemicals, the big one being chlorine, that cascade onto your skin while you enjoy your shower. By reading their websites you could quickly become fearful of all the horrible pollutants you are exposing your skin while you bathe. Take a step back, and we remember that North American public water systems are tested and monitored much
more stringently than say; bottled water. According to the David Suzuki Foundation (along with many other non-biased organizations) tap water in North America has been shown to be safer and healthier than bottled water.

Upon further inspection however, we discover that public water systems are disinfected with chlorine, which according to the Canadian Health Authorities is at a minimal and safe level with virtually no affects to our health. It is known to be extremely effective at eliminating the E.Coli virus in our water supply. The David Suzuki Foundation, on the other hand, has a different perspective. Although tap water is more stringently regulated than bottled water, research is still divided on whether long term exposure to chlorine is "safe". In the past several decades, respiratory illness have increased dramatically. Health Canada estimates that 5,700 people in eight of the largest cities per year die prematurely as a result of air pollution. Canadians are also likely to spend 90% of their days indoors, with indoor air pollution being higher than outside levels. We as a society, are becoming increasingly sensitive to environmental (read VOC's) irritants and longterm studies on daily, synergistic chemical exposure has not been appropriately investigated (A Prescription for a Healthy Canada: Towards a National Environmental Health Strategy; 2007).

Considered in isolation, chlorine is a toxic gas that is a skin and respiratory irritant (brittle hair and dry skin sounding familiar?). It's uses have ranged from disinfectant to weapon of war (think the Nazi gas chambers...). Chlorine may also react with other chemicals or bacteria that may be present in the water supply and has not been found to be effective at eliminating protozoans (unicellular organism, like an amoeba) that can cause inflammation of the intestines. According to David Suzuki, between 1978 and 2001 there were 288 outbreaks of Giardia, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Norwalk-like viruses, Salmonella and hepatitus A (all results of protozoan infection). Also, the federal Canadian government estimates that contaminated drinking water results in 90 deaths 90,000 cases of gastrointestinal infections annually. Finally, chlorine can form with naturally occuring organic compounds in the water; creating trihalomethanes (three of four hydrogen atoms of methane are replaced by halogen atoms). They have been found to be environmental pollutants and many are considered carcinogenic. (Protozoa, isn't it cute?)

We filter the water we drink, but most of us spend on average of 15 minutes a day inhaling and absorbing chlorine through our shower. There are more effective ways to disinfect our public water supplies such as ultraviolet disinfection. For a multitude of reasons (I'm sure political and economical play a part), this process, although relatively simple has not taken off here in Canada. 

Ok, wow that was a lot of information. Ultimately, I think this one depends on your situation specifically and although information is key (and important to know during times of voting and water regulation processes), stepping back is essential. Knowing your water chemical levels will help you make informed, non-hysterical choices. What are the chlorine levels like in your water? Do you live in an area that has frequent water boil advisories? In Vernon we had water boil advisories twice sometimes three times a year due to water run off from the mountains. Do you have environmental sensitivities, respiratory illnesses or sensitive skin? (me and "flat stanley" on our dock in Vernon- check out the beautiful, freezing, glacier Kal Lake! It was turquoise and clear all the time).

If you have high levels of chlorine (check with your municipal water system to see what levels are considered "safe" or maximum for your area), suffer from respiratory illnesses/sensitives than perhaps a shower filter may benefit your health and could lessen the amount of chemicals you are exposed to each day. If I had to choose, a VOC-free shower curtain would be my first step in the "eco" shower journey. Shower filters are expensive, ranging anywhere from 50$ to 200$. Filter replacements typically cost 50-100$ every 6 months. Also, most shower filtration devices use carbon and as a result should not be considered disinfectants. Finally, recycling the filters would be tricky as I'm pretty sure Preserve wouldn't accept them as part of their Take Back the Filter program.

This was a fantastic journey and I've learned so much about chlorine and our public water supply! I know that currently I can't justify a shower filter (we don't have high levels of chlorine or any environmental sensitivities) but it does solidify my resolve to either have a well-system in my "big girl" house (someday) or install a shower-filter. :)



  1. Great post...thank you. I agree, it's all down to personal need/necessity.

    There's also the school of thought that tells us that we bathe too much and in a way, I can agree. That's not to say we should return to Medieval bathing a year whether you need it or not!...but..there's something to be said for the possible negative effects of daily blasts with the hot water (and chlorine etc.) and soap/shampoo.

    Sebastian is currently on a bath boycott and refuses to have one - thusly we "spot-clean" (hands, feet, bottom) which he is quite agreeable to. Savannah does the same, then takes a tub and we wash her hair once a week. I admit to not having gone whole hog with the reduced bathing thing but I don't bathe everyday anymore either. This approach has greatly reduced all of our eczema outbreaks (I'm also only using Castile soap and soap nuts for laundry) -- perhaps because we're not stripping our skin of its natural protectants?

    Worth a thought.

  2. Hi Mel,
    I completely agree! I admit that I shower every day, mostly cuz change has been a hard time coming. I'm moving to figuring out how to decrease this... Plus every single hair stylist recommends avoiding daily hair washing. I do believe you are right about stripping our skin of natural protection and oils.
    ouuu- soap nuts?? I need to investigate this! :)

  3. Thanks for all this valuable info. I must inform my adult son about reducing the daily showers, he has enormous eczema outbreaks and now I'm wondering if he's "too clean".

  4. What a fabulous post! 15 minutes of inhaling clorine? Ew...but it makes sense.

    I have always used just a simple brita filter. I'd love to go with RO when I can afford it, but for now, I've always agreed that at least tap water in my area is regulated.....who knows where bottled water comes from, really? And how long it's been leeching plastic sitting in those bottles?

    *Thanks so much for your supportive comment on my blog. It really means a lot to me.

  5. Eco Yogini,
    You rock! You can't beat investigative reporting on demand. :) Thanks for the awesome information.

    I have extremely sensitive skin. Everything I use is hypoallergenic (including makeup, shampoo, all soaps, all detergents, excluding toothpaste only b/c I haven't figured it out yet). Since using the shower filter, my incidences of killer itches has decreased dramatically.

    Regarding cost, I paid $25 (US) for my shower filter from Lowes when it was on sale (do you have Lowes in Canada?). Replacement filters cost only $10 every 6 months. More expensive ones may be better, but what I have works, so I'm happy :)

    Thanks again for the info. I'll have to do some research on the recycling front. My filters are about the size of a hockey puck, and I use only two a year, but... yeah. That's no excuse.

  6. Hi Julie,
    haha, no problem- it was an excellent question! :) Thank you, I learned so much! I was wondering how much you paid, maybe the prices I was seeing are inflated or for the fancy schmancy kind. We do have Lowes, and Rona... maybe we'll go check it out- 25$ (even under 50$) with a 10$ refill is TOTALLY within our budget :) Great to hear that your skin and hair is feeling better- it makes comeplete sense now!

    Boho Mom: So true! Woot for Tap water!! You are very welcome, I loved your mother-daughter post, that person was being ridiculous. :)

  7. Oops- Vicki: haha, I would laugh if my mom told me I was 'too clean'= you should so do that! From Julie's comment, and what I've been reading as well, perhaps a filter might help alleviate some of his symptoms? Unless he has well water... :)

  8. Oh yeah, ya gotta go with the soap nuts...I would NEVER go back to laundry detergent again. I get mine from a company in Quebec (I think)...if you can't find any locally.

    Vicki - your son might do well with only using Castile soap for rinses very cleanly which I think has helped with our particular 'itchy-scratchies' (as Savannah calls them - she's 6) :)


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