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Big Berkey Water Filters

  • Chlorine in Our Drinking Water - A Cause For Concern

    Protecting the majority of the US drinking water from disease causing bacteria, viruses, and other microbes, are disinfectants such as chlorine, chloramines, ozone, and chlorine dioxide.  This practice of disinfection has been in place since the early 1900's, and Chlorine is a chemical that has played a significant role.  Over the past few decades, numerous studies have been conducted by members of the scientific, regulatory, and public communities evaluating the short and long term safety of chlorination. While some have shown no negative effects on human health, there are many that have.

    History of Chlorine

    Chlorine has made it's mark on history by virtually eliminating water borne diseases and allowing populations around the world to flourish.  It easily applied at the water source and small amounts have the ability to be effective throughout a municipal distribution network, from the water treatment plant all the way to the faucet tap.  The discovery of these benefits coupled with it's low cost resulted in chlorine being chosen as the preferred chemical for both domestic and industrial purposes for most of the 20th century.


    Concerns Over Chlorine in Drinking Water?

    Concerns over chlorine stem from the way in which the chemical reacts with organic plant matter that is naturally present in water, in addition to it's reactions with saliva and stomach content when ingested.  These chemical reactions result in a group of chemicals known as disinfection byproducts(DBPs).  Some of my readers may be familiar with one of the most notorious byproducts called Trihalomethanes (THMs) which consist of four chemicals: chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dribromochloromethane, and bromoform.  Scientific evidence classifies THM's as known carcinogens with two types of health effects being shown by studies; organ cancer and reproductive/developmental health effects.  The following paragraphs highlight some of these findings.

    World Health Organization Study

    Released in 1996, and republished again in 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a study of Chlorine and it's water reacting equilibrium forms of hypechlorous acid and hypoclhorites and their effect on mice and rats. In these studies, short terms chemical exposure seemed to indicate no negative effects on the mice.  However, 2 year long term rat exposure to sodium hypochlorite in drinking water resulted in a "dose related depression in body weight gain in all groups, depressed liver, brain, and heart weights in males given a .05% dose, decreased salivary gland weights in both female groups, and decreased kidney weights in females given .2%."  Also shown was that oral administration of Chlorine via hypochlorite ion or hypochlorous acid at 100, 200, 400 mg of Chlorine/liter resulted in "dose-related increases in the amount of sperm-head abnormalities in male mice."  Towards the end of the WHO Guideline for drinking water quality, under the heading "Effects on Humans", the WHO study referenced 2 studies reading the following:

    "In a study of 46 communities in central Wisconsin where chlorine levels in water ranged from 0.2 to 1 mg/litre, serum cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein levels were higher in communities using chlorinated water. Levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and the cholesterol/HDL ratio were significantly elevated in relation to the level of calcium in the drinking-water, but only in communities using chlorinated water.  The authors speculated that chlorine and calcium in drinking-water may interact in some way that affects lipid levels." And, from another study, "An increased risk of bladder cancer appeared to be associated with the consumption of chlorinated tapwater in a population-based, case–control study of adults consuming chlorinated or non-chlorinated water for half of their lifetimes."

    Additional Studies on Chlorine

    In the 1960's, Joseph M. Price, MD performed experiments using chlorine in the drinking water of chickens. He came back to report that 95% of the chickens given chlorine added to distilled water developed atherosclerosis within a few months. In his book, Coronaries/Cholesterol/Chlorine, Dr. Price presented alarming evidence that Trihalomethanes (THMs), are the "prime causative agents of arteriosclerosis and its inevitable result, the heart attack or stroke."

    In the summer of 1992, the New York Times reported on a study directed by Robert D. Morris of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, compiling 10 separate epidemiological studies from the 1970's on chlorinated drinking water. Morris partnered with with epidemiologist Thomas C. Chalmers and his colleagues at Harvard to utilize a statistical technique call meta-analysis. They reported that people drinking chlorinated water over long periods had a 21% increase in the risk of contracting bladder cancer and a 38% increase in the risk of rectal cancer. "I am quite convinced, based on this study, that there is an association between cancer and chlorinated water." said Morris.

    Taking a Chlorine Shower

    According to researcher Bruce Black - Chlorine and Your Shower,  "Taking long hot showers is a health risk--and to a lesser extent baths. They lead to a greater exposure to toxic chemicals contained in water supplies than does drinking the water. The chemicals evaporate out of the water and are inhaled. They can also spread through the house and be inhaled by others. House holders can receive 6 to 100 times more of the chemical by breathing the air around showers and bath than they would by drinking the water."

