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Pluses and Minuses of Reverse Osmosis

| Articles | July 19, 2010

For the past four decades or so the reverse osmosis process has been refined into a very useful method of filtering water. From the discovery of the phenomenon of osmosis by Abbe Noilett in 1748 to the opening of the first commercial reverse osmosis plant in 1965, the process has become an integral part of commercial, industrial and our domestic lives. Its impact to the present day cannot be undermined.

However, reverse osmosis is not without any defects. The whole water filtering process is never perfect especially when we ourselves produce all sorts of new pollutants or water contaminants as by products of human race’s continuing thirst for technological advancements. Today, we have new techniques of filtering water which makes it more appropriate to review the plusses and minuses of reverse osmosis.

When reverse became commercially available forty years ago, it was a great alternative from the more expensive distillation process. The world easily embraced this new way of making our water clean and safe to drink and for other usage. The filtered water from the process became important in commercial establishments such as restaurants and hotels. Various industries also adopted the procedure especially power generating plants, pharmaceutical companies and even semi conductors and electronic manufacturers. Reverse osmosis has found its way to various small industries as well like bottled/flavored drink manufacturers, the wine industry, maple syrup production, water purifying businesses and even in reef aquariums.

Aside from costs of setting up a reverse osmosis system relative to distillation processes, another advantage of using the method is that it has been proven to be very effective in removing organic chemicals or dissolved minerals found in the water. So the process easily filters nitrates, fluoride, sodium, Giardia, sulfides, Crypto sporidium as well as heavy metals like mercury, radium, uranium, lead and arsenic. Harmful chlorine and bacteria are also removed from the water that passes through the reverse osmosis membranes. And also, since it uses no electricity and only requires sufficient amount of water pressure, the whole process is very energy efficient.

However, despite the many advantages reverse osmosis has received a lot of criticisms. For one, even though it does not consume that much energy as distilling machines, reverse osmosis does waste a lot of water and not to mention works pretty slow. On the average, to produce one gallon of clean and filtered water reverse osmosis wastes about two to three gallons of water. Also, it takes roughly an hour to fill a gallon with clean water.

Then there’s the health issue. Because reverse osmosis membranes filters anything that are bigger than water molecules, the beneficial natural minerals from water are being removed as well. According to studies, the water without these natural minerals can be unhealthy for the body. When reverse osmosis removes the alkaline mineral contents of water it becomes acidic. When we drink this acidic water, the natural reaction of our body is balance the acidity levels by taking the calcium and other essential minerals found in our bones and teeth.

More importantly, contaminants that have smaller molecules than water such as the various by products of herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and industrial solvents are able to pass through. These chemicals can cause cancer and other degenerative diseases.

Reviewing the pluses and minuses of reverse osmosis is necessary so we can assess the relevance of the procedure today especially in producing drinking water. There are now new and more efficient ways of filtering water and turning to them could be a wiser move.

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