This month we will feature a rather lengthy discussion about a few categories of Organic Contaminants that are found almost everywhere in North America, with a strong focus on Synthetic Organic Compounds, where they come from and how to best remove them from drinking water.

When you look at the Organic side of the contaminant spectrum, you are basically dealing with three main categories of Organics:

  1. Byproducts of Disinfection (BODs) also referred to as Disinfection Byproducts. These are created during disinfection when chlorine, ozone, chloramine, or bromine reacts with Natural Organic Matter and Synthetic Organic Compounds. There are thousands of BODs. These have serious health consequences in a chronic exposure.
  2. Synthetic Organic Compounds (SOCs). These are man-made chemicals typically from the petroleum, plastics, chemical, pharmaceutical, and agricultural chemical industries. There are hundreds of thousands of SOCs. These have serious health consequences in a chronic exposure.
  3. Natural Organic Matter (NOM). These are naturally occurring trace organic compounds from decomposing plant and animal material in the environment. These include humic acids, fulvic acids, tannins, proteins, amino acids, algae secretions, and microorganisms. As these decompose even further you can get the basic building blocks of life such as carboxyl groups, carbonyl groups, phenolics, ethers, esters, amines, and pyridines. This is what you swim in (at trace levels) in a lake or river. Generally not a health threat except when they react with disinfectants and create Byproducts of Disinfection. On occasion you can get a Harmful Algal Bloom creating taste and odor compounds (for example, Geosmin), and the production of toxins (for example, Microcystin).

Your two most common types of organic pollutants are Byproducts of Disinfection from Water Treatment and Synthetic Organic Compounds from agricultural chemicals.

Synthetic Organic Compounds come from the petroleum and chemical manufacturing industries in general. Synthetic Organic Compounds enter our environment from industrial smokestacks, gas stations, use of solvents, LANDFILLS, wastewater discharges, solid waste disposal, toilets, sewage discharge, soaps and detergents, incinerators, toxic waste incinerators, medical incinerators, cement kilns (which burn hazardous waste as fuel), deep well injection of industrial waste, fracking, fracking fluids, illegal waste dumping, combustion of all petroleum fuels, chemical and plastics manufacturing, diesel exhaust, petroleum refineries, paints and coatings, and agricultural chemical applications onto plants and soils, crop dusting, farm runoff water, chemical spills and disasters, just to name a few.

Once these compounds enter the environment via land, air, or water, they inevitably end up finding their way their way into the hydrological cycle and into our groundwater, lakes, and rivers. From there they inevitably end up in our drinking water sources at trace levels but in VAST numbers if you were to list them.

As Gomer Pyle would say: “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!”

How do you know if you have them in your water? Personally, I just assume they are there and I treat for them, but if you want a lab analysis these compounds hide under three simple letters on a Water Quality analysis: TOC. This stands for Total Organic Carbon. Think of it as [Total Organic Compounds]. Unfortunately, most analysis don’t even measure TOC, and if they do, then they only test for these compounds down to the Parts Per Million level. Down at the ppm level you may see a value of 0.5-3 ppm. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Or does it?

Only when you pay many thousands of dollars do you get to see the real scope of it. In order to see these trace lurkers you need to ask for a “Qualitative Analysis for TOC measured down to the Parts Per TRILLION level”. That’s when you will typically see hundreds to hundreds of thousands, of synthetic organic compounds. Because your typical customer cannot afford to pay for the analysis down to the PPT level (plus the labs are really hard to find), and because these compounds are so widely and so thoroughly dispersed into the environment for so many decades, you can safely make a bet that they are present in the water, and usually win the bet. As Gomer Pyle would say: “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!”

(BTW: One of the best water testing labs I have seen for very comprehensive test packages at good prices is KARLABS.COM . And there is a conveniently located lab right next to Water World USA called ENVIRODYNE.COM)

Now in order to keep this discussion brief, we will keep the medical details brief. But let it be clear that chronic ingestion of these compounds at trace levels causes many different types of diseases including cancer, birth defects, obesity, autism, cardiovascular disease, damaged genes, enzyme dysfunction, damaged mitochondria, damaged DNA, and hormone disruption. These chemicals accumulate in “target organs” and especially your fat tissue and get concentrated up to 70,000 times over background level, and then persist within the body exerting their insidious effects upon your health for many years- even decades. Some of these compounds such as the herbicide Glyphosate even shuts down your body’s Detoxification System, (the Cytochrome P450 Enzymes). There are thousands of research papers at the PUBMED.COM database you can view. SEE MORE Just type in the name of any of these chemicals.

As a Water Treatment Professional you need to understand the likely hidden presence of these contaminants. These should be a serious concern for pregnant women, infants, children, and people with health issues. Infants, for their first 18 months, have a limited ability to detoxify and excrete toxins, and are very sensitive to chemical insults during growth. These are a long term hazard for the entire family (chronic exposure and tissue accumulation). I realize that not all customers are informed and concerned…but for those customers who are concerned, it pays to understand these issues and deliver the goods. Give people the proper protection they want. Downplaying these issues in front of a very informed customer can potentially damage their faith in you and may cause them to look for someone else who better understands these issues and takes them more seriously.

How To Treat:

For whole house treatment using GAC carbon a good Empty Bed Contact Time (EBCT) ranges from 3-15 mins, depending on the compound. The more carbon the better, and Catalytic Carbon is best (WWUSA # CARB-A8062). This should definitely be followed by Reverse Osmosis at the Point Of Use (for drinking) for the best protection.