    Chlorine and The EPA

    In official publications, the EPA has concluded that there is evidence to support a potential association between long term exposure to high levels of THMs and bladder cancer as well as suggestions of an association with colon and rectal cancers. However the EPA notes that health effects data for the reproductive and developmental health effects are inconclusive and do not show causality. In 1980, the EPA adopted new regulations requiring cities to reduce chlorination by-products (THM's) in the water to less than 100 parts per billion. This was later reduced by the EPA to 80 ppb in 1998.

    The position of the EPA is that scientific data proves that the benefits of chlorinating our water far outweigh the risks associated with THM's and other byproducts. While this can be considered a rational regulatory stance, there is insufficient data examining the safety of exposure to THM's on a daily basis over decades, and as a result questions it's strength. It is not whether THM's are carcinogenic, this has been established, but rather, is the average individual ingesting enough THM's through their drinking water for it to be considered a risk.  Unfortunately, our regulatory agencies have not addressed the interaction of chlorine and THM's once they enter the body. It is known fact that a weak carcinogen has the potential to be converted to a strong cancer causing agent by simply adding another weak carcinogen. As the human body is increasingly inundated with various forms of toxic chemicals and free radicals from the water, air, and food we ingest, you have to be left wondering whether the set risk intervals are appropriate given the untested myriad of interaction potentials.

    On a positive note, the EPA is pursuing stricter standards for monitoring and addressing THM's. In a 2006 Texas EPA Public Drinking Water Stakeholder meeting focused on the health effects of disinfection byproducts(DPB), they state as a 2012 goal the following; "Intent of DBP2 [Disinfection ByProducts, Stage 2] – reduce the exposure of customers in areas of the distribution system with relatively high disinfection byproducts (finding the ‘hot spots’)", with operational objectives for municipality violations such as "Must evaluate distribution operations. Must describe plans to change things to fix things." and "Plans to minimize future exceeds."

    How to Eliminate THM's and That Chlorine Smell!

    To address potential long term health hazards, without falling prey to municipality distribution network inconsistencies and slow resolutions, the dependable solution lies in removing THM's at the point of use. You can reduce chlorination by-products by putting water in a jug and letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight, boiling water, or aerating drinking water in a blender. However, these tend to be unrealistic options for the everyday on-the-go person.

    Home water filtration is a best fit, and one of the most effective methods for reducing THM's is through carbon and ceramic filters. A quality filter will remove that chlorine smell and taste, and also protect the small segment of the population that has chlorine allergies. A great choice is Berkey filters. They have the ability to remove Chlorine and THM's to undetectable levels and do so at a very low cost per gallon. Click here for a Berkey 101 Overview.

  • Intro to Berkey Water Filters - 101

    Sometimes you just need a 5 minute overview to quickly get you up to speed on a particular subject. Below, please find what I consider to be the top 10 basics of berkey water filter systems.

    1. There are 7 berkey water filter housing models all using the same internal water filters. Starting from lowest in price and working our way up; Berkey Light, Travel Berkey, Big Berkey, Berkey Light w/ LED, Royal Berkey, Imperial Berkey, Crown Berkey. The Berkey Light and Travel Berkey are classified as outdoor filter systems, while the remaining are classified as indoor systems.

    2. There are 2 types of upper chamber filters; Black Berkey's and Super Sterasyl Ceramics (7" and 9"). More filters in the upper chamber results in faster filtration.

    3. Ceramics are a tried and true filter with over 100 years of history behind them. The Black Berkey's are a newer composite of over 6 types of media meant to take filtration to the next level and are rated as a water purifier. Black Berkey's remove everything Ceramic Filters do, yet go one step further by filtering out MTBE's, Lead and other heavy metals.

    4. There are 2 types of lower chamber filters (PF=Post Filtration); PF-2 and PF-4. Fluoride is a primary target for these filters. PF-2's function with Black Berkey's, and PF-4's function with Ceramics.
    5. Total system weight ranges between 6 and 13 pounds. Total system volume ranges between 1.5 and 6 gallons.

    6. Black Berkeys last 6000 gallons and the 9" Ceramic Filters last 1200 gallons for a set of 2. PF-2's last 1000 gallons for a set of 2. PF-4's are to be replaced every 6 months.

    7. The average cost per gallon of Berkey Water is 1.7 cents.

    8. Systems assemble in approximately 5-10 minutes. Housing cleaning is easy with regular soap and water. Scotchbrite pads clean both the Black Berkeys and the Ceramics.

    9. Berkey Customer service is supported by both and the manufacturer, New Millenium Concepts LTD.

    10. Berkey Systems are covered by a 6 months manufacturers warranty and Black Berkey's are covered by a 2 year prorated manufacturers warranty.

