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Removing Heavy Metals from Drinking WaterWould you order a mixed drink with a splash of arsenic off of a bar menu? The bartender assures you it’s completely safe and it tastes great. A little bit of arsenic is completely fine, right? Do you take the plunge and order the arsenic martini? 

Whether you like it or not, you’re ordering up drinks like this every day for yourself, your family and your kids. A cool glass of water on a hot summer day is refreshing and healthy, even essential for our bodies to function, but the heavy metals in our water are fundamentally altering our health and families. Cold, refreshing aluminum lemonade anyone? 

What are Heavy Metals?

Heavy metals are defined as those metals which have high density and atomic weight or atomic number. Chemists categorize heavy metals as elements that are at least five times more dense than water. These metals are naturally present in the Earth’s crust, but over time and through various human activities, their geochemical cycle and balance are altered. Some chemicals are essential minerals and pose no threat while others (arsenic, anyone?) are highly toxic even in small quantities. 

Among those most common in our water supply are lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium.

Aren’t They Natural?

Yes, and no. The periodic table of elements naturally occurs in the Earth. So technically these metals are “natural”. However, that doesn’t mean they belong inside the human body. Each metal differs in how it behaves in our bodies. For some metals, exposure alone does not always cause disease or harm and some are even essential.

Read to see the best heavy metal water filters I reviewed here!

How Do Heavy Metals Get in the Water?

Chances are if you poured yourself a glass of water and it came out as muddy, black, sludge – you wouldn’t drink it. But heavy metals aren’t that obvious. The water we drink is cold, and clear, odorless and tasteless, so we assume it’s clean. Unfortunately, the traces of heavy metals are still present. 

Heavy metals enter the water supply in a variety of ways. Runoff from industrial waste, acid rain gets absorbed into the soil, consumer waste contaminates the water supply, and even the pipes in our homes and contribute to heavy metals in our drinking water. 

How To Remove Heavy Metals From Drinking Water

Good Metals Include:

These metals are good, healthy, and essential for the human body to use. You’ll find these vitamins in vitamins and food additives. The human body uses these natural metals to store them and slowly excrete them over time to minimize organ damage. 

  • cobalt (Co)
  • copper (Cu)
  • chromium (Cr)
  • iron (Fe)
  • magnesium (Mg)
  • manganese (Mn)
  • molybdenum (Mo)
  • nickel (Ni)
  • selenium (Se)
  • zinc (Zn) 

Harmful Metals:

These metals are not good for the body in any amount. They are not meant to be digested or used for human consumption at all. When present in the human body, these metals can cause irreparable damage.

  • aluminum (Al)
  • antimony (Sb)
  • arsenic (As)
  • barium (Ba)
  • beryllium (Be)
  • bismuth (Bi)
  • cadmium (Cd)
  • gallium (Ga)
  • germanium (Ge)
  • gold (Au)
  • indium (In)
  • lead (Pb)
  • lithium (Li)
  • mercury (Hg)
  • nickel (Ni)
  • platinum (Pt)
  • silver (Ag)
  • strontium (Sr)
  • tellurium (Te)
  • thallium (Tl)
  • tin (Sn)
  • titanium (Ti)
  • vanadium (V)
  • uranium (U) 

How Much is Too Much?

The toxicity of heavy metals depends on several factors including the method of exposure, age, gender, genetics, and nutritional status of the individual. However, heavy metals in any amount can cause cellular and tissue damage leading to human disease.

What Are the Symptoms and Do They Affect the Body?

What Are the Symptoms of Exposure to Heavy Metals in Drinking Water

For most of us living in the United States, there are no immediate side effects caused directly by our drinking water. The symptoms of heavy metals are much sneakier than that. The effects are not sudden or obvious, they are slow and steady stretched out across years and years of “healthy” drinking water. As a result, Americans suffer from ailments without realizing they are drinking the root cause. 

