For several months, we have been discussing a wide variety of drinking water purity problems---plus giving an overview of some of the more popular "point-of-use" water purifiers which remedy these problems in the home.


Today, we begin a short series on a more specific topic---steam distillation of drinking water. Over the last few years, we have observed a dramatic change in public attitudes toward drinking water. Similarly, we have observed an enormous change in the purchasing desires of individuals looking for water purifiers for the home.

For example, in our retail stores, where a wide range of water purifiers are always on display(reverse osmosis, filters, distillers, etc), more than 80 percent of all customers now go directly to the water distiller section. In the past, the situation was quite different---with individuals seeking out systems such as filters and reverse osmosis.

There are several reasons we can attribute this change to---but that's getting ahead of our story. So, let's take it step by step, and, as we go through this topic of steam distillation, we trust that many of the questions that we are constantly asked are covered and explained for you.



Webster's dictionary defines distillation as "...the process of driving off(releasing) gas or vapor from liquids(or solids) by heating and condensing products therefrom".

Distillation is therefore a process for purifying a substance, for separating substances one from another, and for breaking down a substance into fractional parts---as a petroleum refinery does, for example.

In a home-use steam water distiller, the raw(or tap) water is heated to it's boiling point and steam, the vapor thus formed, is led into condenser coils or other cooling apparatus, where it is condensed, drop by drop, to form a liquid called the "distillate" or distilled water.

Unfortunately, this simple definition of distillation many times proves to be confusing and inadequate for the tens of thousands of homeowners seeking cleaner drinking water. Also, this simplified definition is many times terribly misused(or misunderstood) by promoters of other types of water filtration and purification products. We shall now attempt a clarification--- beginning with a short history and chronology of the distiller process---as applied to the home.

Home-use steam distillation had it's beginnings in the late 1960's and early 1970's in small, "garage-type" operations in the Midwest. A handful of farsighted entrepreneurs, concerned about the rapidly increasing need for cleaner drinking water, began manufacturing and selling small, home-use distillers. In those days, the distiller's primary function was to remove the "dissolved solids"---impurities such as lime, heavy metals(lead, mercury), sodium, fluoride and other inorganic salts and compounds.

Many prominent nutritional leaders of that day(Dr. Paul Bragg, Dr. Allen Banik, Dr. Norman Walker, et. al.) lent their time and talents and became leaders of the cause for distilled water through their various books and seminars extolling the virtues of drinking distilled water---and in some cases denouncing the effects of "inorganic" minerals(from tap water) on the human body.

These early home distillers simply boiled the tap water---collected all the vapors and condensed all these vapors back to water. Again, the primary focus of distillation in those days was the removal of inert, inorganic salts.

However, in the mid to late 1970's, the national water pollution picture took an abrupt turn---and with it went the design of home water distillers---and thus began, for all practical purposes, the entire business of home water purifiers. Studies began showing that chlorine and it's byproducts(trihalomethanes-THM's) were carcinogenic.

To diverge for just a moment---the excessive amounts of these byproducts of chlorination(chloroform, for example)have led many municipal water districts to restructure how they treat drinking water. Many now use a reduced level of chlorine---combined with ammonia---called chloramines. Perhaps you received notices in the mail about not using such water for fish, kidney patients, etc.

Since THM's vaporize at temperatures well below the boiling point of water, some distiller manufacturers reasoned that if a small "gas vent" were drilled at the beginning of the steam condenser coil that these gasses would escape or vent prior to the steam being recondensed as pure water. Other manufacturers began producing "water cooled" or so-called "fractional" distillers which were allegedly capable of purging some of these volatile, gaseous chemicals.

The reasoning of both the air and water-cooled distiller manufacturers was basically sound---but unfortunately, short-sighted.

Today's rapidly growing high-technology industrial environment has produced tens of thousands of new, complex organic chemical compounds(remember Proposition 65?). Many of these organic chemicals are known carcinogens(cancer-causing) and hundreds of them vaporize within a few degrees of the boiling point of water. As a result, the "volatile gas vents' and "preheat" chambers on so-called "fractional" distillers became virtually useless overnight in most home distiller applications.

In other words, these older distiller designs were not "sensitive" enough to extract and disposes of high temperature chemical gasses and at the same time retain the pure steam vapors.

