Archive for the 'Environment' Category

10 Things to Avoid for a Toxin-Free Home

By: Amy Myers, MD, founder and medical director of Austin UltraHealth

Toxins are all around us. For optimal health, it’s important to reduce our exposure to chemicals and toxins. Here are 10 tips to help you keep your home clean and green.

1. Conventional flooring

Conventional carpet is made from synthetic, petroleum-based fibers that can emit up to 120 hazardous chemicals linked to asthma, allergies, neurological problems and cancer. Many of the chemicals that are mainly found in the rubber padding and adhesive glues can take years to off-gas. Instead, use cotton or wool rugs or recycled carpet tiles, which do not require adhesive glues. Also consider stained concrete and renewable wood such as bamboo or cork.

2. VOC paints

Be sure to use no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints – many companies advertise that they are no-VOC, but that’s the base white paint only. Once color is added, it’s no longer no-VOC.

3. Filter your water

Our bodies are more than 70% water and designed to run primarily on water and minerals. The water we consume can have a significant impact on our short-and long-term health. A three-year investigation of the country’s drinking water by the Environmental Working Group found that water flowing to about 85% of the population contains 316 contaminants — over 60% of these have no safety standards and are not regulated by the EPA. For the healthiest and best-tasting water possible a filtration system is the best solution. I recommend Aquasana water filters and their new countertop Aquasana Powered Water Filtration System removes ten times the contaminants as the leading filter pitcher and each filter lasts eight times longer.

4. Upholstered Furniture

Upholstered furniture can be filled with polyurethane foams that are petroleum-based and full of chemicals and fire retardants. Look for a piece made with natural latex foam, wool cushions and organic fabrics. Choose solid wood over pressed particle board, which emits formaldehyde.

5. Commercial bedding

Choose organic, untreated sheets, blankets and pillows. Otherwise most commercial materials use fire retardants, pesticides, bleach and dyes.

6. Vinyl shower curtains

Vinyl shower curtains release more than 100 VOCs that can hang around in the air for more than a month. They also contain phthalates, which are hormone and endocrine disruptors. Opt for organic cotton and linen shower curtains instead.

7. Curtains and window treatments

Most curtains contain fire retardants, pesticides, bleach and dyes. Make sure to use organic, untreated cotton or linen, or opt for bamboo.

8. Conventional mattresses

Where you sleep and what you sleep on is one of the most important decisions you can make – I can’t stress this enough. We spend nearly half of our lives asleep, and most of our detox and body repair occurs while we sleep. Conventional mattresses contain harsh chemical and fire retardants, which can out-gas for years! Choose 100% natural latex mattresses and organic wool mattress toppers.

9. Cleaning solutions

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) listed household cleaners as one of the top ten pet poisons in 2009. Levels of brominated flame retardants in cats are up to 23 times higher than those found in human beings, and dogs have an average 2.4 times more perfluorinated chemicals in their bodies than people. These are chemicals that are already found in products you buy, such as fire-proof fabrics and stain-proof rugs – just imagine how susceptible your dog or cat is to the chemicals you readily spray and pour in your home. Look for non-toxic cleaning solutions.

10. Nasty air

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns, “Most people are aware that outdoor air pollution can damage their health but may not know that indoor air pollution can also have significant effects. EPA studies of human exposure to air pollutants indicate that indoor air levels of many pollutants may be two to five times, and on occasion more than 100 times, higher than outdoor levels. These levels of indoor air pollutants are of particular concern because it is estimated that most people spend as much as 90 percent of their time indoors. In recent years, comparative risk studies performed by the EPA and its Science Advisory Board (SAB) have consistently ranked indoor air pollution among the top five environmental risks to public health.” Get an HEPA air filter!

For more tips from Dr. Myers, visit www.AmyMyersMD.com.

About Dr. Amy Myers

Dr. Amy Myers is a medical doctor with extensive training in Functional Medicine, Integrative Medicine and Nutrition. Functional Medicine is a science-based approach to healing that focuses on a patient-centered, not disease-centered, model of care. Dr. Myers is also a contributing writer for Mind Body Green. Austin UltraHealth is located at 5656 Bee Caves Road, Suite D 203, Austin, Texas 78746.

