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Water experts: Use faucet filters over "whole house filters"

Marc Edwards, PhD, of Virginia Tech University, holds two vials of water, one from Flint and the other from Detroit. Edwards' research helped uncover the serious problems affecting Flint's water supply.
Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio

Flint residents thinking they need a "whole house filter" to clean their water are mistaken, say experts involved in the city's crisis. 

Marc Edwards, researcher and professor at Virginia Tech, and an expert on water treatment, said he's received several frantic questions from Flint residents over whether they need to purchase a whole house filter. Those are placed at the point where the water enters the home. 

Edwards said these systems are an unnecessary expense, sometimes priced at around $1,000, and tap filters are the best option for Flint residents.

"Public-health-wise and financially they don't make as much sense as just using those little filters at the end of your tap that clean up the water used for cooking or drinking," he said. 

He explained that the whole-house filters don't do anything to mitigate lead that could be in household pipes.

“The whole house filter could remove all the lead that’s before it, but if you’ve got all your plumbing after that that has lead solder, or lead in brass, and also it’s picked up lead over the years from a lead service line, often times it’s not removing the main source of the lead, so it gives a false sense of security,” said Edwards.

He added that whole home filters could potentially create new problems for Flint homes. These types of filters are more prone to bacteria accumulation, leaving unhealthy concentrations of pathogens in the water.

He said he doesn't believe anyone selling whole-house filters to Flint residents have bad intentions, but he wants the public to know he does not advocate their use.

Mark Durno is the EPA's on-scene coordinator, and has been encouraging Flint residents to flush out their filters as much as possible. 

The same goes for whole-home filters.

“If you have a whole-home filter, especially if it has some type of paper filter behind it, remove and replace it – or just flat-out remove it for a while and let that water flow freely,” Durno said. 

He said "every house has a story," and the particle situation is particularly troubling. He wants people to check their various filters as frequently as possible, saying he's encountered houses with "caked" filters because residents don't even know they have them. 

He also reminded people that lead isn't absorbed through the skin and not to fear bathing, but make sure to be drinking either bottled or properly filtered water. 

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