Access to clean, safe drinking water is essential. Tap water in Beijing isn’t suitable for drinking; boiling will get rid of bacteria, but not toxins, heavy metals, or minerals like calcium. Most people get their drinking water from water coolers with 19L jugs mounted on top, but this isn’t a foolproof solution. In the past, some shops have been found to refill them with tap water. Brands like Nestle are trying to counteract the problem by including a scratch-off serial number with each bottle, which consumers can input into a website to check the authenticity of the water.
Storage is also a potential problem, as plastic stored in direct sunlight can affect the integrity of the water. Perhaps more concerning is the fact that most people don’t clean their water dispenser often enough. Estimates vary from every six weeks to every six months, but Health Canada recommends cleaning and disinfecting the dispenser every time you change the bottle. Otherwise, it can lead to harmful bacterial growth.
Some families resort to pitchers with a carbon filter from brands like Brita. Though easy to use, the filters need frequent changing and may not be practical for large households. In addition, the carbon filter won’t be able to handle the heavy metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) present in Beijing’s municipal tap water.
Drinking Water Filters
For these reasons and more, many expats are switching to water filtration systems. If you’re planning to be here for a while, it’s the most cost-effective and convenient way to ensure safe drinking water. It also ensures less waste and a smaller carbon footprint. The most common types of filters are reverse osmosis and distillation, which create completely mineral-free water. They’re relatively cheap and good for removing heavy metals and hardening agents, but neither can fully remove VOCs or chlorine. The process also takes up a lot of water (3L of tap water produce 1L of purified water), which is wasteful in a region plagued by drought.
Besides, 100 percent pure water isn’t good for your health since water found in nature has a certain number of minerals. According to the World Health Organization, drinking pure water can actually leach minerals from your body and affect teeth and calcium levels.
The best solution seems to be filtration systems that use carbon filters, which remove bacteria, chlorine, and VOCs from tap water. Brands like Aquasana produce both countertop and under-the-counter versions; the most complex filtration systems can even ionize water and correct its pH level. Prices vary widely, so do your research. For reference, an Aquasana countertop filter costs around RMB 1,500 at World Health Store while an under-the-counter filter costs around RMB 2,300.
They’re also available straight from the distributor in Beijing, which can help you figure out the best filter for your needs. The filters must be changed around every six months and are in fact designed to clog when they reach capacity to ensure clean drinking water.
Another consideration is shower water. According to Aquasana’s website, the average person “will absorb more common carcinogens created by chlorination via inhalation during one ten-minute shower than by drinking 4L of unfiltered water.” Contaminants can be absorbed directly into the body through the skin and lungs; in addition, they can be concentrated in enclosed shower stalls 20-30 times levels higher.
To counteract this, filters can be installed directly onto the
showerhead to reduce chlorine, VOCs, carcinogens, and chemicals. In Beijing, municipal authorities use chloramine instead of chlorine to disinfect the water. Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia and is harder to remove than chlorine. According to the World Health Organization, chloramine is actually “about 2,000 and 100,000 times less effective than free chlorine for the inactivation of E. Coli and rotaviruses, respectively.” This may impact people with weaker immune systems. Aquasana claims to be the only brand that can reduce chloramines thanks to a two-stage carbon filter. They cost around RMB 1,000 at the World Health Store.
Pros—Cheap, kills bacteria
Cons—Doesn’t remove VOCs, sediment, or chlorine, must keep a supply on hand if you don’t like drinking hot water
Method—Bottled water (19L)
Pros—Delivered to your door, many brands available
Cons—Questionable quality, dispenser needs frequent cleaning and takes up space in the home
Method—Pitcher filter (e.g. Brita)
Pros—Simple, fits in fridge
Cons—Requires frequent filter replacement and water refills, inadequate filtration for Beijing
Pros—Gravity-powered, many brands
Cons—Takes up counter space, may not remove all VOCs, difficult to know which brand to trust
Method—Reverse osmosis filter
Pros—Soft water, long filter life
Cons—Takes up cupboard space, wastes water, removes natural minerals, system needs frequent cleaning
Method—Under-the-sink filter (Aquasana)
Pros—Out of sight, third party verification, removes VOCs, leaves minerals
Cons—Takes up cupboard space, filters are imported with additional tax
Aquasana China 美国阿夸莎娜公司
Rm 1271, Jinchao Building, Beijing Bureau of Environmental Protection, 5 Nongzhanguan Nanlu, Chaoyang District (400 000 8320, EN: 136 5128 5157, email@example.com) www.aquasana-china.com 朝阳区农展南路5号北京市环境保护局京朝大厦1271
World Health Store 世界健康品店
1) Mon-Fri 10.30am-8pm, Sat-Sun 10am-7.30pm. Rm 2152, 1/F, Section A, North Tower, Soho Shangdu, 8 Dongdaqiao Lu, Chaoyang District (5900 2209) www.worldhealthstore.com.cn 朝阳区东大桥路8号SOHO尚都北塔A座一层2152; 2) Mon-Thu 10am-8pm, Fri-Sat 10.30am-8.30pm, Sun 10.30am-8pm. Rm 09A, B1/F, Euro Plaza, 99 Yuxiang Lu, Tianzhu, Shunyi District (8046 2524) 顺义区天竺镇裕翔路99号欧陆广场地下1层09A
Photos: Jeff Turner (Flickr)