 

Bring Your Own Shopping Bag

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/people/tusnelda/

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/people/tusnelda/

In many communities across the country, the disposable plastic shopping bag has been banned. You don’t need to wait for a mandate to make this super simple change that goes a long way to reduce plastic waste. Gather up all those paper and re-usable bags lying around the house. Place a stash in in the trunk of your car so you can “BYOB” wherever you go, significantly reducing your contribution to plastic waste.

Prefer a shopping bag that reflects your personal style? Just follow the easy instructions below for making your own re-usable shopping bags or lunch bags.

How to Make a Reusable Shopping Bag

Materials you will need:
• 2/3 yard of fabric
• Sewing Machine
• Thread
• 40” of nylon strapping for handles

Cut out the following 5 pieces:
2 pieces: 12 inches by 15 inches (front and back)
2 pieces: 6 inches by 15 inches (sides)
1 piece: 6 inches by 12 inches (bottom)

If you want to make a bag of different size, adjust the measurements above accordingly.

Step 1: Place the front and bottom pieces together, right sides facing in and sew together

Step 2: Take the back piece and place it together with the other side of the bottom piece, right sides facing in, and sew together. You should now have a long rectangle of fabric: front-bottom-back.

Step 3: Place a side piece against the front of the bag, right sides facing in, and sew together.

Step 4: Bring the back piece to the open side of the side piece, right sides facing in, and sew together

Step 5: Sew the bottom of the bag to the bottom of the side piece.

Step 6: Repeat steps 3-5 to attach the other side to the bag.

Step 7: Fold a section of the top of the bag in towards the inside of the bag. About ½ inch. Pin fabric and sew around the top.

Step 8: Cut the 40 inch strip of nylon material in half. Attach one end of the strap to the front of the bag and the opposite end to the back of the bag. Make sure strap is secured in the same location on each side of the bag. Attach the other strap in same manner, leaving at least 6-8” between the straps.

Recycled Container Gardens

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/people/mikecogh/

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/people/mikecogh/

We all have items we have stored away in the shed, garage or simply discarded in the yard somewhere. Now that Spring is upon us, now is the perfect time to find a new use for these items. Do some Spring cleaning and set aside items that can be used for planting instead of being hauled off to the landfill.

The following items make fabulous new homes for plants and flowers and can add an element of interest to your yard or front entry:

1. Plumbing fixtures
Sinks and bathtubs make great planters. Drainage is already accommodated for and the addition of some gravel in the bottom of the piece is all that is required to prepare the fixture for planting.

2. Furniture
Old chairs, benches, vanities and dressers can be transformed to interesting yard art. Cut holes in the tops of chairs or vanities to hold recycled plastic pots. Make sure there is drainage beneath the planters. Coating the exposed surface with an eco-friendly sealant is recommended.

3. Plastic containers
Even though many plastic containers are recyclable, it can be fun to find new uses for things instead of just discarding them. Any plastic container including milk jugs, water bottles and storage containers can be used for plants and seed-starting. Clean the plastic container with soap and water and add drainage holes. The rest is up to your imagination. Try starting some seeds. It’s a super cost effective way to start herbs and veggies all year long.

4. Old dishes
Be it a favorite dish that has broken or a super interesting find at a flea market. Old dishes make beautiful containers for flowers and herbs. If drainage holes are not possible, line the bottom of the dish with gravel for drainage.

5. Tires
According to the EPA, more than 290 million scrap tires are generated each year. Fortunately, used tires make long-lasting, inexpensive raised beds.

Imagine all the garden design possibilities by using recycled and re-discovered items in your own home and yard. Enjoy!

MTBE: From Clean Air to Toxic Water

What is MTBE?

MTBE(methyl tertiary-butyl ether) is a chemical compound that is produced in large quantities as a fuel additive to help gasoline burn more effectively to reduce air pollution. So what’s it doing in our drinking water?

MTBE has been used in U.S. gasoline at low levels since 1979 to replace lead as an octane enhancer. Since 1992, MTBE has been used at higher concentrations in some gasoline to fulfill the oxygenate requirements set by Congress in the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. MTBE was used across the US up until the last decade as a gasoline additive to make the fuel burn more thoroughly and reduce air pollution. Anytime this toxic chemical leaks or spills on to the ground, the toxins seep into the ground and contaminate natural ground water sources.

