Calcium Sulfite and Water Filters

Calcium sulfite, or CaSO3, as used in water filtration systems, is largely insoluble in water. Over the 10-12,000 gallon lifetime of our shower filter cartridges, less than 6/100ths (0.06) of 1% will dissolve, but that is only in the coldest water (0ºC/32ºF).
Calcium Sulfite and Water Filters

Dispelling the myths behind the hyperbole

Calcium sulfite, or CaSO3, as used in water filtration systems, is largely insoluble in water. Over the 10-12,000 gallon lifetime of our shower filter cartridges, less than 6/100ths (0.06) of 1% will dissolve, but that is only in the coldest water (0ºC/32ºF). In hotter water that diminishes to 1/100th (0.01) of a single percent.

Let’s imagine, for example, that you indulge in a luxurious eight-minute shower, with a flow rate of 2.1 gallons per minute. That means you’re using 17.2 gallons per shower, and a single cartridge will serve you for between 600 and 700 showers.

Since our cartridges contain 70 grams (2½ ounces) of calcium sulfite, and over their entire lifetime will shed a maximum of 0.042 grams (0.0015 ounces), you would be exposed to less than 0.00006 grams (0.00000212 ounces) per shower, or in other words, virtually undetectable amounts.

A new filtration system manufacturer in the industry, in business for only a very short time, is pointing the finger at calcium sulfite as being a health risk. Of course, the business is attempting to distinguish itself from other established manufacturers. They have focused on using GAC (Granulated Activated Carbon) filters and Kinetic Degradation Fluxion (KDF) filters, or CTO (Chlorine, Taste, and Odor) filters, to the exclusion of CaSO3 and are attempting to vilify calcium sulfite as “unhealthy”.

The problem is that it is much easier to say something is evil without any evidence and then place the burden on someone else to prove that your claim is unfounded. As an example, consider this warning advertisement that made the rounds on the Internet a few years ago.

More scare-mongering is evident with this poster about how the healthiness of our premium organic crops is being undermined by irresponsible producers. The sad part is that these people are trading on consumer’s ignorance of basic science, trying to make us suspicious and afraid of some of the most thoroughly understood knowledge that humans have ever possessed. 

For your own edification, dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) is a rarely used chemical name for common water. As you can see, the images and wording are highly manipulative.

When scientific integrity is at stake, someone must step up and take on the responsibility to examine and explain all the various technologies. We will undertake that further below, but first, let’s take a moment to understand some very easy chemistry.

Sulfur is Essential

Sulfur, sulfates, and sulfites are quite distinct from each other. Let’s understand them better.

Sulfur is a fundamental part of thousands of basic biological functions inside our bodies. We can’t do without it because it is the third most common mineral in our bodies, concentrated in our skin, muscles, and bones. It is a vital component of the amino acids used in our bodies to create proteins, tissues, and hormones, as well as enzymes, and antibodies that protect us from disease.

Sulfates are anti-inflammatory and are used by the body to alleviate mental depression. Even more importantly, they are used to manufacture stomach acid and digestive enzymes so that we can obtain nutrition from the food we eat. As an adjunct to that, they also protect the lining of our stomach and gut so that only fully digested nutrients can pass through. When this protection system fails and partially digested food gets into our bloodstream, our bodies start creating antibodies that can cascade into a catastrophic allergic reaction.

Sulfite, the substance we’re discussing, comes from some of the food we eat, or other environmental sources. Largely, however, we make it within our bodies from chains of amino acids (proteins) to make an intermediate molecule called homocysteine which we then convert into cysteine, which is an essential component to most of our bodies’ proteins. Without sulfites, human beings simply could not live.

People that possess a sensitivity to sulfites generally don’t react to sulfur or sulfates. Those most likely to have a reaction are members of the population who have poorly or uncontrolled asthma.

Sulfite Sensitive People

Reactions are generally minor such as urticaria (hives), diarrhea, upset stomach, or respiratory symptoms (coughing, wheezing). Sulfite sensitivity affects only 0.05% of the population, with reactions ranging from no symptoms, all the way up to anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, though that is exceptionally rare. To put that in perspective that is less than 1/10th the number of people who are allergic to peanuts (0.6%).

Currently, there is no strategy, technique, or proven way to desensitize someone to sulfites. Asthmatics are advised to keep their inhaler handy at all times.

Interestingly, although the precise mechanism of any individual’s sulfite reaction has not been clearly demonstrated, some researchers suspect inhalation of sulfur dioxide (SO2) gas. This occurs after having ingested sulfite-containing foods or beverages, which are converted to SO2.

They know that sulfur dioxide acts as a bronchial irritant, and reflex-contraction of the airways from inhaling SO2 gas is one possible explanation. This may also explain the sudden onset of symptoms when drinking beer or wine, when SO2 gas is inhaled during the swallowing process or re-inhaled when burping takes place.

Other possibilities include an actual deficiency in a mitochondrial enzyme or, more typical of allergy, an actual immunoglobulin E (IgE) mediated immune response. Research is ongoing.

Sulfites are present in many everyday foods

Sulfites have a useful role to play in helping preserve many foods and beverages.

They pervade our over-the-counter (OTC) medications, both as functional components and as preservatives, and can be found in our most common life-saving drugs. They are naturally occurring in many foods, explaining why they have been in use since the year 1664 CE, and were approved for use in the United States back in the 1800s. For the vast majority of the population, they are completely safe.