Prolonged exposure may lead to reduced mental and central nervous function, lower energy levels, and damage to blood composition, lungs, kidneys, liver, and other vital organs, cardiovascular diseases, developmental abnormalities, neurologic and neurobehavioral disorders, diabetes, hearing loss, hematologic and immunologic disorders, and of course – cancer.

The symptoms of chronic heavy metal poisoning can be severe, but are often less obvious and develop slowly over time. Once a heavy metal is absorbed, our body cannot get rid of it. Over time, heavy metals accumulate making heavy metal exposure difficult to diagnose and treat. Heavy metal poisoning over time is challenging for both health care providers and patients because there are often many more questions than answers. 

What is the Difference Between Poisoning, Toxicity, and Accumulation?

There is an important distinction to recognize between the levels of heavy metals in the blood and how they affect the body. 

  • Poisoning: You can get acute poisoning from heavy metals by ingesting a lot all at once. For example, this may happen if a child swallows a toy made with lead. Symptoms are clear and come on fast and maybe confusion, numbness, vomiting, or passing out. Acute poisoning is an emergency situation and any individual with metal poisoning should be taken to the hospital immediately. 
  • Toxicity: This is the degree to which the heavy metal is present and/or harmful. 
  • Accumulation: The slow buildup of heavy metals over time. This is a process that takes years because the body doesn’t ever eliminate metals on its own, accumulation happens naturally. The only way to prevent accumulation is to prevent heavy metals in the first place. 

How Can I Avoid the Effects of Heavy Metal Accumulation?

The first step is to get your water tested. It’s hard to know what you’re dealing with unless you actually test the water and see exactly what is in your area. There are some things you can do to avoid heavy metal accumulation in other areas of your home as well: 

  • Avoid seafood with high levels of mercury – this includes specifically swordfish and marlin. 
  • Avoid old dishware and imported food cans where the ceramic may contain lead and impact your food. 
  • Replace old thermometers that use mercury and replace them with digital ones. 
  • Use extreme care when using herbicides and choose products that do not contain heavy metals. 
  • Check the contents of the medicines you take. 
  • Avoid PVC Items, especially for children. 
  • Make sure that the house you live in does not have lead paint on its walls.
  • Check for copper pipes in your homes plumbing

How can I avoid the effects of heavy metal accumulation

Is My Drinking Water Safe?

There have been steps taken by the government, industries, and individuals to reduce the contamination of water in recent years. However, the responsibility falls on you as the individual to take control of your health. 

Government-Level Actions

  • Today there are strict laws that prevent industries from contaminating water with heavy metals.
  • The use of paints that contain lead in them have been banned
    • The government required the switch to LED from CFL bulbs, limited the mercury exposure, and many countries have banned the use of mercury thermometers as well. 

Industrial-Level Actions

Many industries have taken action to phase out the use of heavy metals in the manufacturing process. By taking efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle, on an industry level we keep harmful metals out of landfills and waste facilities.

Individual-Level Actions

The bulk of the responsibility still falls on our shoulders. We must understand and take action to protect ourselves and our families. Start by testing your water, then learn how to filter it through water purification systems. If your home has heavy metals present, a water purifier is the best solution.

I can almost promise even if you live in the US you still need a water filtration system for your normal drinking water. Check out what your water looks like in your zip code.

Enter your zip code here to check your area's water quality to see if you need a Berkey water filter.

Berkey Filters has teamed up with the Environmental Working Group to bring you this water quality search. The information provided is powered by the EWG’s Tap Water Database.

How to Remove Heavy Metals From Drinking Water

To remove and filter out heavy metals and toxins from your drinking water, you can use different methods such as:

Use Water Filters to Help Remove Heavy Metals from Your Drinking Water

  • Activated Alumina
  • Activated Carbon
  • Ceramic Filters
  • Reverse Osmosis
  • Water Distillation

Is a filter at the faucet enough? Do you need a whole-home filtration system? It depends. The method of filtration you use depends on the biochemical properties of the water, water pressure, the material and specs of the pipe, your budget, and personal preference. 

