Water Quality Information | Written By Actual Experts
Chromium 6 In Drinking Water: Background, Exposure, Toxicology
Wendy Spicer, M.S. | Scientific Contributor
If you have seen the film Erin Brockovich, you are familiar with chromium 6 (Also known as hexavalent chromium and chromium(VI)) water contamination. The movie tells the story of a legal clerk turned activist who uncovers that a California utility company, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), was knowingly dumping chromium 6 waste and contaminating the local water supply. Brockovich’s law firm, Masry and Vititoe, represented over 600 clients in a lawsuit against PG&E which settled for 333 million dollars in 1993. Despite the success and fame of this story, chromium 6 water contamination remains largely unregulated and problematic across the United States. A survey from 2013-2015 performed by the non-profit Environmental Working Group estimated that the water supplies serving over 218 million Americans is contaminated with chromium 6 levels that exceed the amount deemed safe.
What Is Chromium?
Chromium (Cr) is a naturally occurring element with many industrial applications, namely the production of alloys such stainless steel as well as leather tanning processes. Chromium compounds are also used as industrial catalysts and pigments, creating bright green, yellow, red and orange colors. Chromium plating, which adds a shiny polished mirror finish to steel or plastic, is commonly seen on household appliances and vehicles.
Chromium can be found in several oxidation states, meaning that they differ in the number of electrons surrounding the atom’s nucleus. Chromium 6 is the highly-toxic form of chromium. Industrial discharge is the largest source of chromium 6 in our environment and is released into air and wastewater by metal processing facilities, tannery facilities, chromate production, stainless steel welding, ferrochrome production, and pigment production. The major way that most people are exposed to chromium 6 is through contaminated food and water.
What Are The Adverse Health Effects Of Chromium in Water?
Not all forms of chromium are highly toxic to humans. For example, chromium(III) (also known as trivalent chromium) is an essential nutrient that plays a role in glucose, fat and protein metabolism by potentiating the action of insulin. It is also important to note that different chemical forms of the same metal, as well as particle size and form of ingestion, will all contribute to differences in the carcinogenic potential of each chromium containing compound.
There is strong evidence that chromium 6 is a human carcinogen (i.e. it causes cancer). In addition to many types of cancer, chromium 6 exposure is known to cause multiorgan toxicity such as renal damage, allergy and asthma. Breathing high levels of chromium 6 can cause irritation to the lining of the nose, and nose ulcers. Lung and respiratory cancers are more common in industrial workers (where it is more likely to be inhaled) while gastrointestinal tumors are more common in humans and animals exposed to chromium 6 in drinking water. Accidental or intentional ingestion of extremely high doses of chromium 6 compounds can cause acute respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, hematological, hepatic, renal, and neurological distress which may result in death.
As always, feel free to take advantage of our "Help No Matter What" approach to technical support. We will answer your questions about water quality even if you have no desire to purchase one of our products.Other Articles We Think You’ll Enjoy
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2017 Washington DC Tap Water Report: What You Need To Know
Eric Roy, Ph.D. | Scientific Founder
We took a day over the long weekend to break down this year's Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) for Washington, DC tap water. Note: We are not affiliated in way with DC Water, but they have been sending people to this article as a reputable source of information.
Lead In DC Tap Water
Washington, DC is an old city with a lot of lead service lines, so it's not a huge surprise that lead leaches from lead-containing pipes, solder, and fittings in some homes. For the most recent Water Quality Data for Washington, DC, DC Water sampled for lead in two sampling periods: January-June and July-December. In the 125 samples pulled during January-June period, the 90th percentile concentration for lead was 2 parts per billion, and no samples were above the 15 part per billion Action Level (AL). In the 115 samples pulled from the July-December sampling period, the 90th percentile concentration was 3 parts per billion, and 2 samples came in at over the 15 parts per billion.
Even though these results indicate that DC is in citywide compliance with federal water quality standards, it's important to point out that there is no level of lead safe for children, and that the federal standards allow up to 10% of sampled taps to have lead concentrations over 15 parts per billion.