MTBE is now a commonly found contaminant in drinking water across the United States. The EPA reports a growing number of studies have detected MTBE in ground water throughout the country; in some instances these contaminated waters are sources of drinking water.The MTBE gasoline additive is now banned in many states due to the elevated risk of brain tumors, liver cancer, blood cancer, and kidney cancer when inhaled or ingested from tap water.

Who is affected?

Almost everyone in the United States breathes in or drinks some MTBE. However, some states have seen dangerously elevated levels of MTBE contamination and have banned its use. New York and California banned MTBE use in 2004, and twenty-three other states followed suit by signing legislation banning MTBE by 2005. The current court battle in New Hampshire alleges pollution of 40,000 wells with 5,590 of them reaching levels that make the water unfit for human consumption.

What you can do to protect yourself from MTBE:

If you are concerned about MTBE in your water make sure you are using a water filter that removes this harmful toxin. Aquasana water filters are certified to reduce MTBE in tap and well water. For more information on the specific impact of MTBE on your local water source contact your local EPA drinking water office for more information.

Chloramine on Tap

There’s a threat in the water, and it appears only as a single word on your water bill: chloramines. It’s the combination of ammonia and chlorine that’s added to the water to disinfect it before use. However, when added together, ammonia and chlorine create toxic, cancer-causing disinfection byproducts.

For many years, chlorine has been the primary chemical used to eradicate the risks of waterborne diseases. In the last few years many municipal water treatment plants have switched to chloramines due to their ability to disinfect water for longer periods of time. When these disinfectants interact with the organic materials in water, disinfection byproducts are created. Many of these byproducts are thought to cause gastric or liver cancer, or pose other health risks such as increased asthma symptoms, danger to mucous membranes, digestive problems and skin irritation. Kidney dialysis patients cannot use water that contains chloramines in their dialysis machines because it will cause hemolytic anemia.

While chloramine poses a risk to everyone, there is an increased risk to populations with weakened immune systems, including children younger than 6 months, the elderly, those on or who have had chemotherapy, people with HIV or AIDS and organ transplant patients.

The use of chloramines is growing. The EPA estimates more than 20 percent—or 1 in 5—of Americans use water treated with chloramines. More states are adding chloramine to water supplies because it is a more stable and longer-lasting alternative to free chlorine. Free chlorine is chlorine before it combines with other chemicals, but it can evaporate quickly, while the stability of chloramine means it lasts longer in the water supply and the harmful byproducts reach the consumer in higher levels.

Washington D.C. witnessed another side effect in 2004 when chloramines were introduced. Officials say lead contamination resulted from chloramine-related pipe corrosion. The city discovered lead levels at least 83 times higher than the accepted safe limit while performing research into premature pipe corrosion. They found that the decision to change from using chlorine to chloramine as a treatment resulted in a spike in lead levels. A report released in 2010 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the water supplied to almost 15,000 homes might still contain dangerous levels of lead despite the partial replacement of lead pipes at the homes from 2004 to 2008.

As consumers, we need to be aware of the dangers posed by these byproducts in our water. In a recent study conducted by water filtration company Aquasana, it became apparent that our country doesn’t know the risk associated with unfiltered water. More than 70 percent of respondents were unaware of the health risks connected to drinking and bathing in unfiltered tap water, and 91 percent did not know that one of the President’s Cancer Panel’s top three recommendations to reduce environmentally-based cancer is to filter tap water.

The EPA does not force any state or town to use chloramine as a disinfectant. Additionally, they recommend many alternatives to the toxic mixture, including removing organic contaminants through coagulation or sedimentation. However, the use of more and more chemicals in water treatment underscores the need to regulate what goes into our water supply in the first place. By limiting toxic materials and enforcing regulations, the need for such harsh chemical disinfectants diminishes.

Along with Washington D.C., Tennessee has completely banned chloramines from water. This is the best possible outcome for consumers, but in the meantime, filtering your water has never been more important. When shopping for water filters, make sure that the company has a National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) certification to remove chloramines.

