CRUEL TRUTHS

The cruel hidden truth of household water filters in Malaysia


When comes to water filter, the first most common question buyers will ask is “How good is your water filter and the quality of its treated water? In line with such ‘requirement’, water filter suppliers make many manipulative claims which are mainly false.


Why did this happen? The simple reason links to the basic marketing rule of “supply versus demand”. Even as the buyers possess little scientific knowledge on water quality and its treatment process, they demand super high-tech products and hence, opening a loophole for sellers to take advantage of this situation.


All genuine water treatment professionals know the truth but it is difficult to explain and to prove this to the not-so-technically-inclined users.


Generally, people are reluctant to accept the cruel truth. Even those who are willing to listen would impatiently demand the explanations to be brief. Therefore, only certain misleading brief information is understood and yet still, not the whole truth.


I personally feel that the public should be educated with some basic scientific knowledge of the water treatment and water quality specifications recommended by the World Health Organisation, before they jump into any conclusion.


With more than 20 years experience in the design and commissioning of various water treatment projects mainly, in Malaysia, I have accumulated sufficient experience and knowledge to comment on water issues that may seriously affect the users’ health.


I dare firmly declare that most household water filters in Malaysia market are carcinogen (cancer-causing agent) generators. In order to prove this statement, I have no choice but to drag the reader into the tedious theories of science and the technical aspect of water treatment.


Classifications of proofs for carcinogen generating filters are as follows:

  • Scientific theories of water treatment technology
  • Analysis of water from existing household water filters
  • Statistic reports from Health Ministry, Malaysia


Theories

In order to understand the theories, one must first understand what a carcinogen is and how carcinogens are formed.


Almost all water authorities worldwide agree that the main carcinogen found in the water supplies that boost the world's cancer rate, is the famous Trihalomethane (THM).


You can log on to any international health authorities' website to look for information regarding THM or read the attached page (Attachment #1) from University Kebangsaan Malaysia's website (https://ikm.org.my/mjchemistry/images/8MJC5_056_066_MdPauziAbdullah.pdf)


The report states that "chlorine posed potential health risks due to formation of carcinogenic or mutagenic halo-organic compounds as disinfection by-products such as THM."


You might find some of the technical words fairly confusing. However, the following explanation may help to clear some of your doubts.


THM are a group of four organic chemicals - bromoform, chloroform, dichloromethane and dibromochloromethane - that are formed when chlorine, used as a disinfectant, reacts with organic matter in water.


To put it simply:

Where:

  • Free Chlorine is a poisonous gas injected into the water at the municipal treatment plant to kill bacterial.
  • Organic Matter is trapped sediments (organic based), given sufficient time (more than a week) to decay and dissolved in water.


In other words, THM will not be formed if any one of these two elements is absent. Per contra, a high Free Chlorine and Organic Matter content in the water will result in a high level of THM.


Since there are only two elements, it is not difficult to study each element in detail.


Free Chlorine


The World Health Organisation recommends that in order to prevent secondary infection, certain amount of residue chlorine should remain in the pipe-line until it reaches consumers.


For reference, attached herewith is a copy of ‘Water Quality Standards and Frequencyof Monitoring’ ( Attachment #2). It is recognised and is supposed to be strictly followed by the Water Works Department of Malaysia.


It recommends that the standard readings should not be less than 0.2mg/l and 1.0mg/l for Free Chlorine and Combined Residue Chlorine respectively. Recommended content of Combined Chlorine is much higher than Free Chlorine partly because Combined Chlorine creates fewer THM.


Now, let’s look at the actual situation. Does our tap water comply with the recommendation? The answer is a definite NO.


I discovered this ridiculous phenomenon way back in 1993 when I tendered for a water- treatment project for Kapar Power Station in Selangor. For the purpose of system design and calculation, the consultant had to furnish the bidders with a comprehensive analysis of the raw water supply, which in this case, was the city’s tap water.


As stated in the tender document, (Attachment #3 - Water Analysis Report), Combined Chlorine was not present, while Free Chlorine was measured at 2.0 mg/l; 10 times more than the recommended level.


Ironically, the consultants chose to put the words ‘in an epidemic’ next to the figures for Free Chlorine to cover-up our ‘weird demands’ evidently, in attempt, to prevent the results from being exposed to the other international professionals (the tender was open to international bidders). By doing so, the consultants were actually suggesting an assumption that we had experienced an epidemic outbreak throughout the year. If this had been true, our government would have declared an emergency due to the epidemic… or perhaps, is this situation so common that it had grown to be a non-issue?


Organic Matter


The main risk associated with high level of Free Chlorine is if it reacts with Organic Matter to form THM.


