SOME FACTS YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE BUYING ANY TYPE OF REGENERATIVE WATER SOFTENER
The facts listed below are ones which many water dealers simply refuse to discuss. It is important you know what water softeners can and cannot do; how they impact water use, the enviroment and other factors in your community.
Currently, 34 states have partial bans on the sale of regenerative water softeners. All is not “sweetness and light” in these states where local city planning commissions and water resource control boards have drawn the line in the sand and said that such devices are contributing to the demise of the ground water in their community. Water dealers who specialize in selling such systems have obtained financial legal assistance from the national Water Quality Association to litigate against these local mandates.
One would think that an organization with the name “Water Quality Association” would be interested in maintaining environmental water quality in cities across America. Instead, they are pressured by their largest memberships: water softener dealerships and the salt industry, to fight such environmental restrictions.
It is not a pretty picture: local water dealers on one hand who claim that environmental decisions are reducing or eliminating their business outreach; the city planners and water resource personnel on the other hand banning the sales of softeners in order to protect an ever diminishing source of local clean water for not only drinking but irrigation purposes.
This discussion is not meant to discourage your purchase of such devices if they are needed to provide decent water quality for household utility purposes. The high-pressure, door-to-door water softener salesperson is certainly not going to entertain an discussion of these critical issues—so they are presented here for your review.
The Chemistry Involved in ‘Softening’
A typical water softener softens water by ion exchange, which involves the exchange of the hardness minerals (chiefly calcium and magnesium) for sodium or potassium minerals. The exchange takes place by passing water containing hardness minerals over ion exchange resins in a tank.As the calcium and magnesium contact the resin in their travel through the tank, they displace sodium or potassium ions. The displaced sodium or potassium ions pass downward through the resin “bed” and out the softener drain; thus, the softener delivers “soft” water (Paso Robles 2003). Therefore, a softener merely exchanges one group of non-toxic elements for another group of non-toxic elements (Metropolitan 2001).
What the Chemical Changes Entail
Salt brine persists in the softened water to the point of use. A typical wastewater treatment facility removes very little of these mineral concentrations from the waste stream and so they are passed on to the environment.
Sodium really has no redeeming value in the environment outside of saltwater or brackish water ecosystems. It has been declared as the biggest contaminate affecting water supplies in the nation and the world. Sodium is also found to be a factor in hypertension and high blood pressure as discussed by the National Institue of Health(http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/new/press/17-1998.htm). As one would expect, Water Softening Manufacturers debate the validity of such health statements inasmuch as it throws a negative light on their products.Water with salinity levels above 1,000 mg/l is of questionable use for irrigation and industrial customers.
As salinity increases, laundry detergents work less efficiently, plumbing fixtures and home appliances wear out faster and industry incurs higher treatment costs for boilers, cooling towers and manufacturing processes, and farmers experience reduced crop yields (Paso Robles 2003).
The Pros and Cons of Water Treatment Using Regenerative Softeners
(GO HERE FOR ADDITIONAL IN-DEPTH DISCUSSION OF SODIUM AND HEALTH)
Pros:Water softeners reduce the “hardness” of the water, which can have several benefits for consumers: smaller amounts of soap and detergents (non-synthetic) are necessary for cleaning processes; reduced staining, spotting, scaling; and energy saving in water heating due to less scaling (Paso Robles 2003).
One of the disadvantages of soft water is that it is neither healthy nor desirable for drinking. Since water is a universal solvent, most materials, especially metals, are partially soluble in water.
Therefore, if water is heated or softened it becomes much more aggressive at leaching metals from water lines. Lead in soldered joints and copper in pipes and faucets are particularly vulnerable, and these are two of the heavy metals that shouldn’t be present in significant amounts in your drinking water.
Soft water is also aggressive at leaching metals (like lead) from your faucets. This means that if you have soft water, there is a great chance that your initial drawing of cold water will have a higher lead content than normal.
Hot or warm softened water from the tap should never be used for cooking or drinking water as it could be higher in heavy metals.
The zeolite beads from water softening systems may back-siphon into your toilet tanks, and the soft water may attack vital plumbing parts.
A water softener can increase your sodium intake(click HERE and go to http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/new/press/17-1998.htm for more information).
The chloride portion of the sodium or potassium chloride compound has severe implications on body and plant hydration. As shown HERE, HERE and HERE, chloride as well as potassium are highly restrictive in the free flow of water into the body’s or plant cells. Doubters simply need to begin drinking ocean water and see the dramatic results.
Chlorides therefore are rarely discussed by water softening manufacturers or dealers since most do not understand the body’s response to chloride and to hydration effects. Those that do understand the issue hope it never comes up in any sales discussion.
Water distillation is by far the most effective means of removing both the sodium(or potassium) chloride compounds from a home water system. Removal is nearly complete and consistent year after year. Reverse osmosis is only partially effective in the removal of these compounds and tends to result in increasing amounts of these materials being passed through aging reverse osmosis membranes to the point, in many case, where the consume ends up drinking pure tap water which, depending on the hardness of the incoming water, may contain hazardous levels of both sodium and chloride salts.
A softener can be costly to run since they can waste up to 120 gallons for every 1,000 delivered.
A water softener is not designed (nor is it effective) to remove lead and other metals, chlorine, taste/odor compounds nor chlorine by-products (Metropolitan 2001).
The discharge of salt brines from the regeneration of water softeners into the wastewater collection system has a negative impact on recycled water and wastewater effluent. Higher salinity increases the treatment costs and reduces the potential for reuse of wastewater for non-potable irrigation and industrial purposes.
It can also impairs a wastewater treatment agency’s ability to comply with discharge standards for total dissolved solids (TDS) which is a measure of the total concentration of dissolved minerals in water (Paso Robles 2003).
Finally, a home water softener should NEVER be combined with a whole-house carbon filter. Removal of chlorine disinfectant from the home plumbing by carbon filtration which may be a part of the “conditioner” may result in extraordinary amounts of bacteria growing in the house waterlines( Google “biofilm”) and put those bacteria in your face, eyes, and nose in the shower; in your clothes in the laundry and on your plates and cookware in your dishwasher. Caveat Emptor!
Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County. 2001. “Soft Water, It’s Not For Drinking.” http://nashville.gov/water/soft_h2o.htm.
Paso Robles City Wastewater Treatment Division. 2003. “Water Softeners Issues.” http://www.prcity.com/government/departments/publicworks/wastewater/water-softeners.asp.