For customers who are very concerned, or particularly susceptible – such as pregnant women, infants, or people with health issues, there are two things you can do to enhance the Undersink RO System performance:

  1. Load the RO cartridge housings with premium VOC-Rated Carbon blocks and switch them out sooner than usual.
    2.5”x10” Blocks, 1 micron, Chloramine – Ask your WWUSA Rep for #PNTK-255416 (protect with a 1 micron sediment filter)
    2.5×10” Blocks, 5 micron Thick Wall, VOC-Rated, Ask your WWUSA Rep for #BRAND-FX10VOC-TW
    2.5”x20” , 1 micron, Chloramine – Ask your WWUSA Rep for #PNTK-255417-43
    4.5×20” Blocks, 1 micron, Chloramine, Ask your WWUSA Rep for #BRAND-FXB20CHLORA
  2. Sell them our “Millenium- LB” RO System which uses a high rejection membrane and robust thick wall VOC-Rated carbon blocks that have a higher capacity for organics.

Most common SOCs found in the US Environment and Water Supply
POPs = Persistant Organic Pollutants: Learn More

POP Pesticides: aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, mirex, toxaphene;

POP Industrial chemicals: hexachlorobenzene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). PCBs (heat transfer fluids) were dumped into rivers by the ton for decades, and even disposed of by being sprayed onto miles of rural dusty roads “to keep the dust down”.

POP By-products and DIOXINS: hexachlorobenzene; polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDD, TCDD) and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDD/PCDF), and PCBs. These come out of smokestacks and are also by-products of herbicide manufacturing. These are the worst. Learn More about Dioxins

Fluorocarbon Ingredients used to make Teflon (PTFE) and non-stick coatings:

PFOAs (Perfluorooctanoic Acid) Used in the manufacture of Teflon and and Fluoropolymers. PFOA has been detected in industrial waste, stain resistant carpets, carpet cleaning liquids, house dust, microwave popcorn bags, water, food, non-stick cookware and PTFE such as Teflon. PFOA has been detected in the blood of more than 98% of the general US population and persist in the environment for long periods of time. Learn More

Related compounds are: PBDE (Polybromodiphenyl Ether) Learn More

PFNA (Perfluorononanoic acid), and PFOS (PerfluoroOctaneSulfonic Acid) Learn More

EDCs (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals)

EDCs disrupt the endocrine system and exposure usually leads to proliferative, reproductive, and metabolic diseases, including hormonal cancers, infertility, obesity (“obesogens” Learn More) or diabetes. Learn More

Most EDCs are man-made compounds, for example bisphenols, phthalates, parabens, dioxins, pesticides, alkylphenols, organotins, polychlorinated biphenyls, or perfluoroalkyl compounds. Learn More

Learn More about “Bisphenol A” used in epoxy resins and PVC

Organic Solvents, Halogented Solvents, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

All petroleum solvents, especially halogenated ones, have serious negative health consequences over time (chronic toxicity). This includes cancers, birth defects, diseases and DNA mutations. Learn More Learn More about VOCs


The biggest concern with pharmaceuticals is the fact that they all affect the function of the human body. Some of the most disturbing drugs you would never want to see in your family’s drinking water would be hormones, birth control, chemotherapy agents, radioactive drugs (“nuclear medicine”), psychiatric meds, steroid creams, immune system suppressants, and Thimerosal (organic mercury). All people taking pharmaceuticals excrete them into the toilet where they either end up in septic systems (and then potentially the well water) or sewage plant discharge (effluent) going into rivers and thus entering living ecosystems (plants, fish and critters) and also the hydrological cycle, including ground water contamination, agricultural irrigation water, and flood water. These substances are also found in landfill leachate (liquid).

Personal Care Products

These are discharged down the drain every day by hundreds of millions of people who have abandoned natural soaps, cosmetics, and shampoos for synthetic replacements containing toxic ingredients. This includes the endocrine disruptor Triclosan (antibacterial) in antibacterial liquid hand soaps, “deodorant” soaps (Dial), hand sanitizers, antibacterial dish detergents, and now even “advanced” toothpastes. Then you have aluminum and zirconium in antiperspirants, parabens (endocrine disruptors) in shampoos and lotions, acrylates in hair gels, colors and dyes, and synthetic fragrances. Then you have nanoparticle Titanium Dioxide in sunscreens and now even in several foods, cookies, and popular candy coatings. They are even using TiO2 nanoparticles in toothpaste as a whitening agent. Learn More There’s also 1,4-Dioxane in ethoxylated detergents, laundry detergents, and certain cosmetic ingredients. Then there’s Phthalates (a plastic chemical) used to make plastics and PVC softer, but has found its way into everything you can think of including food packaging and perfumes. Learn More

Pesticides, Herbicides, Fungicides, Rodenticides, and Biocides

These are thousands of chemicals applied by the millions of tons over many decades to farms, residential lawns, fields, public parks, weed control along roadsides, golf courses, cemetaries, ponds and lakes. These are also sent into the air through routine farm spraying , aerial crop dusting, and “mosquito control” sprayed over entire communities. When the spray goes into the air they are known to travel for up to hundreds of miles (sometimes more) on atmospheric currents. Then they come down in the rain. These chemicals are poisons that disrupt the “gears of life” causing biological disruption and failure. Learn More Learn More Learn More

PVC Plastic and Other Plastics

The manufacturing, general use, and disposal of PVC products leads to chemical exposures to polyvinyl chloride, nonylphenol, phthalates, and Bisphenol A, all of which are toxic. The burning of PVC products (garbage incineration, medical incinerators) releases Dioxins into the atmosphere which then comes down in the rain. Learn More about PVC. Learn More about Dioxins Learn More about Phthalates