Is Your Water Contaminated With This Common, Not-So-Harmless Substance?

admin February 7, 2014

Image by eutrophication&hypoxia

This post is sponsored by United Environmental Water Solutions.

Last fall, people in my area started to notice that the water smelled…bad.  Like dirt, or black mold.

It honestly took me awhile to catch on, because we have a Berkey water filter.  But when I was filling it, I noticed that the water smelled heavily of chlorine, and something else.  I also noticed that my filter was taking much longer to clean the water, and the parts were needing rinsed much more often.

Enough people complained about this smell that the city released official statements: The cause was algal bloom, and it was perfectly safe to drink.

But…is it?

Experience With Algal Bloom

Locally, many of my friends who did not have filters, as well as many people interviewed on the news, switched to bottled water.  They were experience digestive upset, increased eczema, and other negative symptoms.  They knew that drinking the water was not healthy for them — no matter what the city official claimed.

The city admitted that they were using six times the normal amount of carbon to filter the water, the maximum legal limit.  It still wasn’t removing the negative taste or smell from the water.  The city said it would disappear once a good freeze happened — but despite how cold the weather’s been (several days of below 0 temperatures), the issue wasn’t cleared until very recently.

Algal blooms may not be as “safe” as the city says.

What Is Algal Bloom?

Algal bloom is a sudden, rapid growth of potentially harmful algae, typically in a water reservoir (at least, that’s the context in which we’re concerned about it).  It often occurs in late summer and fall, as ours did.

Some species of algae are mostly harmless.  But others…can be very harmful.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), the most common type of Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) varies by location.  Inland areas, like mine, are most likely to get CyanoHABs.  Coastal areas have a much greater variety.  We’ll focus on CyanoHABs since they are most likely to occur in reservoirs throughout most of the country.  This is the type of algae that was growing in the Hoover Dam reservoir near me last fall.

Is This Harmful?

According to published research in Toxins (Baesel), yes.

CyanoHABs produce toxic cyanobacteria, which produce cyanotoxin.  This water, when used to irrigate crops, can build up in the plants and cause oxidative stress, and harm to human health.  The algae is toxic and can cause liver and nerve damage.

One of the major reasons that these algal blooms happen is because of the run-off from nearby conventional farms.  The phosphorus- and nitrogen-based pesticides encourage the toxic algae to grow.

The treatment the plants use is carbon, which can get rid of the detectable toxins, but not the “foul taste and smell.”  This indicates that there is some residual issue, otherwise there would be no foul taste or smell!  There is something in the water causing that issue — and it has made some ill.

Another study shows that symptoms  of consuming the contaminated water included diarrhea, muscle and joint pains, and irritation of the skin, eyes and throat.

While officials claim that there is no harm from treated water, people still reported illnesses from drinking it.  In some states and cities, the problem has gotten so bad that officials issued boil alerts, do-not-drink alerts, or do-not-use alerts, because systems weren’t able to make the water safe.  In one instance in northern Ohio, the issue was so bad that they shut down a plant and re-routed citizens’ water to another source (temporarily)!

Since it is known to be toxic before it’s filtered, and it still retains the nasty smell and taste — it’s best to avoid it!

Berkey new

How Can We Have Safe Water?

Many cities who have a significant issue with algal bloom are upgrading their water filtration systems to handle it, but these will not be completed for a few years.  Plus, there are still potentially toxic residues in the water that are not being filtered.

We choose to use a Berkey water filter to keep our water safe to drink.  There are a lot of filtration systems out there, but after doing quite a lot of research, I believe this one is the best.  It’s so powerful that it can filter contaminated river water!  If we took the water directly from these contaminated streams, it would still be safe to consume after going through the Berkey.

Berkey removes:

  • Viruses
  • Pathogenic bacteria
  • Cysts
  • Parasites
  • Herbicides
  • Pesticides
  • Organic solvents
  • VOCs
  • Detergents
  • Cloudiness
  • Silt
  • Sediment
  • Foul tastes and odors
  • Heavy metals

This is without taking out the beneficial minerals.  We’ve had our filter for about three years now and love it.  We got ours through Dan at United Environmental Water Solutions.  He’s been great at answering all our questions about different systems, and is really responsive, patient, and ships quickly.  When we had some questions about our old system, which we hadn’t even bought through him, he worked to find answers for us and a solution to our problem.

Getting a quality filter is the best way to make sure that your water is safe.  Whole-house systems can cost thousands, but a Berkey is only around $250 – $350.  It also doesn’t require any electricity to use, which means it’s a great choice if there’s a true emergency and no power.

I like knowing that my family is safe…no matter what the water system throws at us.

Have you dealt with algal bloom in your water before?  How do you keep your family safe?

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  1. This so great but I’d be very interested in hearing what you have to say about bottled water. I’d love to be able to spend $250-$350 for a water filter but that’s not really in our budget right now. We live in an apartment so a whole house system wouldn’t be an option for us. We use tap water to bathe and cook. We buy water to drink. Do you have information on what to look for when buying water regarding the different methods of filtration and the addition of chemicals, minerals and electrolytes? Do you have suggestions for checking for fluoride and chlorine or tips on how to avoid them if you are out all day and need to grab something to drink from a convenient store? Thank you for your time. I truly appreciate all that you do!


    • Hi Kelli,

      From what I know, bottled water isn’t really a whole lot better than tap water. Check out to see what the different options are, and Dan can help you figure out something that’s budget-friendly. When I’m on the go I either bring a drink with me, or I just…get what there is and don’t worry too much. 🙂


  2. What size do you have? Do you feel like it’s the right size for your family? Does it ever seem like it takes up too much space? Thanks!


  3. Does the Berkey water filter get rid of fluoride and chlorine?


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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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