Top 5 Takeaways from the Water #WELLography

Top 5 Takeaways from the Water #WELLography

Saturday, December 2, 2017
/ By:
Nathan Stodola

WELL Certification

Before winter arrives and the lakes freeze over in the north, we’re excited to present the Water WELLography. So raise a glass and dive into the chapter about the important molecule that makes up 60% of you!

Drink-up. The Institute of Medicine recommends adults consume 2.7 to 3.7 L of water (through a combination of beverages and food) to offset the amount of water that leaves the body through respiration, perspiration, and excretion, thereby preventing dehydration and its adverse health effects.1 However, it has been estimated that almost 30% of American adults are inadequately hydrated.2

Trade your sugary beverages for H2O. Almost ½ of American adults don’t drink tap water on a given day, and instead, pick up a bottle of water or even a sugary beverage, or simply don’t drink enough fluids at all.3 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promote ready access to drinking water as a strategy to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages,4 which contribute to about 180,000 deaths worldwide each year (primarily related to diabetes).5 For more information on the interaction of drinking water promotion strategies with consumption of sugary beverages, check out in the Nourishment WELLography under “Healthy Eating Patterns.”

Municipal water infrastructure has its weak points. While public health celebrates successes in the prevention of infectious disease through access better quality water, municipal water sources still face obstacles. Today, primary sources of drinking water contamination in developed areas include various byproducts of agricultural practices, urbanization, and industrialization.7 Water treatment plants and facilities take great care in conditioning water, yet despite their efforts, the water delivered to homes, offices, and other points of use may become contaminated en route post-treatment. Common points of weakness in municipal infrastructure include leaks, pressure losses, leaching from agricultural and manufacturing processes and facilities, and system construction.8 Read more about common (and not-so-common) contaminants and how they affect our health in the Water WELLography under “Elements of Water.”

Building scale interventions. Water can be treated at the building scale. Consider these interventions below, and read more in the Water WELLography under “Solutions to Improve Water Quality”:

  1. By forcing pressurized water through a microscopic mesh, reverse osmosis (RO) systems effectively remove all suspended solids, most microorganisms, and even many of the dissolved contaminants. RO systems remove arsenic, antimony, aluminum, barium, chloride, copper, fluoride, iron, lead, manganese, nitrate, mercury, nickel, sodium, and sulfate: substances that can affect the taste and quality of water.9-12 Performance thresholds for many inorganic contaminants are contained in Feature 31.
  2. “Activated” or oxygenated carbon filters are highly porous carbon fixtures,13 with a maze of passageways and openings that provide some 500 square meters of surface area per gram.14 On this immense surface area, these filters adsorb (collect on the surface) many different chemicals and contaminants as they attempt to pass through, eliminating not only tastes and odors, but also chlorine, chloramine, disinfectant byproducts, dissolved pesticides, and some pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs).13,15 Performance thresholds for many pesticides and other agricultural contaminants are contained in Feature 33 and for chlorine and chloramine in Feature 34.
  3. The high-energy radiation of UV water treatment systems damages the DNA of waterborne microorganisms, making it impossible for them to reproduce. In water with low turbidity, UV treatment is highly effective and leaves no chemicals in water. However, while the absence of disinfectants is beneficial for humans consuming the water, it means that there is no residual cleansing and the water could become re-infected if exposed to more germs. UV treatment pairs nicely with other filters because it works best in low-turbidity water, such as the type produced by an activated carbon filter, where it can act as a final sanitizing step once the carbon filter removes the antimicrobial chlorine.16 UV Germicidal Irradiation systems are promoted in Feature 36.

To learn more about how water impacts health and strategies for designing spaces that can help optimize water quality download, our new WELL app, Build WELL or listen to our latest webcast.


Nathan Stodola is a member of the Standard Development team, working at IWBI since the launch of the WELL Building Standard. In his free time, he enjoys playing musical instruments and teaching his two-year-old daughter to identify construction vehicles.


1. Institute of Medicine at The National Academy of Sciences. Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Institute of Medicine, The National Academies of Arts and Sciences. Washington, D.C.: The national academies press, 200i5. ISBN: 0-309-09158-6.

2. Carolyn J. Brooks, Steven L. Gortmaker, Michael W. Long, Angie L.Cradock, Erica L. Kenney, “Racial/Ethnic and Socioeconomic Disparities in Hydration Status Among US Adults and the Role of Tap Water and Other Beverage Intake”, American Journal of Public Health 107, no. 9 (September 1, 2017): pp. 1387-1394.

3. Patel AI, Shapiro DJ, Wang YC, Cabana MD. Sociodemographic characteristic and beverage intake of children who drink tap water. Am J Prev Med. 2013; 45(1):75-82.

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC Guide to Strategies for Reducing the Consumption of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages. California Department of Public Health. [Online] March 2010. [Cited: June 10, 2015.]

5. Estimated Global, Regional, and National Disease Burdens Related to Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption in 2010. Singh, GM, et al. 2015, Circulation.

6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A Century of U.S. Water Chlorination and Treatment: One of the Ten Greatest Public Health Achievements of the 20th Century. [Online] November 2012. [Cited: November 1, 2017]

7. Environmental Protection Agency. Getting up to Speed Ground Water Contamination. The United States Environmental Protection Agency. [Online] 2015. [Cited: March 6, 2017.]

8. Leuven, Laurie J. Van . Water/Wastewater Infrastructure Security: Threats and Vulnerabilities. [ed.] R Clark, S Hakim and A Ostfeld. Handbook of Water and Wastewater Systems Protection. New York: Springer, 2011, pp. 27-46.

9. Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, New Brunswick. Facts on Drinking Water: Antimony. New Brunswick: Government of New Brunswick, 2014.

10. Dvorak, BI, and Skipton, SO. Drinking Water Treatment: Reverse Osmosis. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Extension, 2008. G1490.

11. United States Department of the Interior. Nickel Fact Sheet. Bureau of Reclamation, United States Department of the Interior. Washington: U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation, 2009.

12. Environmental Protection Agency. Basic Information about Mercury (inorganic) in Drinking Water. Basic Information about Regulated Drinking Water Contaminants. [Online] February 5, 2014. [Cited: December 2014, 2014.]

13. San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Questions Regarding Chlorine and Chloramine Removal from Water. San Francisco, CA: San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, 2010.

14. Minnesota Department of Health. Minnesota Department of Health. [Online] n.d. [Cited: April 24, 2017.]

15. Montana Department of Environmental Quality. FAQs About PPCPs: Montana Focus. Helena, MT: Montana Department of Environmental Quality, 2008.

16. Environmental Protection Agency. Alternative Disinfectants and Oxidants Guidance Manual. Environmental Protection Agency. Washington D.C.: Environmental Protection Agency, 1999