World Water Day 2012: Water and Food Security

World Water Day is a day we spend each year reflecting on our most precious resource. It gave birth to our ancestors and sustains our lives. We drink it, eat it, dive in it, surf on it, splash it at others, walk in (or avoid walking in) drops of it falling from the sky, shoot it at people, revere it, use it to wash ourselves, use it to wash things, bow to its majesty, and in all other ways rely and depend upon it for our healthy and happy existence on this planet.

Water. Without it, we could not exist. Period.

This year, WWD is about understanding how water related to our food supply. Which products that you eat are water-intensive, and which have a relatively light footprint? We only have a small amount of potable water on Earth, and we use it up more quickly with some processes and activities than others in terms of the food supply. How much water do we waste by throwing it away? Think about buying local vegetables and meats instead of the stuff form big farms: how far does it travel to get to you, how sustainable are their practices, and how much do they pollute their local water sources?

Test your knowledge on how sustainable your food is, and today try to eat food that came from sustainable resources. Make small diet and use changes to help decrease your dependence on water-wasting sources. And take a moment to give thanks to the water that sustains your life and your health every day.

6 great reasons to filter your drinking water

1. You’ll drink more water: It’s easier to drink filtered than unfiltered water. Unfiltered water often tastes kind of funny,drink more water when you filter your water depending on where you live and what your water source is. So you drink soda or bottled water (which we will discuss in a minute), or possibly turn to tea and coffee as an alternative. Filtering does two things: it removes contamination that makes your water taste funny and maintains the healthy minerals (calcium, potassium and magnesium) that your body craves along with its water. If you’ve ever tasted distilled water or water from a reverse osmosis system, you may notice that it tastes kind of flat. Drab. Almost dry. That’s the lack of minerals. Often drinking this water fails to quench your thirst, so even if you’re full, you still have a craving for something wet. Why do people turn to sports drinks and soda? They both contain minerals your body needs—that’s both their value proposition and the mechanism that satisfies your thirst when you drink. By drinking filtered water that maintains healthy minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium, you feel more satisfied and less thirsty, and won’t hanker so much for a soda, either.

2. Your water will be cleaner: Filtration gets rid of the majority of your water’s contamination while preserving the healthy minerals that hydrate you better and relieve thirst better than some of your other options. Tap water is all right: It generally contains all the minerals in it you need, along with a good dose of contamination that you don’t. Some cities are better than others—get your local water report to learn where your city ranks—but even after treatment, the city pipes and water delivery system most likely contains some kind of contamination that gets back into the water before it gets to you. Heck, the pipes in your house are probably not all that clean, either! To be sure, a point-of-use system that attaches to your faucet goes a long way to easing your mind about the quality of water you consume.

3. You’ll have more control: Filtration gives you more control and insight into what’s in your water. It’s just always better to KNOW what you’re eating or drinking. Look no further than the spate of governmental rules and regulations food and beverage manufacturers must comply with to see that not only is it good to know what’s in there, but you have the legal right to know what’s in there. Filtering your own water once it enters your house offers a fine level of control over the quality of your drinking, cooking and bathing water.

4. It’s convenient: Really, what all the above reasons amount to is a higher level of convenience in your life. One more thing you don’t have to worry about, you don’t have to think about or wonder when you’re shopping in the grocery store. “Do I need to stock up on bottled water? Oh, no—I have better at home!”

5. It’s cheaper: Filtering is cheaper than bottled water by a mile. It’s even cheaper than pitcher filters. With Aquasana drinking filters specifically, you get almost twice as much bang for your buck than many pitcher filters, and over thirty times more than from bottled water. If you’re looking to save money in 2012, quitting the bottled water habit and choosing to filter is a long step in the right direction.

Filtering your water versus pitcher filter versus bottled water

6. It’s green/sustainable: Going along with cheaper, filtering is also a very sustainable method of treating your water. Reverse osmosis wastes quite a bit of water, especially as a household solution (as opposed to a larger scale operation). Basically, you get a bit of clean water, but concentrate the contaminated water and send it back into the environment. Distillation requires electricity and also wastes water. Bottled water, aside from its health concerns, fills landfills with tons of plastic waste each day. Most bottles are not recycled (up to 80% are simply tossed in the garbage), despite their eligibility for recycling, and end up clogging rivers and land when they’re not actually disposed of “properly” in a landfill. Filtering can remove up to 4,000 bottles a year from landfills. Also, filtering is removing contamination from water—meaning less ambient contamination in general (not just for your drinking pleasure). And carbon—the chief material used in filtration—is good for the environment even once you’re done with using it to filter your water.