Lead contamination is nothing to play around with, especially for families with young children. We highly recommend that Washington DC residents take a look at this map to see if their home has a lead service line, because those homes (and homes with plumbing that predates 1986) are most susceptible. We also highly recommend taking advantage of DC Water's free lead testing program, and any families with small children take steps to remove any lead from their water, even if they don't use a Hydroviv filter. It's important to remember that most pitchers and fridge filters do NOT remove lead from water.
Detectable Levels of Three Herbicides In DC Tap Water
One thing that has caused quite a bit of alarm from several people in this year's report is that Atrazine, Dalapon, and Simazine were all found in detectable levels, albeit well below the allowable limit. It shouldn't be a huge surprise seeing that we draw our water from near at the end of a river, so there is opportunity for agricultural runoff to enter the river. For anyone who is interested, The Maryland DEP has made the Source Water Assessment for the Potomac River (404 pages) publicly available.
DC's Water Source: Potomac River
Even though we've written stand-alone article about DC's tap water, it's worth touching upon it quickly because there seems to be a bit of confusion about where our water comes from. The Washington Aqueduct (operated by the Army Corps of Engineers) draws water from the Potomac River, and treats it. District of Columbia Sewer and Water Authority (aka DC Water) purchases treated water from the Washington Aqueduct, and is responsible for distributing it through DC. This is how's it's been for a long time, nothing has changed.
Left Out Of The Report: Chromium 6
With chromium 6 (also known as hexavalent chromium) still in the public's mind from major nationwide stories, I was a bit surprised to see it left out of the 2017 report altogether. Even though it's a known carcinogen, chromium 6 is categorized as an "Emerging Contaminant" by EPA and is not regulated on its own. DC Water (and 6000 other municipalities) participate in the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR3) (which is basically a nationwide testing program to study "emerging" contaminants before they become regulated) and found chromium 6 concentrations between 74 and 91 parts per trillion. These levels are pretty similar to concentrations that we have seen when we have done sampling/analysis ourselves (84-120 parts per trillion). For perspective, these levels are roughly 4-5x higher than what The State Of California set as a public health goal. It is my strong personal opinion that people should not wait for EPA to begin regulating chromium 6 on its own, and filter their water for it, even if they're not using a Hydroviv filter. It's important to remember that most pitchers and fridge filters do NOT remove chromium 6 from water.
The primary disinfectant used to treat Washington DC's tap water is chloramine, except for a few weeks in the spring when DC switches over to chlorine. DC (and a growing number of municipalities) use chloramine instead of chlorine for a few reasons, one of them being that chloramine is more persistent than chlorine, so it maintains its ability to disinfect the water further away from the source. The flip-side of this is that chloramine does not quickly dissipate from water if left in a jug overnight. If you want to get it out of the water, you'll need a filter designed to remove chloramine, because a regular charcoal filter doesn't do a great job removing it.
When I looked through the data on this, there wasn't a ton that surprised me. Washington, DC is an old city with a lot of lead pipes and plumbing, so it's no surprise that some homes have lead in their water. We get our water near the end of the Potomac River, so it's not a huge surprise that we can find herbicides and chromium 6 in it. While Washington, DC's tap water is in compliance with federal standards, a growing number of people are proactively taking steps to treat their water to a stricter standard than what EPA requires, particularly in the current regulatory climate.
If you want to learn more about Hydroviv's water filters, check out www.hydroviv.com, or drop us a line through live chat or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Even though we sell our products nationwide, Hydroviv is a DC company and we take care of our own backyard!
As always, feel free to take advantage of our "Help No Matter What" approach to technical support. We will answer your questions about water quality even if you have no desire to purchase one of our products.
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Heavy Metal Toxicity & Contamination: What You Need To Know
What Are Heavy Metals?