  • Go Outdoors With Your Portable Berkey Water Filter!

    It's no secret that a major selling point of Berkey water purifiers is it's portable design.  A high quality water filter that you can pick up and carry is a benefit other filtration systems on the market are simply not able to duplicate.   And let's not forget the sidekick of these systems, the Berkey sport bottle, which customers enjoy as a free item with any system purchase.  Today, I'd like to illustrate the ways many customers are taking advantage of these Berkey products outside of their home and how you can do the same!

    The Portable Berkey Filter System

    While Berkey filter systems are officially labeled as either an indoor or outdoor system, all of these systems possess the ability to be used in both environments.  The "official" outdoor systems; the Travel Berkey and the Berkey light, are the smallest and lightest of the lineup, however the other four systems; the Big Berkey, Royal Berkey, Imperial Berkey, and the Crown Berkey, work just as well outdoors.   In fact, where bigger groups of people are involved, a larger system is many times the better choice.

    What's missing in this picture?


    Outdoor Uses for the Berkey Filter System

    • Base Camps / Camping: Camping for more than one day?  Having a large system can fulfill needs such as cooking, drinking, brushing your teeth, cleaning/washing your body, and flushing/cleaning wounds.
    • Freshwater Boating: Don't want to install an expensive boat filtration system or tired of dragging bottles of water around?  Simply take an empty system with you.  When drinking water is needed, scoop water off the side of your boat and pour into the upper chamber.  Within 15-30 minutes drinking water is available to all those on board.   (Please, no salt water.)
    • RV's: Don't trust the potable water source at the RV site, or there's none available?   Berkey filters work great as a primary or backup system for your travels.   In addition, similar to boats, these filters provide a much lower cost alternative to the full filtration systems.
    • Back Country Cabins: Having running water in a back country cabin is many times a luxury.  With a Berkey, find a source of water nearby and fill 'er up.  Also, try using rain water.
    • Hunting Trips: Similar to camping, many hunters go on trips for days at a time and require a base camp filtration system.  Having a light and portable system is a nice feature when setting up and breaking down in quick turnaround is a high priority.
    • Recreation Fields: Want to cut down on your carbon footprint?  Berkey systems come in handy at children or adult sporting events like the soccer, softball, football and baseball fields as long as a hose or another practical water source is available.

    In all the situations listed above, the Berkey water filter systems were easily broken down and transported.  They weigh between 8 and 13 pounds and the upper-chamber of the stainless steel system is designed to fit into the lower chamber for transport.   Not to mention,  they are easy to clean and durable.

    The Portable Sport Berkey Filter

    The sport bottle is also another great example of the portable berkey water filter in action.  Why pay $50 to $100 dollars for a portable hiking filter when you can get one that performs just as well for $28.  At 22 ounces and weighing less than 1 pound, the sport Berkey bottle is lightweight and easy to use.   No pumps, or breakdowns to worry about either.   When encountering a lake, pond, or stream, just fill up and start drinking.

    Great for long biking trips!


    Outdoor Uses for the Sport Berkey

    • Hiking: Going for a day-hike but don't want to lug bottles of water with you, or the camelbak is simply not going to be enough?  As long as you know you'll be encountering a water source at some point, you're all set!
    • Mountain Biking: Mountain bikers are all too familiar with the high demand for water that this activity requires.  Attach it to your camelbak as a backup!
    • Horseback Riding:  Similar to mountain biking and allows for some flexibility for the rider to carry other items.
    • The Gym: Don't trust the gym water or simply don't like the taste?  Fill that sport bottle up at the water fountain and squeeze filtered water into your mouth between exercises.   It's as simple as that.
  • The Dangers of Fluoride - The Great Debate

    I sometimes wonder what percentage of the population is aware of the ongoing fluoride debate. There’s absolutely a growing voice of dissent over municipal water fluoridation, but how familiar is the everyday citizen?  I know that a good majority of my friends and family are not aware of it. I’ve never heard it brought up on any major news television programs like 20/20 or Dateline.  It seems the majority of discussion is coming from radio programming, local news stations, activist groups, and some select scientific community organizations.

    Just last month, I had the privilege to catch an in depth conversation on the subject.  It occurred on one of my favorites programs; Coast to Coast AM w/ George Noory, where Director of the Fluoride Action Network, Paul Connett and leading dentist in the fight against fluoride, Dr. Bill Osmunson dug into the issue for 3 hours.  Here are some clips from the show.

    If you're interested in the full show, e-mail me at In the meantime, below are some high level basic facts and information on the subject of fluoridation.

    What's the Debate?