Types of Water filters:

  1. Activated Alumina: Activated Alumina is designed to remove fluoride, arsenic, and selenium. It is a filtration system you install under your sink and can be highly effective and cost-effective. However, it may actually increase traces of aluminum. 
  2. Activated Carbon: This is a charcoal filter that has been processed to trap pollutants. It’s a popular option for most home filtration methods and it’s pretty effective at removing chlorine, sediment, VOCs, and improving the taste of your water, but it doesn’t remove minerals, salts, or compounds that are already dissolved. 
  3. Ceramic Filters: This is a similar concept to charcoal, but uses ceramic instead of carbon. They tend to work at killing bacteria and protozoa and are relatively inexpensive, but they take quite a bit of time and don’t always work against heavy metals. 
  4. Reverse Osmosis: This method runs water through a filter with a membrane. It is highly effective, but also tends to waste a lot of water and requires significantly high water pressure. 
  5. Water Distillation: Basically, this is the same as boiling your water into steam and then cooling it down. Yes, it works. Yes, it’s somewhat efficient, but it is very very slow and can take hours to produce just a small amount of filtered water.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is!

If you are looking for more studies on how filters can do the job for you, then check this out.

This video shows a variety of water filters being tested for effectiveness. The chemical they used for testing was glyphosate, one notorious for being difficult to remove.

The three winners were a water bottle, pitcher, and countertop filter that scored high at effectively removing chemicals from the water. The countertop filter actually removes 100% of the tested chemical glyphosate.  

Best Heavy Metal Water Filters

#1: Berkey Water Filters:

The Berkey Water Filters top the list in the best water filtration system on the market. The science behind their products is a combination of proven methods and quality products. First is a matrix of pores that filter out bacteria, sediment, parasites, and cysts. Next, a unique adsorption works to create an ionic barrier to remove submicron viruses without the use of chemicals. Last, heavy metals are extracted through an ion exchange process. All of this happens in one, convenient, self-contained system. You can get more information here.

Why we love it:

  • It’s great for use anywhere. You can use it at home, RV, or outdoor living for everyday or emergency use. 
  • Most comprehensive portable filtering system on the market today. 
  • With replacement filters on hand, the Big Berkey can be filled continuously to comfortably supply water for four people. 
  • Provides maximum water supply while still maintaining a compact design. 

Berkey has a cult following because of the effectiveness of their water filters and the proven results.

Mary says, “I studied for months before making this purchase, and am very concerned about our tap water’s safety and do not want to be consuming fluoride or other toxins. We use our filtered water for the hot pot, cooking, drinking, making coffee CPAP and sinus rinses.” 

Melissa said, “I’ve had this for about a month now. I read a lot of reviews and watched a lot of videos before I decided on this water filter. We bought the “Big” size. We are a couple and it is more than enough water for us to use as drinking water, but I’m happy because I can now also wash my vegetables with the water and use it for all of my cooking needs.” 

One complaint some customers had was the height. The small unit doesn’t fit under most kitchen cabinets, which requires it to be on an open counter space or stored in another area. Still, this doesn’t seem to be a deal-breaker for the thousands of customers who have bought the Berkey filtration system. 

There are different sizes of Berkey systems depending on the needs of your household. The travel size is best for one (possibly two) people to have an ample supply of water. If you want a filter for your whole family, you can look into the larger versions. 

We have found over 1000 reviews on Amazon with an average rating of 4 stars which makes it easy to recommend the Berkey filtration system as one of the best on the market. Get further details and find the right system for you.

Looking for some more options? Then head over to my review post of the best heavy metal water filters!

Water is always the answer!

With the help of experienced chemists, scientists, researchers, and experts, water filtration systems have come a long way from what they once were. Now, you can take action to purify your drinking water and ensure that you know exactly what you’re getting in your lemonade.