Chemists categorize heavy metals as elements that are at least five times denser than water. Examples of heavy metals include: cobalt (Co), copper (Cu), chromium (Cr), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), selenium (Se), zinc (Zn), arsenic (As), mercury (Hg), and lead (Pb). Some heavy metals are essential minerals for healthy biochemical and physiological function. Others, such as lead, chromium, arsenic, and mercury are toxic even when ingested in very small quantities. Elemental density and toxicity are inter-related. Arsenic, which is technically categorized as a metalloid (think of a metalloid as metal-like), is quite dense and is extremely toxic in very small quantities. Thus, toxicologists typically categorize arsenic as a heavy metal. Due to their shared high degree of toxicity, lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and arsenic are cause for significant public concern.
How Are We Exposed To Heavy Metals?
People can be exposed to heavy metals though ingestion, inhalation, or contact with skin. The severity of health effects of heavy metals is related to the type and chemical form of each particular contaminant, and is also depends on the exposure time and dose.
Heavy metals have industrial, domestic, agricultural, medical and technological applications, and as a result they are now widespread in our environment. Heavy metal pollution in water is very high in areas where mining, smelters, metal processing refineries, wood preservation, and paper processing facilities are located. Human exposure to heavy metals as well as public concern for the associated health risks have both risen dramatically as a result of an exponential increase of their use in these various applications.
If Heavy Metals Are Toxic, Why Are They Found In Multi-Vitamins?
Some heavy metals including cobalt (Co), copper (Cu), chromium (Cr), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), selenium (Se) and zinc (Zn) are essential minerals that are necessary for various biochemical and physiological functions. They serve as components of several key enzymes and play important roles in various oxidation-reduction reactions in our bodies. Many of these metals are found naturally in the food we eat, while other foods are fortified with these minerals. For example, almost all and grain products (cereal, bread, crackers, etc) are fortified with iron. Inadequate supply of these minerals can result in a variety of deficiency diseases. For example, anemia (red blood cell deficiency) can result from low iron. Supplements can prevent or treat diseases resulting from mineral deficiency.
Not all heavy metals are toxic at in low quantities, however all heavy metals (yes, even the good ones) can be toxic if too much is ingested. Each heavy metal’s toxicity depends on dosage, method of exposure, age, gender, genetics, and nutritional status of the exposed individual. An excess amount of any particular heavy metal produces cellular and tissue damage leading to a variety of adverse effects and human diseases. For some including chromium and copper, there is a very narrow range of concentrations between beneficial and toxic effects, so be careful when taking supplements. Other metals such as aluminium (Al), antinomy (Sb), arsenic (As), barium (Ba), beryllium (Be), bismuth (Bi), cadmium (Cd), gallium (Ga), germanium (Ge), gold (Au), indium (In), lead (Pb), lithium (Li), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni), platinum (Pt), silver (Ag), strontium (Sr), tellurium (Te), thallium (Tl), tin (Sn), titanium (Ti), vanadium (V) and uranium (U) have no established biological functions and are considered non-essential metals in our diet.
What Is Heavy Metal Toxicity Or Heavy Metal Poisoning?
Each metal differs in how it behaves in our bodies, and exposure alone does not always cause disease or harm. Heavy metal-induced toxicity and carcinogenicity involves many biochemical processes, some of which are not clearly understood. The human body’s natural response to heavy metal exposure is to store them and slowly excrete them over time to minimize organ damage.
Acute heavy metal poisoning usually occurs when people are exposed to large amounts of one particular metal at a time. For example, a child swallowing a lead bullet can cause a large amount of lead exposure all at once. Acute exposures can quickly cause serious health effects or death.
Chronic or long-term exposure to lower levels of heavy metals can also cause health problems. The symptoms of chronic heavy metal poisoning can be severe, but are often less obvious and develop much more slowly over time than the symptoms caused by acute exposure. This is a topic of growing scientific evidence that needs to be better researched to clarify all the possible health implications. Chronic heavy metal poisoning can be challenging for both health care providers and patients because there are often many more questions than answers. Symptoms of chronic heavy metal toxicity can include but is not limited to headaches, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and weakness. However, these same symptoms can be caused by many other health problems unrelated to heavy metal toxicity. True chronic heavy metal poisoning is rare but also difficult to diagnose.
What Are The Health Effects Of Heavy Metal Toxicity?
