Filtering Baltimore’s Drinking Water: It’s Worth the Trouble

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IMG_2895Charm City has darn good tap water which is so nice to know because more of us are hitting the tap and forgoing plastic bottled water.  You should also know it’s smart to filter your home’s tap water because it contains unavoidable chlorine byproducts that form between the water plant and your tap. The good news is that simple carbon filters help make your water healthy and tasty and many convenient options are available.

Baltimore City supplies drinking water to 1.8 million Baltimore City homes and even to parts of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard Counties. Our drinking water meets all federal water safety standards.

A big thanks for Baltimore’s clean drinking water supply goes to Abel Wolman, a forward-thinking water engineer. In 1922, Wolman urged the city to purchase the land surrounding our watersheds. Now the rain and snowmelt that fills up the city’s three reservoirs are filtered through forested areas that are relatively free of industrial pollution. Cleaner water into the water treatment plants means even cleaner water going to your tap. We’re lucky because some large metro areas have lousy drinking water.

You may still want to filter your tap water because of unintended chlorine byproducts. A smidge of chlorine is added to water leaving treatment plants, and the chlorine reacts with organic matter in the pipes and forms chlorine byproducts.  Byproducts aren’t good for people to drink, especially kids and babies.

Reading Baltimore’s 2013 Baltimore Water Quality report you’ll notice the chlorine byproducts hover right below the legal limit.  Scientific research suggests that long term exposure to chlorine byproducts through drinking and skin inhalation (hot showers) is linked to higher bladder cancer rates in people.

Filtering drinking water with activated carbon filters is easy and eliminates chlorine byproducts and chlorine. The basic filter options are pitcher-type filters, under-sink filters or a whole house filter. Check out this good water filter guide to help you choose the right type. It really depends on your level of risk-taking as to which filter to choose. Whole house filters ensure your hot showers use filtered water, under sink mounted types filter the cold water line and pitchers are for just pouring drinks.

Fun fact: Baltimore City’s Department of Works is housed in the Abel Wolman Municipal Building.

Laurel Peltier
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Laurel Peltier

Laurel writes the environmental GreenLaurel column every other Thursday in the Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of UVA's MBA program, she spends her time with her family and making "all things green" interesting.
Laurel Peltier
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4 COMMENTS

  1. How the heck does Baltimore have “darn good tap water”? The water coming into my house leaves a nasty yellow film on everything. The bath tub was impossible to scrub clean until I put a carbon filter in the shower head; after a few months, that stuff started softening and breaking away.

    It’s like the water contains high amounts of iron, sulfur, and manganese.

    • John- Thanks for your comment, a topic near and dear to my heart. The reason that I spent years researching our city water (I live in Baltimore City) is that my home’s water was yellow similar to your description. It took 3 years of working with three plumbers to figure out why our water was yellow/pink, and why white grout in the shower turned yellowish/pink over time. In our 1951 Balto City home I could see the yellow clearly when I poured the flushed water out of the shower filter head (I used Canpro shower filters for 3 years). What a pain, too. My home’s pipes are copper, so we confused if maybe a few pieces were steel? After testing the water at various points in the house, we realized the yellowish tint is rust leeching from the 65-year-old pipe that runs from the water main in the street to our home’s basement walls. Though reputable sources say that rust/iron is okay to drink and bathe in-I didn’t want to try that.

      I installed a whole house filter to filter out the unavoidable chlorine by-products (referenced in the article) and the rust. No more rings in the bathroom, water is clear).

      The issue is that your home can have many types of pipes and in some homes, the pipe joint fixtures were soldered with lead.

      Since I wrote this piece a bit ago, I will double check two things: the best place to have your water tested for free, and also if the City still provides support on learning if it’s the mains in your area.

      Also, since the pipes both water in, and sewage out, are 65-years-old, I did purchase that “pipe” insurance for $9.00/mo that covers a sewage line or water line blowout because my intuition tells me that’s coming soon. The pipes are just too old.

      If you live in a home on a well, you have a totally different set of issues. Feel free to email me at [email protected].

      But, the water that leaves our plant for the most part os pretty clean. Clean in, cleaner out. If you’re interested, read the yearly water report which is mandatory reported under the EPA’s safe drinking water act rules.

      And you thought you were just leaving a quick comment!
      Your green friend, greenlaurel

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