    Adding fluoride to the public water systems, otherwise known as fluoridation, has occurred  for more than 60 years in the United States.  Given this basic historical fact, the immediate question that comes to many peoples mind when they are confronted with the debate is;

    “If fluoridation is so bad for us, wouldn’t we already have figured it out? Wouldn’t there be mountains of evidence to illustrate the toxic effects?”

    Opponents claim that this evidence does exist, and that much of the scientific and government community simply fail to acknowledge it. It's curiously regarded as a combination of sticking one's head in the sand along with a fear of taking a stand against conventional baked-in thinking. Among other statistics, defenders retort that the evidence for fluoride benefits is proven by US general population tooth decay reductions in the order of 50-60% since WWII. This statistic is one of the most controversial as these same reductions, over the same time periods, are shown in countries that have never engaged in water fluoridation.

    Where Does Fluoride Come From?

    Sodium fluoride, used in fluoridation, is a hazardous-waste by-product from the manufacture of aluminum.  It is a common ingredient in rat and cockroach poisons, anesthetics, hypnotics, psychiatric drugs, and military nerve gas.  Fluoride is more toxic than aluminum and studies have shown that fluoride consumption increases the body absorption rate of aluminum by 600%.  There are, however, controls set in place to manage this risk.  The EPA has maximum water fluoridation levels set at 1 ppm (part per million) and every day many of us are given the opportunity to read a warning on the back of our fluoride toothpaste:

    “Keep toothpaste out of the reach of children under 6. If swallowed get medical help or contact poison control center right away.”

    But, are these controls enough to protect the general population to the serious downside risks?

    Harmful Effects of Fluoride

    What is not up for debate is that fluoride harms bones, causes stiff joints, encourages skeletal abnormalities, raises the risk of cancer, results in genetic damage, can damage the thyroid, and hampers nervous system function in humans.   Opponents of fluoridation have a real cause for concern given that fluoride acts as a cumulative poison gradually and increasingly affecting the body over long periods of exposure. As a result, potential toxicity becomes a function on how much water is consumed on a daily basis, the individual’s body weight, and the body’s ability to filter and eliminate the chemical.  These are wide margin variables that may allow a relatively large percentage of the population to fall into a toxic range over time.

    Recently, there has been government studies that attest to fluoridation dangers.   In 2005, a CDC study showed irreversible enamel fluorosis in 1 out of 3 children.  Then in 2007, the ADA warned parents not to mix baby formula with tap water in the first 12 months of development so as to avoid fluoride intake.  Just recently in June of 2008, the National Kidney Foundation stated the kidney disease patients should be notified of the potential risks of exposure to fluoride.  Unfortunately, many individuals with thyroid disease and other ailments have been complaining about fluoridation without an official government response.

    Inherent Problems with Fluoridation

    Each year our scientists are getting better at understanding the toxic implications of fluoride, and one point is glaringly obvious.  With water fluoridation, you cannot control the dose ingested, both children and adults are treated with similar doses, and unless the public filters their water, they cannot opt out of this mass medication.  Regardless of where one stands, it's apparent that legitimate scientific data is challenging the entrenched "all benefits and no-risk" philosophy of water fluoridation, and all parties must openly and fairly revisit this practice.

    To see if you may be drinking fluoridated water, you can start here:  CDC Fluoridation Status.  In the meantime, for those who are concerned, Berkey makes a highly regarded and very popular fluoride filter that works in any berkey filter system. The PF-2 Fluoride/Arsenic Filters are to be used in conjunction with the Black Berkeys. The PF-4 Fluoride Filters are to be used with the ceramic filters.  More information on various system setups can be found here.

  • Priming Your Black Berkey Filter For Use or Storage

    Before one can enjoy the first sips from their newly purchased berkey water filter, any system using Black Berkey Purification Elements must be primed to prepare the filters for use. Fortunately, it only takes a few minutes to do and is rather easy and straightforward.

    "But, what if I am only buying the black berkey filters as a backup set for the future?  Once I receive them, can't I just throw them in the cabinet and forget about them?"

    The answer to that question is no if you want to take advantage of the 2 year manufacturer warranty.  Priming before storage will allow you to test the black berkey and verify that there are no defects with the product.  This is extremely important because the clock on the warranty starts ticking upon date of receipt.  If one just threw it into the closet and took it out 3 years later, only to find problems with the filter,  it would be out of warranty.  Even though there is a small chance of product defect, going through the priming exercise up front helps protect your future investment. Let's begin by providing you a video of the priming being executed, followed by text priming instructions, and storage instructions.