Even in very low quantities, lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury, and arsenic are known to induce cardiovascular diseases, developmental abnormalities, neurologic and neurobehavioral disorders, diabetes, hearing loss, hematologic and immunologic disorders. These heavy metals are also classified as human carcinogens (known or probable) according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
Although the acute and chronic effects are known for some metals, little is known about the health impact of mixtures of heavy metals. Studies have shown that toxic heavy metals can interfere with absorption and use of nutritionally essential metals such as iron, calcium, copper, and zinc. However, the research on the combined effects of heavy metal exposure is very limited.
How Can I Minimize Exposure To Heavy Metals?
The best way to reduce heavy metal pollution is prevention. Identify sources of heavy metals in your home and remove them. Here are some helpful suggestions:
- Be aware of local fish advisories for mercury contamination.
- Test the water in your home for heavy metals and install a home water filtration system if necessary.
- Read labels on products coming in to your home.
- Store products containing heavy metals out of reach of children.
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Rebecca Labranche | Laboratory Director, A&L Laboratory
How Is Drinking Water Regulated?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets regulatory limits for over 90 contaminants in water provided by public water systems. The EPA sets these limits in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act to protect public health in the communities that are using this water. The EPA limits are divided into two main categories. National Primary Drinking Water Regulations are legally enforceable standards that apply to public water systems. Primary standards protect public health by limiting the levels of contaminants in drinking water that negatively affect human health. National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations are non-enforceable guidelines regulating contaminants that may cause cosmetic effects (such as skin or tooth discoloration) or aesthetic effects (such as taste, odor, or color) in drinking water. EPA recommends secondary standards to water systems but does not require systems to comply. In addition to the federal EPA standards, The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) gives individual states the opportunity to establish their own drinking water standards if they are not more lenient than those set by the EPA's national standards.
So how do these federal and state regulations effect private well-owners? These same limits and guidelines used for public water are also adopted by most institutions and lenders for home water testing as a way to determine if the property provides potable, safe water. When a home goes up for sale, if the buyer is financing, they will likely be required to test the water. While lenders may be concerned about a potable water source in order to protect their investment, there are no official rules or regulations for determining potability of private wells. Many states and towns do not even require sampling of private wells after installation. It is the responsibility of the homeowner to maintain their well and water supply.
How Often Should Home Water Testing Be Conducted?
Private well water should be tested a minimum of once per year. Drinking water supplies obtained from shallow dug wells and surface water sources should be tested more frequently as they are more susceptible to contamination. Annual testing of both dug and drilled wells should check for the most common contaminants which are bacteria, nitrates and nitrites. Even if your water has consistently been safe to drink in the past these parameters could change without you knowing and affect the safety of your water. New drilled wells should be tested with a more comprehensive water test which includes bacteria, nitrates, nitrites, metals, minerals and radon. This test identifies many common primary and secondary contaminants typically found in the bedrock surrounding the well. This comprehensive test should be repeated every 3 – 5 years to ensure the well is still providing safe water.
What Are The Most Common Types Of Drinking Water Contaminants?
Drinking water contaminants can be divided into several categories: Inorganic Chemicals, Organic Chemicals, Radionuclides and Microorganisms. Testing for every possible analyte would be prohibitively expensive but we have put together a comprehensive test package which covers common problems found in our area.
Laboratories throughout the United States will offer similar packages based on the geology in their area.
What Is The Process For Analyzing Drinking Water?
The process of analyzing drinking water varies by laboratory and their methods used. However, the basic premise is the same for all of them. The first step is to obtain a water test kit from the certified drinking water laboratory that you intend to use for the analysis. Home water testing kits are specific to each laboratory and their methods so it is important not to use another laboratory’s bottles. These test kits come with all the information that is needed to collect the sample and get it back to the laboratory in the required time frame. The sampling instructions are usually step by step and easy to follow. Once the water is received by the laboratory it will be analyzed for the requested parameters and report will be generated and sent back to the client. The typical turn-a-round time for a comprehensive water test is 2-3 business days.
