Aluminum is often chosen as a sustainable alternative to plastic, but unfortunately, it has been linked to serious neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. People don’t expect to find aluminum in drinking water, but it is often used by local treatment operators to purify water from lakes and reservoirs. Aluminum makes its way into groundwater through filtration from waste power plants and coal-fired incinerators, or from natural leaching of soil and rock. Among the neurological disorders that have been linked to aluminum are Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), and Alzheimer’s disease.
Aluminum sulfate is often added to water in a water treatment plant or wastewater to remove other fine particles that cannot be easily filtered because they are too small to be deposited naturally during water treatment. The permissible level of aluminum in drinking water is currently set at 0.05 to 0.2 parts per million (PPM). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), aluminum levels generally do not exceed 0.1 ppm during water treatment, although many cities report concentrations as high as 0.4-1 ppm in their drinking water. The rules that specify aluminum levels in drinking waterfall under the National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations (NSDWRs) issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.
There is a great deal of evidence that aluminum can cause undesirable effects on the nervous system. For example, renal patients who are exposed to high levels of aluminum in fluids and dialysis medications develop dialysis encephalopathy, a progressive form of dementia characterized by changes in speech and behavior, tremors, seizures, and psychosis.
Aluminum is also linked to severe diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and Alzheimer’s disease. Exposure to large quantities of aluminum may also cause anemia, osteoporosis, glucose intolerance, and cardiac arrest in humans.
In general, the first identifiable symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease are memory loss, confusion, and depression. These symptoms indicate an early progressive mental decline. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by pathological changes and, in many cases, a buildup of aluminum in the brain tissue.
World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines state that aluminum does not have immediate toxic effects, but they do not rule out the connection between aluminum in drinking water and Alzheimer’s disease. The World Health Organization recommends that aluminum levels in community water supplies remain below 0.2 ppm. Aluminum does not cause any taste or smell in water, which makes it difficult to identify. But there are some signs that start to appear at very high levels of more than 0.2 parts per million, such as the water becoming cloudy and turning bluish. Reverse osmosis (RO) is a common filtration method that removes contaminants—such as some heavy metals, chemicals, and pathogens—by pressing water through a highly semi-permeable membrane.
Reverse osmosis systems have been shown to remove up to 98% of aluminum from drinking water. However, it remains important to know the complete chemical profile of your water before installing a reverse osmosis system. Testing the water is critical to know what kind of filters you may need to keep your system working properly. It is the only way to know for sure how much aluminum is present and how to maintain any filtration systems you install.