    Priming Your Black Berkey Filters Video

    Priming Your Black Berkey Filter

    Whether you are using a Berkey Light, a Royal Berkey, or any of the other Berkey systems that utilize the Black Berkey purification element, priming is required due to the extremely small pores that make up the filter.   These elements need to have water forced through them to clear the air that has been trapped inside the micro fine pores during production.  Begin by opening up your black berkey box and verify that each element has a rubber washer and a wing nut attached to it.  Also inside the box you'll find your priming button, a tan rubber washer.  It will be thicker than the element washer with a smaller center hole.  See Figure 1.

    Black Berkey with Tan Priming Button Figure 1 - Black Berkey with Tan Priming Button

    Now, follow the 5 steps of the priming process below (also shown in Figure 3 Diagram) :

    1. Start by pressing the tan priming button onto the stem of the black berkey purification element with the small end facing the element.
    2. Place the stem of the Black Berkey element between your fingers and press the large end of the priming button against the faucet. (see Figure 2)
    3. While holding the priming button against the faucet, turn on the cold water gently, and allow the water to fill the cavity of the purification element.  (see Figure 2)
    4. Allow the exterior of the Black Berkey element to sweat beads of water for about 5 seconds.
    5. Follow this process for each element you intend to prime and they will ready for everyday use.

    Placing Black Berkey Up to Your Faucet for Priming Figure 2 - Place Your Black Berkey Up to Your Faucet for Priming
    Black Berkey Priming Diagram Figure 3 - Black Berkey Priming Diagram

    Storage of your Black Berkey Purification Element

    Now that your Black Berkey's are primed, you may either install them into your system and drink away, or you may store them for future use.  If storing, the most critical issue to monitor is that the filters are allowed to fully dry out.

    Follow these basic guidelines for storage after priming:

    1. Use a dry cloth to remove any excess water from the filters
    2. Air dry the filters by laying them out on a cloth on a window sill with good sun exposure.  Preferably, this area should be well ventilated
    3. Turn the at least once a day to ensure they are being evenly dried.
    4. After approximately 2.5 - 3 weeks, the black berkey elements should be fully dry.  If sun is not available, please place in warmer parts of your home and allow for longer dry out times.
    5. Once fully dry, place you black berkeys in a container or plastic bag that protects them from moisture.  Vacuum sealed is preferred.
    6. These filters are now prepped and ready for use when needed.

    Following the above steps for priming and storage ensures that you utilize the black berkey elements in the way they were intended and provides a method for you to protect your future investment.  Proper storage gives you the ability to guarantee yourself years worth of clean drinking water with the ease of being able to install them directly into your system immediately when needed.  This is another benefit that many other filtration systems cannot reproduce and speaks to inherent versatility and quality of the Berkey Filter Line.

  • Tennessee Coal Ash Spill, An Environmental Disaster

    Considered as one of, if not the biggest, environmental disasters the US has ever experienced, the Tennessee coal ash spill has alarmed many nearby residents, the EPA, and environmental groups across the nation.  Many are calling it the Exxon Valdez of coal ash spills.  Unfortunately, this story seems to have lost most of it's national press coverage as the new year began.

    Coal Ash Spills...

    It all began on Dec. 22nd, 2008 when the earthen dike of a coal ash holding pond, owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority(the largest public utility in the nation), broke at the Kingston Fossil Plant.  This dam failure resulted in 5.4 million cubic yards of ash being released into the neighboring community and Emory River.  This national news story was televised on Dec. 26th.

    Within 4 days of the spill, the drinking water is safe according to the Tennessee Valley Authority's official statement.  This seems a little irresponsible given that it was based upon a water sample taken at the Kingston Plant itself, 6 miles upstream of the actual spill.  And maybe we'll just overlook the fact that a comprehensive water quality survey of a disaster of this scale requires dozens of samples before an acceptable confidence interval can be attained.

    Here's a close up view of the damage from Dec. 27th, 5 days after the spill from a group of local environmentalists coordinated by Appalachian Voices.  Credit John L. Wathen, a Hurricane Creekkeeper; Sandra Diaz, Appalachian Voices’ National Field Coordinator; and Donna Lisenby, the Watauga Riverkeeper for this footage.

