The United Nations has declared that safe drinking water is a human right; it is something that Americans have traditionally taken for granted. But in recent years, with isolated outbreaks of sickness from contaminated drinking water and concern over long-term effects of various elements-chlorine, for exam-ple-in some water that may cause diseases such as cancer, Americans have trusted less in what flows out of the tap and have looked toward filters.


Most water in America is perfectly safe. "It's the best in the world," says Nancy Cullota, general manager of the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) Drinking Water Treatment Program. Recently the standards for water have gotten much better, most notably with a late-1998 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation lim-iting harmful microbes in the water. There are, however, several considerations. People who live far from a city and get their water from a well could have unsafe water, especially if they are near an agricul-tural area where pesticides run off into the water source.

  Even those who get their water from safe municipal water supplies may have harmful lead in their water because of old pipes; plumbing installed or even repaired before June 1986, when plastic piping was required, could carry leaded water. Finally, the EPA recommends that people with health problems such as HIV infection or cancer should filter their water Pregnant women and young children, who take in more water proportionate to their body size than adults, may also need to have their water filtered. To find out about your water, have it tested. To find a local lab, contact the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791. Two national labs are Suburban Water Testing Laboratories (800-433-6595) and National Testing Laboratories (800-458-3330), which charge about $40 for lead testing and about $150 to test for over 95 other contaminants.


Many people buy filters just to improve the taste and smell of water, even if it is safe. For that purpose, you can buy a pitcher-style filter. These cost about $30 and have




filters that need replacement every few months and cost about $7. Whether it's worth it will depend on how acceptable your water is. In-fridge Alters are another option, but sometimes they break down-in which case, you'll need a professional to do the repair. But if you have contaminants, be sure you get a filter that specifically removes those substances. For $6 plus han-dling, the NSF (877-286-0702) provides a booklet that tells which brands of filters remove which elements. There are two basic kinds of filters: solid carbon block, which is adequate for taking out elements, such as chlorine, rust and particles, and reverse osmosis, which takes out those elements plus certain other chemicals. Only people with special conditions, such as the health problems named above, need the power pro-vided by a reverse-osmosis filter. Solid carbon-block filters can be mounted to the faucet, placed on the countertop next to it or installed on the pipe under the sink, with a spigot (many of-which can now be color-coordinated to 'the faucet) at the sink for water flow. These can usually be installed without tools, whereas reverse-osmosis systems are fitted underneath the sink and generally must be installed by the manufacturer. Jack Hoffbuhr, executive director of the American Water Works Association, advises buying only filters certified by the NSF, which has five thorough requirements for certification and to be sure the filter does what it says it does. Approved fitters should state they are 'NSF certified; any other language, such as "tested to NSF standards," may not mean the same thing.


Check that your filter doesn't take out fluoride, which is added to some water systems. A recent study found that some filters have brass alloy fittings that add lead to the water, so check to be sure the one you buy doesn't. Change the cartridge in the filter when directed, or it can end up putting bacteria into the water. Some filters have electronic indica-tors showing when the cartridge should be changed. Others have car-tridges that need to be changed only once a year, making them easier to maintain.

-Jill Herbers


There are hundreds of filters to choose from. Here are a few recommended ones, all NSF certified.

Terraflo TerraTop CBLX Countertop carbon-block filter that takes out many elements, $99.95; $44.95 for cartridge (replaced once a year). Made by Global Environmental Technologies (GET), Inc. P.O. Box 8839 Allentown, PA 18103-8839 800-800-TERRA

PUR Ultimate Faucet Mount xxxxxxxxxxx Faucet-mount carbon-block filter that takes out most common contaminants, $59.99; $21.99 for cartridge (Replaced every 100 gallons). Made by Recovery Engineering, Inc. 9300 N. 7th Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55428 800-ONLY-PUR, ext. 400

Culligan Reverse Osmosis Systems Optimum filtering; mounts under sink, $850 to $1,000. Culligan International 208 E. 73rd St. New York, NY 10021 800-323-4078