Have another great reason to filter your water? Let us know in the comments!

What’s the truth about your water?

It’s not JUST water

We can all remember the days of high school chemistry class and learning the basic components of water, H2O: 2 hydrogen molecules attached to 1 oxygen molecule. You may also remember that our bodies are composed of 70%-80% water and we must drink enough of it to survive. Today we face major problems regarding safe drinking water, not only because of mass contamination from environmental and synthetic chemicals, but an even bigger problem is growing due to corporate and governmental control of our bottled water system. We are being forced to buy more bottled water than ever and the only people who benefit are the big corporations who mass produce this highly consumed product. It’s not easy to find clean, affordable drinking water but there are things that we can do.

Contaminants

The EPA has set standards for more than 80 contaminants that may occur in drinking water and pose a risk to human health. The EPA claims its standards protect the health of everybody, including vulnerable groups like children. Is there really a safe standard when it comes to drinking toxins? And, what happened to the countless other contaminants found in our drinking water? According to the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) two-and-a-half year investigation, tap water in 42 states is contaminated with more than 140 unregulated chemicals that lack safety standards. In an analysis of more than 22 million tap water quality tests, most of which were required under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, EWG found that water suppliers across the U.S. detected 260 contaminants in water served to the public. One hundred forty-one (141) of these detected chemicals — more than half — are unregulated; public health officials have not set safety standards for these chemicals, even though millions drink them every day.

According to the EPA, contaminants fall into two groups based on the health effects that they cause. Acute effects occur within hours or days of the time that a person consumes a contaminant. Chronic effects occur after people consume a contaminant at levels over EPA’s safety standards for many years. The drinking water contaminants that can have chronic effects are chemicals (such as disinfection by-products, solvents, and pesticides), radionuclides (such as radium), and minerals (such as arsenic). Examples of the chronic effects of drinking water contaminants are cancer, liver or kidney problems, or reproductive difficulties.

Go here for more information.

The bottled water scam

water footprintWith so many of us becoming aware of our contaminated tap water, the world is embracing the bottled water industry like never before. In 1999 the sales of bottled water in the US was around $6 billion in one year. By 2007 the sales of bottled water jumped to over $11 billion. Some believe that drinking bottled water is no more pure or better for your health, nor is it safer than community or municipal water. The purity standards for bottled water are no higher than those applied to tap water — in some instances they are lower or less rigorous. Studies have shown that chemicals called phthalates, which are known to disrupt testosterone and other hormones, can leach into bottled water over time. There are no regulatory standards limiting phthalates in bottled water. The bottled water industry waged a successful campaign opposing the FDA proposal to set a legal limit for these chemicals.

Go here for more information.

What can you do?

The majority of the contaminants found in our drinking water can be traced back to improper or excessive use of ordinary compounds like lawn chemicals, gasoline, cleaning products and even prescription drugs. As a consumer, you might consider buying eco-friendly cleaners, avoid using toxic toiletries, and dispose of your medications properly. By doing your part in creating a less toxic environment, we will be able to create safer water for generations to come.

The benefits of bottled water are convenience and novelty. Instead of buying bottled water you can carry a canteen or a reusable athletic bottle. My personal favorite is to use a glass bottle and filter the water at home using a water filter. It is good for the environment and lowers the risk of chemical exposure such as BPA, a common toxic chemical in plastics. This change will save you a lot of money and will help the environment because water bottles are one of the major sources of plastic going into landfills today. Shipping billions of gallons of water every year also uses a lot of fuel.

Lastly, recycle empty water bottles, EVERYTIME! And don’t WASTE your water by letting the shower or faucet run. Use old water for things like watering plants and invest in water saving devices for you home. Be a responsible and conscious water consumer. We will all benefit from it.