    Fortunately or unfortunately depending upon your perspective, on Dec. 28th, the public was able to gain some insight into the severity of the spill when the TVA disclosed to the New York Times the amount of toxins it deposited into this holding pond in 2007; in just one year.  How about 2.2 million pounds of toxins including 45,000 pounds of arsenic, 49,000 pounds of lead, 1.4M pounds of barium, 91,000 pounds of chromium and 140,000 pounds of manganese.  This holding pond, before it spilled out into the neighboring land and waterways, contained decades worth of deposits.  Here's a fun fact - 100mg(.00022 lbs) of arsenic is considered lethal to the human body.  Let me preface by mentioning that there's many variables that come into play when we discuss drinking water.  Arsenic needs to dissolve fully into the water supply for a true contamination to exist, but this information is relevant because these toxins need to go somewhere.  Coal ash that is not or cannot be cleaned up will seep into the ground with the potential to enter the water table where it may or may not be filtered out naturally by the sediment.  Coal Ash not removed from the water will settle along the riverbed and shoreline, and continually be washed downstream where the toxins will impact the river ecosystems and aquamarine life to a yet unknown degree.

    On Dec 30th, the TVA and EPA issued a joint statement recommending that direct contact with coal ash be avoided and that children and pets should stay away from affected areas.  With the laundry list of toxins contained in the ash, this statement was literally a week late and it'll probably leave the TVA a billion dollars short as a result of the lawsuits that began piling up last week.  Erin Brockovich even decided to march into town on Jan 8th, and for those of you that saw the movie, you know the TVA couldn't of been too excited about that visit.

    Coal Ash Spill Early Test Results

    As you probably have guessed by now, results from some of those water tests have come in.  On the whole, samples from drinking wells and from public drinking water have been found to be within safe levels, however tests of surface and river water closer to the spill showed unsafe levels of some contaminants.  Preliminary tests from the Appalachian Voices samples conducted by Appalachian State University showed arsenic levels from the Kingston power plant canal testing at nearly 300 times the allowable limits in drinking water.  Another sample from two miles downstream revealed arsenic at about 30 times the limit.   Lead, chromium, and other heavy metals were also found to be at elevated levels from these prelim tests.   On Friday, Jan. 2nd,  the EPA came back with some water sample results also.  Sediment and surface water samples near the spill were confirmed to contain high levels of arsenic with one sample containing more than 149 times the maximum state level.  Most recently, on Tues, Jan. 6, the EPA found that two out of 16 water samples exceeded the Tennessee Water Quality Criteria for Domestic Supply.

    Coal Ash Spill TN

    One of the great unknowns is to what extent the drinking water for surrounding spill land areas and citizens downstream of the Emory, Clinch, and Tennessee rivers will be in the mid to long term.  Since the Emory river eventually dumps into these other two rivers, any contaminants found in the Emory river has the potential to have a downstream impact.  This is a serious concern as the Tennessee river is a major source of drinking water for millions of people.  For their part, the TVA stated that they would be erecting a rock wall, or weir dam, to filter out fly ash from water that flows down the Emory River into the Clinch and Tennessee rivers, but as of Dec. 30th, this had not yet taken place.  That's at least 8 days of downstream free flow, and I'm guessing here that those early days are the most critical in a spill such as this.  Complicating the clean up efforts just this week, the region has been hit with heavy rains and flooding that has washed more of the ash into areas that were yet to be quarantined or protected.

    The Cleanup and Future of East Tennessee

    As of writing this article on Jan 11th, there still seems to be many unknowns as the TVA, the EPA, environmental activists, and local citizens work together and butt heads on the physical clean-up, short to long term safety monitoring, and general environmental remediation.  Seeing and reading about local environmental groups and citizens coming together to work through this disaster has given many, including myself, a sense of hope.  But, this is the beginning of a long journey.  Municipal water filtration systems should be able to address spill toxins that may contaminate city water sources.  However, well water drinkers will need to be a little more weary and pay close attention to well test sampling results as seepage contamination takes more time to become evident.  The EPA is recommending that residents on well water either not drink their water at all until more tests are conducted or filter their water.  As for the aquamarine, plant, and animal life, their options are limited and it's evident that they're paying the biggest price of us all.

    In a unfortunate coincidence, Jan. 9th revealed another gypsum slurry spill in NE Alabama at the Widows Creek coal fire plant owned by none other than the TVA.  This one was much smaller at only 10,000 gallons compared to the 1 Billion gallons in TN.  I'm starting to think that we may have a bigger regulatory problem on our hands here.  There are 156 Coal Fire Plants in the US, and they are all virtually unregulated when it comes to coal ash waste disposal.  Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat and chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said it best to the CEO of TVA, Tom Kilgore, at the recent Jan. 8th congressional committee hearing, "You need to have a plan to clean this spill up and you don't have it yet. People will never feel safe there again."