Due to excessive rainfall, raw water in Malaysia contains little organic matter. As long as organic matter is not produced in the filtration stage, Free Chlorine, by itself, cannot produce THM.


The Municipal Water Works Department has taken various steps to ensure their sand filters remain clean at all times. By doing so, the decaying process of trapped organic sediments could not take place inside the filter and thus, restricting the production of organic matter.


The operators must frequently (preferably daily) backwash the filter with specially-sized high flow-rate water pumps. The backwash efficiency is further enhanced by air scouring. Even with the presence of high Free Chlorine, the level of THM generated could still be minimized. Please refer to the report by UKM (Attachment #1).


Without the above, it is very difficult for normal home water filters to avoid the production of organic matters. The end result will be horrifying, when accompanied by the known high levels of Free Chlorine.


Water Analysis


Analyzing water samples collected before and after filtration by a water filter is the best method to prove, not only the theories, but also the filter’s effectiveness or weaknesses.


There are many parameters which can be analyzed to determine whether the water is healthy for human consumption or otherwise. However, such analysis can be very costly. Furthermore, the analysis by itself may be difficult to explain without clarification from different theories and other relevant supporting facts.


I chose the THM test because THM is a water-borne carcinogen which water professionals and health authorities worldwide, are most concerned about.


Attachment #4: Certificate of Analysis issued by M/S: ALS Technichem (M) Sdn Bhd which is self explanatory.


The water samples were collected from a house in Kajang, Selangor, in February 2009. In this case study, the house-owner has installed (1) an outdoor water filter, of a well- known brand, at the main water inlet and (2) another water-filter underneath the kitchen sink.


  1. With reference to the above attachment, the THM level in water increased after passing through the first filter (Diamond Master) even though the water appeared physically clean. No one would ever expect that the filtered, cleaner-looking water was actually more harmful (cancer-causing wise) than the outwardly-dirtier raw tap water. Another test moreover, proved that the increase in THM was due to the higher organic level in the water (increased by more than double after filtering through the first water filter).

  2. Luckily, this house has also installed a point-of-use water filter (AquaKitch) which was able to eliminate THM and at the same time, reduce the organic content.

Reminders


Although the second filter may solve the problem but it is still not recommended to install any water filter that generates toxin.


Owners need to acquire sufficient technical knowledge of their water-filters before they engage a qualified independent laboratory to do the tests. Furthermore, the sampling of water has to be done professionally; otherwise the test results may not be fair and accurate.


Statistics


If the above-mentioned is true, then surely it will be evident in the increase of the number of cancer cases. The most reliable method is to obtain the statistics for cancer cases from the Health Ministry. Although it has been occasionally reported by many mainstream newspapers, unfortunately, people rarely take notice of such reports and are even much less likely to link them with the water quality or water-filters.


Our former Health Minister, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, has announced that Malaysia is one of the world’s highest risk countries for cancer.


Attachment #5

: MCA women chief Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun’s statement as reported in a local Chinese newspaper: “One of the world’s highest rate; cancer is haunting Malaysians.”


Attachment #6: The Health Minister disclosed the statistic which showed that Chinese cancer patients out-number that of other races. Earlier, Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek also mentioned that among all races, approximately 50% of cancer patients are Chinese (even though Chinese comprise less than 30% of the total population).


Attachment #7: Under sub-headline “Most cases involve Chinese”, Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said “Researchers should find out why the rate in this country is higher and why mainly Chinese women are affected”.


Yes! I fully agree with him that should have more research on this subject. Coincidentally, from the numerous market feedbacks that I have received, the vast majority of the sales of all major brands of water filters were to Chinese customers.


Comment from other water professionals


After reading all the explanations above, you may ask, “Why have there not been any warnings from the water professionals on this issue?” The answers are in the following attachments.


Attachment #8: Syabas’ Executive Director, V. Subramaniam, a local water professional, cautioned that household filters which are not well-maintained could contaminate drinking water. (Reported by New Sunday Times, May 25, 2008)


Attachment #9: The first sentence in a report on tap water quality by The Herald (Ireland, UK newspaper) reads, “Expensive filters only take good out of tap water, experts say”. The report ended with “water quality poorer because of the build-up of deposits”.


Attachment #10: more reports can also be found in watertechonline.com, a website of Water Technology magazine, USA, which many water professionals worldwide subscribed to.

For your information, most developed countries consider their Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the most powerful authority on issues concerning health and the environment.


Attachment #11

: Water and Energy Consumers Association Malaysia (WECAM) commented that most water-filter manufacturers over-exaggerate their products’ abilities and advised the general public not to be conned by such claims.