There are many considerations to keep in mind when moving to a new city, from choosing a neighborhood to finding the right school. As a result, many families might not at first think of access to safe drinking water.
The tap water in Beijing isn’t fit for drinking. Residents resort to a number of ways to secure drinking water. A minority boil their tap water, a cheap method that removes bacteria but doesn’t get rid of toxins, heavy metals, or minerals like calcium. Others purchase pitchers with a carbon filter from brands like Brita. Though easy to use, the filters need frequent changing and may not be practical for larger households. In addition, Brita’s carbon filter can’t handle the heavy metals and organic compounds (VOCs) found in Beijing’s tap water.
The majority of people use water coolers outfitted with 19L jugs delivered straight to your door. Though this is one of the most convenient options, there are several issues. For one thing, most people don’t disinfect their water dispenser properly – if at all – which makes bacterial growth likely. Authenticity is another concern, as many shops have been found to refill jugs with filtered tap water.
There’s also a lot of research documenting the health risks associated with exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical commonly found in plastic containers. For these reasons and more, many families are making the switch to water filtration systems.
Drinking Water Filters
Water filtration systems are the most cost-effective and convenient way to ensure safe drinking water. They also use less plastic, generate less waste, and result in a smaller carbon footprint. The most common types of filters are reverse osmosis and distillation, which both produce 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 required to produce 1L of purified water), which isn’t ideal for an area plagued by drought.
In addition, 100 percent pure water isn’t optimal for health since naturally-occurring freshwater contains a certain number of minerals. According to the World Health Organization, drinking pure water can leach minerals from your body and in the process affect teeth and calcium levels.
The better option would be water filtration systems that use a specialized carbon filter with more surface area for removing impurities, including bacteria, chlorine, VOCs, and other heavy metals. Brands like Aquasana produce both countertop and under-the-counter versions; the most complex filtration systems can even ionize water and balance its pH level.
Do your research, as prices vary widely. For reference, an Aquasana countertop filter costs around RMB 1,550 at the World Health Store while an under-the-counter filter costs RMB 2,450 or RMB 3,100 for the next model up.
Water filters are also available straight from the Aquasana distributor in Beijing, where an employee can help you figure out the best filter for your needs. The filters must be changed every six months and are designed to actually clog when they reach capacity. Aquasana also offers free installation and delivery.
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, with levels concentrated as much as 20 to 30 times higher in shower stalls.
Many expats complain of skin disorders like eczema, psoriasis, dandruff as well as chronic skin and hair dryness while living in Beijing.
According to Aquasana’s website, showering and bathing in chlorinated tap water even at very low levels causes damage to skin and hair. Chlorine is known to strip hair and skin of its natural protective oils, resulting in scaly skin, itching, and bacterial imbalances.
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 “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.
To address these health concerns, filters can be installed directly onto shower heads to reduce exposure to chlorine, VOCs, carcinogens, and chemicals. Aquasana claims to be the only brand that can reduce chloramines because of a specially-developed two-stage carbon filter. They cost around RMB 1,000 at the World Health Store.
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
National Sanitation Foundation (NSF)
The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) is an independent, accredited public health and safety organization based in the US. It provides auditing, education, and risk management solutions for public health and the environment. On the NSF website, go to info.nsf.org/Certified/dwtu/listings.asp to see where water filters are manufactured and what contaminants they are certified to remove.
This article originally appeared in the 2015 beijingkids Home and Relocation Guide. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Mauricio Alves (Flickr)