  • Coliform Bacteria in Well Water

    Coliform bacteria in drinking water is not typically a concern of many home owners.  This is primarily due to the fact that there are controls in place to eliminate and prevent contamination in the municipal water supply and a overarching sense that well water is inherently clean and safe.  Why would there be a need to worry?  A future article will discuss potential bacteria contamination risks associated with municipal water, however I'd like to discuss the issue of coliform bacteria in one's well water.  Home owners may be surprised to learn that well contamination is a risk that most homes are exposed to at all times.  Fortunately If one suspects contamination, there are simple steps that can be followed to determine the source and protect themselves from future health risks

    Where does Coliform Bacteria Originate?

    Coliform bacteria originates as organisms in soil or vegetation and in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals (fecal coli).  The coliform bacteria are relatively simple to identify, are present in much larger numbers than the more dangerous pathogens, and react to the natural environment and treatment processes in a manner and degree similar to pathogens.  Fecal coliform and E-coli are bacteria whose presence indicates that a well may be contaminated with human or animal wastes from septic systems, water table influences, or surface water seepage caused by runoff from woodlands, pasture, or feedlots.

    What's the Risk?

    As many of you know, bacteria cannot be seen, tasted or smelled and the many health-related symptoms are not immediately recognizable.  In addition, since the strength of an individuals immune system plays a significant role in determining whether or not a person becomes ill, different family members may have different reactions to the same level of contamination.  Coliform bacteria are an indication that more serious disease causing bacteria and pathogens may be present in your well water.  Pathogens are the bacteria, viruses and protozoa that are known to make a person sick and should be the foremost concern for the home owner. Since some strains of coliform such as e-coli are pathogens, these wastes can cause short-term effects, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, but also have the potential to make a person seriously ill.

    How Do I Know If My Well Water Is Contaminated?

    The human body adjusts and balances the digestive tract bacteria makeup to compensate for soil and vegetation coliform bacteria found in drinking water.  But, since you have most likely already bacteria-adjusted to your own well water, and you and/or members of your family have gotten sick and suspect the well, then this is most likely an indication of a more serious bacteria contamination risk.  Homeowners using well water are not required to test for bacteria, but the EPA and most states recommend that you test your water at least once a year. If you do not suspect immediate contamination, then the late spring or early summer are the best times for testing as coliform contamination is most likely to show up during wet weather.  A homeowner should contact their state department of public health for locating the closest testing facility as fees are usually nominal.

    How do I Protect Myself?

    Biological contaminants such as coliform bacteria are most effectively eliminated through chlorine disinfection, filtration, ultraviolet irradiation, and ozonation. A disinfectant should be effective on many types of pathogens regardless of their quantity and it should be able to kill all pathogens within a reasonable retention time. However, some homeowners shy away from disinfectants like chlorine as they ultimately are ingested.  A popular approach is the utilization of water filtration systems.  This can be accomplished with either a whole home filtration system, an under the sink solution, or a counter top system like the Big Berkey Water Filter.  One of the advantages to this choice is that even if testing is not occurring at recommended intervals, a water filter system will act a firewall to protect the drinkers of the water.

  • High Levels of Phosphates Affecting Chesapeake Bay

    True wisdom teaches us that life is all about balance.  When we stop and take a moment to appreciate nature, we recognize that we are surrounded by this wisdom.  Unfortunately, the human species has played a significant role in disrupting this balance in ways that we are still continuing to discover.   The following news story provides an example of how a common item we use in our kitchen everyday is contributing to this disruption.


  • Berkey Light Filters and Bisphenol A - BPA

    Recently there's been some customer concern regarding the Berkey Light product and the potential for Bisphenol A to leech from the plastic into the filtered water.  This is a valid concern that's been brought upon by recent studies linking BPA exposure to possible breast cancer, prostate cancer, and other health problems.  According to research, BPA mimics naturally occurring estrogen, a hormone that is part of the endocrine system, the body's finely tuned messaging service.  While there is much controversy over accurately assessing and quantifying this risk, many consumers are now making a conscious effort to avoid the toxin altogether.  In light of this, Berkey customers will be happy to learn that the Berkey Light went BPA free in 2008.

    Why the Concern with the Berkey Light?
    Prior to 2008, Berkey Lights were historically constructed of Lexan plastic to take advantage of the high durability and strength that this plastic possesses. Lexan is made by reacting Bisphenol A with carbonyl chloride, also known as phosgene.  Studies showed that in some occasions the leeching of BPA can occur from polycarbonates like Lexan into the containing fluid when either exposed to high strength industrial grade alkaline detergents or when they are repeatedly exposed to temperatures in excess of 192 degrees Fahrenheit (over 88 degrees Celsius).  As far as what the Berkey Light was built for, along with the stated care instructions, these situations would not and should not occur.  Regardless, the knowledge that the Berkey Light was made of a Lexan plastic known to contain the chemical BPA brought this highly regarded berkey product into the controversial discussion raising some questions and concerns.

