Assessing the Role of Activated Carbon in Tackling Drinking Water Contamination Issues

drinking water

close-up view of water flowing from tap into glass

Having safe drinking water is essential, and most people in the U.S. are lucky enough to have access to it. Unfortunately, many still don’t have a clean, safe drinking water supply even in this country, and accidental contamination can occur anywhere.


Removing contamination and finding more ways to do it more efficiently is essential if people want to remain as healthy as possible.


Contaminants aren’t always immediately dangerous, like bacteria; they’re often long-term risks that build up and begin affecting biological systems years after the first exposure. However, given that contamination can occur at several points between the origin of the water source and the point of use in the home or in a business, decontamination can seem quite complicated.


In reality, it calls for several types of disinfection and decontamination from the water treatment plants outside cities to the faucets in kitchens and bathrooms. Activated carbon is one type of decontaminant that people can use in their homes.


What Is Activated Carbon?

Activated carbon is an adsorbent that removes contamination from water. Adsorption is a process where a substance basically grabs onto a contaminant and holds onto it, removing it from the medium it was in (or at least making it impossible for the contaminant to continue to flow along with the medium). So, if there’s a contaminant in the water, activated carbon molecules grab onto the contaminant molecules and prevent them from continuing to circulate in the water.


This is different from absorbing something, in which the absorbent material sucks the contaminant inside its structure.


Activated carbon is better at removing some particles over others, but it’s an all-around good adsorbent material that removes a lot.


What Does It Remove?

Activated carbon is very good at removing mainly chemical and metal contaminants. Benzene, chlorine, PFAS, and even lead are among the substances that activated carbon can remove. It’s not the best for removing bacteria, viruses, and minerals, but this is why water decontamination has many levels, ranging from disinfection to decontamination; each level removes another type of contaminant.


Why Is Eliminating Chemical Contaminants Such a Big Deal?

Chemical contaminants like benzene and PFAS may be invisible, but they can have long-term effects after accumulating in the body in both animals and humans. PFAS, for example, has been associated with liver and kidney disease, cancer, and thyroid dysfunction, among several other conditions. While drinking water contaminated with PFAS doesn’t guarantee that you’ll develop any of these diseases, the compounds do appear to make it more likely that you will. In other words, they increase your risk in a known and potentially substantial way.


Even some decontamination methods can leave their own contaminants. Adding chlorine to water is a common disinfection method, but it can leave behind carcinogenic trihalomethanes. So, activated carbon acts as a secondary filter to remove remaining contamination including those substances produced during other disinfection routines.


Activated carbon is a simple decontamination method that can be used at the point of distribution and at the point of entry into homes. Filters are easy to find, and brands like Puragen Activated Carbons offer advice on which filters are best for your home and business. Don’t assume that water that looks, smells, and tastes fine is actually safe to drink. Add these filters so that the product that comes out of your sink faucets truly is as clean as possible.