Sulfite sensitivity in non-asthmatics is extremely rare. It is primarily found in asthmatic women, particularly if the condition is poorly controlled, or undiagnosed.

If you can drink beer or wine (particularly white wine, but including all types) then you are very unlikely to have a sulfite sensitivity.

Where can we find sulfites?

- Beer & wine, cordials, fruit juices, soft drinks, instant tea, lemon and lime juice, vinegar, grape juice;
Biscuits and dough (bread, pie, or pizza); dehydrated potatoes, gravies, sauces, fruit toppings, jams, jellies, maple syrup, maraschino cherries, pickled onions;
Fresh or dried fruit such as apricots, and sometimes grapes will be transported with sulfite sachets as a preservative;
Some restaurant salads will have sulfites added to preserve color;
Sulphur powder is sometimes sprinkled over the top of crabs, lobsters, and other crustaceans to stop them from discoloring;
Coconut, coconut water products, and gelatin;
Some eye drops and face creams;
Adrenaline (epinephrine, as used in products like EpiPen), local/dental anesthetics containing adrenaline and aminoglycoside antibioticsinjectable corticosteroidsdopamine;
Isoprenaline (for heart block, slow heartbeat, and even for bronchial/asthma treatment), phenylephrine (nasal decongestant, pupil dilator, vasoconstrictor used to maintain blood pressure during anesthesia), and dexamethasone (for treating ulcerative colitis, arthritis, and some types of cancer).

        Filtration Methodologies

        We’ve been so busy showing that calcium sulfite is not dangerous that until now we haven’t mentioned chlorine. All municipal water treatment facilities use chlorine, but even if you use well water, there’s still a chance that chlorine is a component.

        The problem with chlorine is that it decreases the skin's ability to hold on to water. From that arise the problems of dry skin, itchiness, and irritation. Worse yet, at shower temperatures chlorine becomes gaseous and then you inhale this noxious chemical.

        Large or chronic exposures can actually precipitate the development of asthma in previously healthy individuals. Environmental risks might include working long-term as a lifeguard at an over-chlorinated swimming pool, working as a Laundromat attendant, or working in an industry that allows regular exposure to chlorine gas.

        In any case, the best idea is to eliminate chlorine from your shower water altogether. Regular exposure to chlorine can cause dandruff, because of its drying effects, as well as damaged, brittle hair, and premature hair color loss.

        Chlorine, Taste, and Odor Filters

        CTO filters are precisely what their name implies. They scavenge chlorine from the water to improve the taste and smell. They may scavenge other things but manufacturers generally don’t make additional claims for them. These filters generally remove 90% of the chlorine in your water stream at a flow rate of 0.79 gallons/3 liters per minute but fall off to 70% as the flowrate increases to a gallon or more per minute.

        Granulated Activated Carbon

        GAC filters are particularly effective. This is because of a characteristic they possess called microporosity.  Just 1 gram of activated carbon, or about 1/28th of an ounce, has a molecular surface area in excess of 32,000 ft2, or 3,000 m2. How big is that? It is the equivalent of more than 11 doubles-tennis courts, or an NHL hockey rink—a truly massive area. Many organic chemicals, such as chlorine and hydrogen sulfide (that rotten egg smell), are attracted to the activated carbon and are permanently trapped. Its weakness is that it is most effective and durable in cold water; hot water quickly exhausts its effectiveness for chlorine and other elements so water is best dechlorinated before it gets to the carbon element.

        Kinetic Degradation Fluxion

        KDF filters utilize a high-purity copper-zinc formulation to stimulate a molecular process known as redox, or oxidative reduction. Without getting needlessly complex, atoms and molecules exchange electrons in this process which changes the chemicals and metal ions such as chlorine, hydrogen sulfide, lead, mercury, iron, and more into harmless substances. Chlorine, for example, becomes simple, non-toxic chloride.

        As you can see from the two accompanying charts, calcium sulfite is 99% effective in removing chlorine whereas CTO filters range from 90–75% efficiency, and KDF filters from 80–50% as the volume of water increases towards a typical 2.1 GPM (7.9 liters/minute) of a typical shower. There is simply no better way to remove this harsh chemical than with calcium sulfite.

        This is the reason that you need a compound filter incorporating all of these elements. A calcium sulfite element is the only way to remove 99% of the chlorine. Although less useful for chlorine, GAC and KDF filters remove other undesirable elements, while inhibiting the growth of algae, fungi, and mold. All together these elements rebalance the pH levels of your water and optimize the mineral level for soft water that not only makes your soaps and shampoos feel more effective but leaves your skin feeling cleaner than ever before.

        Moral of the Story

        We hope this has cleared up some of the scientifically unsound misconceptions that have been circulated. It’s really a shame when people misuse and abuse science as if it were some kind of advertising ploy.

        Science should never be scary, intimidating, or confusing—it is absolutely the best tool we have for understanding the universe around us. Subverting it for profit should annoy all thinking, reasonable people.

        The Takeaway

        Calcium sulfite is not a health hazard, but rather a valid and vital component of both household and municipal filtering systems used around us every day. Sulfite is used to preserve our foods and as an integral part of day-to-day OTC medications, prescription drugs, and lifesaving treatments. For 99.95% of the population, it is completely harmless and quite beneficial.

        If you live in an area with over-chlorinated water and other undesirable contaminants (as most of us do), please feel free to look over our exceptional selection of high-quality filtration products. We’re more than happy to answer any questions you may have. 

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