    Why The Transition to a Copolyester Then?
    To alleviate the concerns of customers, New Millenium Concepts Ltd. decided to change the Berkey Light plastic to a new copolyester in early 2008.  This new copolyster is BPA free, highly durable and dishwasher safe, in addition to being stain, scratch, and odor resistant.  While the Lexan Berkey Light is considered to be of no risk of leeching BPA's, NMCL recognizes that their customer base is very health conscious and a change in production materials would be beneficial to all parties.  This move away from BPA plastics is a growing market trend and NMCL is one of the early adopter companies, Eastman being another example, that have made the transition to Copolyester.

    Older Berkey Light Models
    For customers who already own the Berkey Light, you can determine the makeup of your system by looking at the date stamp on the bottom of either of the 2 canisters.  There should be a circle of numbers labeled 1-10 with a 2-digit number in the middle.  The 2 digit number in the middle is the year of production and it will have an arrow pointing to the outer circle. The outer circle numbers represent the plastic recycle code.  If it points to a 6 or higher with an "08" in the middle you possess the new BPA free Copolyester.  Any year prior and you possess a Lexan Berkey Light.

    It's important to reiterate that simply because you have a 2007 or earlier Lexan built Berkey Light does not mean that you are at risk of BPA leeching into your water.  There is simply a great deal of misinformation on how BPA leeches from various types of plastic confusing much of the general public as to their level of risk exposure.  The value that a Berkey system possesses from everything to water purification to emergency preparation is priceless and excuse the pun, but should not be watered down by confusion.

  • Arsenic Found in Vietnam and Cambodian Rivers

    While my main focus at BigBerkeyWaterFilters is reporting on water conditions in the United States, I also look for big impact stories that seem to miss the US news networks entirely. Many of these water stories are low on the totem pole in the eyes of the US media and simply do not make print or the airwaves, however these international accounts are invaluable for making us aware of water conditions around the world. How these countries are coping and adjusting to these conditions is a helpful lesson for us, allowing for the perspective we need to make the suitable changes in how we treat and respect our water here at home.

    A public announcement, spurred on by a joint effort between UNICEF and the health organizations of two governments recently stated that the Mekong River, which runs through Cambodia and Vietnam, is contaminated with arsenic at a harmful level. More than 21% of the Vietnamese population is at risk, exposed to higher than the EPA and the WHO (World Heath Organization) maximum acceptable levels of arsenic at 10 ppb (parts per billion). When asked about the source of contamination, the chief of UNICEF’s water safety branch stated that “Arsenic contamination in the Mekong is understood to have been caused by recent sedimentation”, and that “it is not known if this has been caused by other reasons as well such as industrial pollution since there has been no scientific study or evidence to support that.” In some regions along the Mekong River, the arsenic levels were found to be above 300 ppb causing the Vietnamese health ministry to warn residents that contamination at these extreme levels have the ability to result in cancer within 3-4 years.

    Arsenic Contaminated Areas in Mekong and Red Rivers


    Earlier Studies Support Findings

    While these findings were made public recently over the last couple weeks, there have been numerous studies of both the Mekong River and the Red River highlighting these surfacing dangers. One of the more prominent research papers was performed by a group of university and environmental group scientists published September 2006 titled "Magnitude of arsenic pollution in the Mekong and Red River Deltas — Cambodia and Vietnam". In that paper, researchers concluded that arsenic contamination was prevalent with chronic poisoning of 10 million people in the red river delta region and .5-1 million people in the Mekong river region. Similar to the UNICEF and government findings, these scientists believed that this arsenic was of natural origin and caused by reductive dissolution of arsenic bearing iron buried in aquifers. Hair samples of citizens within these regions confirmed these higher arsenic concentration accumulations. A potential source of this new found health hazard point to the population’s growing reliance on ground wells set in the 12-45M depth range where seepage is occurring at a high rate. This sort of arsenic contamination of wells occurs in some regions of the US also but tends to localized. Unfortunately, the danger is not isolated to wells in Cambodia and Vietnam as the bottled water, fish, and rice farms of both countries were found to be affected.

    Many residents of the two countries have been aware or suspected of the arsenic contamination prior to these official statements and have been abandoning wells and searching for alternate water sources for a number of years. The Vietnamese government and UNICEF have provided personal water filters to rural home residents, but the amount of individuals that remain unprotected is not clear. Cambodia has chosen to paint contaminated water wells red as part of their action plan. As to information concerning long term arsenic filtration and removal; the proposals and strategy are not well known and hard to determine. This is of great concern to the primarily poor residents affected by this problem since contamination is likely to continue or increase according to research that’s been conducted.

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