What's in the water that comes from L.A. taps?

Los Angeles: Do you know what's in your water?

Los Angeles: What's in your water?

Every city, suburb and rural community has specific contaminants of concern. "And it's actually trickier than you might think," said Renee Sharp, senior scientist and research director at the Environmental Working Group (EWG). "L.A. is huge, and there are many water utilities."

"For the most part, U.S. water is safe and clean as it is. The water utility companies are the good guys; they're struggling to keep it that way. But we should not take [our water] for granted, and let this country slide into being one of the 'bottled water only' nations," said Ken Cook, president and co-founder of the EWG.

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Melinda Rho, the water quality manager for the L.A. Department of Water and Power, said the city's tap water meets all standards. "We don't advise that consumers need to filter their water in L.A. unless they have issues with their home plumbing [such as lead pipes] or have a personal preference and/or object to the taste, the chlorine or the fluoride in the water. We are testing the water constantly, so we know it is meeting the standards."

Rho does not filter her own water, she said.

Well water is tested and treated to meet the same standards as municipal tap water, Rho said.

Here are some pollutants that could cause concern.

Trihalomethanes These compounds are byproducts of disinfection, according to Sharp. "You take water that has organic matter [such as human and animal waste] in it, then add chlorine or chloramine to disinfect, and a whole slew of other harmful compounds, such as trihalomethanes, are created," she said. Trihalomethanes [chloroform is an example] have been linked to cancers, low birth weight and miscarriage, according to the EWG. The DWP, Rho said, has a new disinfectant that reduces the harmful byproducts like trihalomethanes.

Hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6 (a.k.a. "the Erin Brockovich chemical"), is an industrial waste product found to cause cancer, according to a review by several groups including the EWG. Most U.S. communities meet the California standard of 10 parts per billion, Sharp said, adding that EWG believes the standard should be 1 part per billion at most. Rho said "measurable amounts" are not found in the municipal supply.

Pharmaceuticals Rho said prescription medications found in water are traced to consumer waste. "But we get water from pristine sources, and as far as we know there is very little of that in the drinking water," she said. Sharp said those contaminants are not regulated, adding, "So far levels are pretty darn low, but we should be concerned about them, not necessarily about the effects on us, but on species such as fish."

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Sherman Oaks inventor creates countertop reverse osmosis filter

Pitcher-type water filters are the most affordable; most remove simple chemicals such as chlorine and make water taste better. Under-the-sink reverse osmosis filters cost from $200 to $700, and annual replacement filter packages cost $22 to $79.

One Sherman Oaks inventor has a solution: Peter Spiegel spent five years creating the AquaTru countertop reverse osmosis system.

"Most important to me was that a consumer should not have to become a genius on what's in our water and how to remove it," Spiegel said. "A four-stage RO system [like AquaTru] gets everything out; you don't have to worry about it."

Spiegel's creation sits on the counter, the three filters are easily replaced (every two to three years), and the machine tells you when. You can store the water dispenser tank in the fridge.

AquaTru is taking pre-orders and will be available in the fall; cost is $240 to $300, and replacement filter packs are $60. aquatruwater.com

health@latimes.com

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