Simultaneously, a wide variety of granular activated carbon(GAC) filtration systems entered the marketplace and were promoted as the "total solution to water pollution"---so to speak. These GAC filters did remove the organic contaminants(chlorine, THM's, etc.) from water---for a limited number of gallons.

Finding that distillers by themselves were not solving the total water pollution problem, a handful of home water distiller distributors began integrating these carbon filters into their distillers as "prefilters"---with the carbon filter removing organic chemicals and the steam distiller subsequently removing inorganic salts as well as bacteria, radioactive materials, etc. This two stage process is illustrated in Figure 1.

Water initially passes through a carbon filter---where organic chemicals are removed by the process if adsorption---the filtered water then enters the distiller boiling chamber where salts, metals, bacteria, solid chemicals and radioactive material is removed through evaporation.

Unfortunately, through this transition period, many distiller manufacturers failed to see the plight of their home-use distillers in this new, organic chemical environment---and their sales began to take a sound beating at the hands of both carbon filters and reverse osmosis systems(which employed carbon filters).

Today---the bulk of home water distillation systems sold in the United States are marketed through well organized retail operations such as water stores---most of whom understand the problem of dealing with organic chemicals---and who integrate carbon filters with their distillers as standard equipment.

Unless you live in an area with virtually pristine water sources(and there are few if any of these areas left today), your tap water is probably susceptible to industrial or agricultural chemical residues which fall into this "organic" category and which will necessitate a carbon "prefilter" before distillation.

When choosing a carbon prefilter for a distiller, you will find two types of useful carbon filters: granular and compressed block systems. Compressed block carbon filters appear to have gained in popularity over granular systems---primarily because of increased, useful lifetimes. Also, when a carbon filter is used with a home distiller, be sure it is used before the distiller---not after.



Many people back away from distilled water for several reasons. Sometimes there's simply a lack of understanding of the basic nutritional aspects of water and confusion about different types of "minerals". Other times the reasons center around operating cost, maintenance requirements, design, safety features or other factors.

In still other cases, some people rely on un-informed friends or relatives for advise on a subject (distillation) which neither has any solid technical or operative information.

Minerals in drinking water

This issue is perhaps the "hottest" one on the "distilled water circuit". We could probably find an equal number of "authorities" or "experts" on both sides of the issue.

In short, the issue is this: virtually all nutritional authorities agree that the body absorbs organic minerals from the daily food cycle(fruits, vegetables, animal products). Where the authorities disagree is whether or not the body extracts any nutritional value from the minerals found in an inorganic form in the dissolved rocks, dirt and stone found in tap or spring water.

Perhaps the best way we have found to sort out this problem(without creating bad feelings or starting another, heated and fruitless argument) is to evaluate the actual test results of various tap water sources around the nation(and Bay Area) and determine the amount of inorganic minerals(by weight or volume) which would be consumed in this fashion by drinking an average of two quarts of tap water daily.

Then, we compare this number to the amount of "organic" minerals found in a normal diet. Dr. John Kirschmann's Nutritional Almanac(and other books) are a good source for this data.

When these two sources of "minerals" are compared, the results are quite surprising. On the average(for water here in the Bay Area), over 95% of the major and minor trace minerals ingested daily come from food(fruits, vegetables, animal products)---while less than 5% are obtained from drinking water(2 quarts---quite a bit for the average person).

The distilled water "mineral issue" then can be focused into a much clearer question: is it really smart to ingest all types of heavy metals, bacteria, asbestos(from water pipes), chemicals used in water treatment processes, industrial and agricultural chemical residues, etc. simply to get that few additional(5%) amount of daily minerals---from tap water?

Another interesting debate concerning distilled(or low mineral content) water is the issue which resulted from various studies indicating apparent increases in heart disease in areas of "soft"(or low mineral) water. For example, some of these studies show that Midwesterners have fewer cases of cardiovascular disease than individuals living in the Southeast. Some researchers attribute this disparity to the presence of large amounts of inorganic calcium and magnesium("hardness") in the Midwestern population's drinking water.

An important factor which these researchers apparently do not consider is that in areas where we find so-called "soft" water(Southeast, for example) we find extraordinarily high levels of chlorine---since "soft" water comes primarily from lakes and streams and these sources characteristically have high bacteria levels---and thus necessitate high chlorination levels. Chlorine(and it's derivatives(chloroform, etc) has been extensively linked with both cancer and cardiovascular problems.












































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