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. :)