Using a certified laboratory is very important. They are monitored by their state and undergo periodic inspections to ensure that they are producing the highest quality data. During these inspections their instruments, standard operating procedures, lab technicians, quality control documentation and reporting procedures are reviewed and evaluated. If anything is found to be out of compliance certification for the laboratory can be revoked. In addition to inspections, they also have to complete proficiency tests for each method they conduct to prove that they can perform the method properly and obtain results within the specified limits.
What Are The Risks Associated With Consuming And/Or Using Contaminated Water?
The risks vary greatly depending which contaminants you have in your water. Common health effects include gastrointestinal illness, reproductive problems, neurological disorders and cancer. These health problems pose a greater threat to young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. The health effects of drinking contaminated water can range from no physical impact to severe illness or even death.
Some of the effects of drinking contaminated water are known almost immediately. Immediate health related issues generally stem from contamination by pathogens such as total coliform and E.coli. Symptoms include gastrointestinal and stomach illnesses such as nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea.
Other contaminants pose health effects that may not be observed for many years. Some of the most common ones are:
Arsenic in water occurs naturally as well as from industrial activities. Studies have shown that chronic or repeated ingestion of water with arsenic over a person’s lifetime is associated with increased risk of cancer (of the skin, bladder, lung, kidney, nasal passages, liver or prostate) and non-cancerous effects (diabetes, cardiovascular, immunological and neurological disorders).
Uranium is a tasteless, colorless, odorless contaminant. Drinking water with uranium amounts exceeding 30ug/L can lead to increased cancer risk, liver damage, or both.
Copper has both long term and short term effects. Some people with short term exposure, experience gastrointestinal distress, and with long-term exposure may experience liver or kidney damage. It is typically introduced into the water from household plumbing systems.
Fluoride has been shown to reduce tooth decay in children's teeth if they receive an adequate level. The optimal concentration, as recommended by CDC is approximately 1.1 mg/L. In the range of 2.0-4.0 mg/L of fluoride, staining of tooth enamel is possible. Above 4.0 mg/L, studies have shown the possibility of skeletal fluorosis, as well as the staining of teeth.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. High levels of radon gas occur naturally in Maine soil and water, and can move up into a house from the ground. The house then traps the radon in the air inside. Radon gas can also dissolve into well water, which is then released into the air when you use the water.
What Should I Do If The Laboratory Finds Something In My Water?
If tests on your water indicate problems, the next step is to determine what type of system you need to treat the water. This can be a difficult decision because there is a wide variety of water treatment devices on the market today. Water purifiers range from relatively low-cost, simple filter devices for a kitchen faucet to more expensive, sophisticated systems that treat water from its point of entry into a home. Keep in mind, no one water treatment device can solve every problem.
Rebecca Labranche, the Laboratory Director for A & L Laboratory. A & L Laboratory which specializes in drinking water analysis for both public systems and private wells, throughout the State of Maine.
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Why Water Runoff from Farms is a Big Deal and What’s Being Done About It
Anya Alvarez | Contributor
This summer, scientists from the from Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geographical Survey will wade into about 100 streams from Ohio to Nebraska, testing for pesticides and nutrients used in farming, and its effects in the streams.
The reason behind scientists taking an interest in testing for these chemicals, is due to the rising concerns that water is being contaminated by agricultural runoff water pollution. With the the high productivity of the economy of agriculture, it has had the side effect of of harming the environment, particularly impairing water quality according the to EPA.
These tests can account for extremely small amounts of mercury, livestock hormones, and pesticides like weed killer.
Scientists believe that climate change is the leading cause of the large runoff of chemicals we are seeing due to the more inconsistent weather patterns we are seeing now. Last year, the drought prevented absorption of fertilizers, causing a extra load of of nutrients to flow into the midwest waterway, which will later find itself in the Gulf of Mexico. Experts fear the negative effects this will have on aquatic life.
For this year in particularly, it has been a very wet spring, allotting farmers short periods of time to apply pesticides and fertilizers when it’s dry. The intensity of the the rainfall creates a large amount of nutrient loss, and more runoff of these chemicals.