 

—Dr. Wendy Norman, D.C.

www.bodyelectrictoday.com

And for more information on how to dispose of your pharmaceuticals:

Green Your Home

 

 

 

Spray-on sunscreen versus lotion: which is better?

We all know we should use sunscreen to help ward off the harmful rays of the sun. Sometimes there are so many choices, however, that it’s hard to know where to start. At the most basic level, there are lotions (the old stand-by) and the newer sprays and spray lotions. Do they do the same job? Do they both give the same amount of coverage and protection? There are lots of articles out there that go into the science of the debate, which I (not being qualified to) will not do here. But people tend to have a great deal to say about which sunscreen they like better (just ask—there are some pretty big opinions out there!).

For your skin, lotion might be the better way to go. To me, the sprays tend to lose at least 75% of their liquid to every chance wind that gusts up right when you hit the button. But sprays undeniably go on faster. But what’s in them? Lots of chemicals and questionable ingredients that may provoke a negative reaction. Not that lotion is any better—it’s goopy and white and “takes FOR-EVER, MOM” and is hardly attractive. So after sifting through several blog posts and discussion posts on forums about the issue, I have boiled it down to the major pros and cons for each (as told by others).

 

Sunscreen lotion pros and cons

Sunscreen sprays pros and cons

So which is better? I’d say that whatever works for you and your family is the better choice. And there are, as I mentioned before, lots of studies and reviews to help you choose:

Environmental Working Group list of Best Sunscreens

Environmental Working Group sunscreen report

9 truths about sunscreen

And here’s a list of lotion-based, chemical and hormone-free sunscreens

In the end, whichever route you choose, there are a few rules of thumb when dealing with sun exposure:

  1. 1. Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes prior to sun exposure, to give the ingredients a chance to activate.
  2. 2. Cover every inch of exposed skin (I know lots of people who apply it naked before dressing, to avoid missing those little slices of skin at your clothing lines).
  3. 3. Reapply regularly (every 2-3 hours at most—more often if swimming or sweating profusely).

Other pro tips:

  • Cover with lotion in the morning, then reapply with spray during the day (because it’s quicker).
  • Remember to get the back of your neck, your ears, your hands and feet (even the soles, if you’re planning on lying on your tummy for any length of time), and very carefully under all the hems of your clothing.
  • If you begin to feel over hot, or if your skin turns a markedly different color when you press your finger into it, get into the shade for a little bit and drink some water!

As much as possible, wear protective clothing to block as much sun as you can: hats, shirts, and loose clothing.

Which do you prefer? Spray or lotion? We had the discussion in the office, and everyone has an opinion and a reason! What are yours??

 

What is dermatology?

As you may or may not be aware, dermatology is the field of medicine that focuses on the skin: skin diseases and disorders. This includes things as varied as hair removal and implantation, skin cancer treatment, skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis and (the most unfair of plagues) acne, to plastic surgery like liposuction and face lifts.

And just how, you might ask, is dermatology related to water and water filtration?

For hair removal issues, plastic surgery and cancer, water is important for all the usual health reasons, but has little impact aside from that. Where water becomes an essential component of dermatology issues are in the areas of skin health and skin disorders. Proper hydration is often the heart and soul of health in general, but it particularly affects the skin. Lack of adequate hydration can exacerbate (or cause) rashes, eczema, allergic reactions and other topical ailments.

Along the same lines, the water you wash with can affect the quality and vitality of your skin in surprising ways. City water contains a whole raft of contaminants in varying concentrations, some of which have been shown to be harmful to your skin. Chlorine in particular is cause for concern. We all know how it feels when you get out of a chlorinated pool: the itchy, dry, tight feeling plagues you until you can rinse off with less chlorinated water. But there’s chlorine in your shower water, too, if in lesser amounts, and it’s still not good for you.

Dermatology and you

For the next several weeks, be on the lookout for blog posts, Facebook and Twitter activities, and general buzz on Aquasana.com and our other community channels that relate to dermatology and skin issues. The subject is near and dear to our hearts, and we have undertaken a mission to shed light on various dermatology topics. With that in mind, we’ve found some really excellent resources about dermatology and skin conditions out there on the net:

Related, interesting sites on dermatology…

American Academy of Dermatology
National Eczema Association
Kids Skin Health
KidsHealth

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