As more metropolitan areas raise concerns about drinking water safety though, it is imperative for scientists to further look into this. But others concerns raised by municipalities are the costs associated with treating contaminated water. And scientists also worry that consumers who no longer trust the quality of their tap water, will start buying more bottled water. For these reasons alone, consumers should invest in water filtration systems at home, which are financially and environmentally sustainable.
Besides studies being conducted, the EPA has also taken action by creating the WOTUS (Waters of United States), a federal provision, which was drawn off the Clean Water Act, that supersedes state regulatory agencies when the EPA feels that they have failed to meet expected requirements to protect water supplies. WOTUS is implemented to regulate agricultural runoff water pollution and discharges.
The use of WOTUS has come into place recently in the Des Moines Water Works Suit, which claims that 92 percent of the nitrates and 80 percent of the phosphorous is entering water from the farmland chemicals. This suit may take years to settle because of the difficulty of proving that contamination of water is mostly due to farmland chemicals. Another issue that needs to be resolved is determining if county governments, or state or federal governments should hold responsibility in controlling the levels of contamination in in local waters from farmlands.
Many farmers are concerned with government overreach through initiatives like WOTUS, but the EPA’s concern is weighing economic prosperity versus potable water.
One thing is for certain though: safe drinking water should be a right for anyone, no matter where that person lives. And if the government cannot ensure your drinking water is safe, then you should take matters in your own hands and try filtrate your own water.
The agricultural runoff effect studies from the from EPA and U.S. Geo Survey will be released in August.
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Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) In Drinking Water: What You Need To Know
Most people are aware of Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs) because they are frequently discussed when selecting paint for their home, but many people don't realize that they can contaminate drinking water supplies. This article provides a broad overview of VOCs as it pertains to water water, and also gives practical advice on how to protect against them if a water supply becomes contaminated.
What Are Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOCs)?
By definition, VOCs are a class of chemicals that vaporize easily at normal air temperatures. VOCs are commonly found in household and industrial products including gasoline, solvents, cleaners and degreasers, paints, inks and dyes, and pesticides. For example, gasoline is a mixture of VOCs including benzene, toluene, and other hydrocarbons, which gives gasoline it’s familiar odor.
Can VOCs Contaminate Drinking Water?
Absolutely. In fact, the US Geological Survey (USGS) found in a recent study that VOCs are present in one-fifth of the nation's water supplies. For example, benzene, (a constituent of gasoline) commonly enters groundwater when it spills or leaks out of underground fuel tanks. Other examples of commonly detected VOCs in drinking water include dichloromethane (methylene chloride), an industrial solvent; trichloroethylene, used in septic system cleaners; and tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), used in the dry-cleaning industry.
How Are VOCs In Drinking Water Regulated By EPA?
Because It would be impractical and costly for municipalities to test for every potential chemical that can be categorized as a VOC, EPA regulates a subset of chemicals that commonly contaminate water supplies. For example, benzene, one rather common constituent, is regulated with a maximum contaminant level set at 0.005 milligrams per liter (parts per million) and a goal of zero in drinking water. Water analysis can be requested if there is reason to suspect the presence of a specific VOC.
Private wells are not covered by EPA's regulations and testing is typically optional. While VOCs can be detected by odor at high concentrations, laboratory analysis is the only way to measure VOCs in drinking water at the regulatory limits. We highly recommend that all people who get water from private wells get their water tested by an accredited laboratory.
How To Remove VOCs From Drinking Water
High quality water filters are the only effective way to remove Volatile Organic Compounds in water. These water filter companies (including Hydroviv) test their filters against chemicals that are selected to represent a wide range of VOCs that commonly contaminate water supplies. The NSF Standard 53 protocol for VOC reduction requires manufacturers to test against the chemicals listed in the table below:
|1,1,2-trichloroethane||trichloroethylene (TCE)||trihalomethanes (THMs)||xylenes|
Table 1: List of chemicals that are part of the NSF 53 Standard Test For VOC Reduction
As always, we encourage you to reach out to our “Help No Matter What” technical support through live chat or email (email@example.com). Our team will provide science-backed advice on water quality and water filtration, even if you have no intention of buying a Hydroviv water filter.Other Articles We Think You'll Enjoy
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