Ask Corn Allergy Girl: Water Filtration

The Question

I got a Berkey water filtration system and seem to be having trouble with the water. I saw on a post somewhere – and I thought it might be one of yours – that you should get the ceramic filters, not the black ones. I’m just wondering why. I’ve made two calls to Berkey. Both times they doubted me. The gal I talked to absolutely refused to believe there could be corn in, around, through or in any way associated with the black filter. I don’t even understand what would make the black filters a problem, but not the ceramic. Do you know anything about this?

– Darcy

[I’ve edited the question a bit to withhold some identifying information.]

A Little Background: There’s Corn In Water?

Yes, there is. Here’s the Hidden Corn entry on water. Like many other chemicals the additives and disinfectants in drinking water can be derived from corn (citric acid especially) or can be in a corn-based carrier to help them dissolve. Then, when it comes to water filtration systems, information is often proprietary so we don’t know for sure *what* is corny about it, we only know that the corn allergic react. My best guess is that the activated charcoal in some water filters could be from corn, or could have been “activated” using a corn based acid. Additionally filters that add minerals back in to the water will do so via corn-based carrier chemicals. *And*, I don’t have a reference for this, but there are reports of antimicrobial polymers such as antimicrobial toilet seats causing BIG contact reactions with corn allergics. The housing of the water filter could be made from an antimicrobial polymer, and that polymer would likely be corny.

Now the Answer

So now that you have that background, here’s my response to Darcy:

I’m honestly not surprised that Berkey didn’t respond too well to you. That’s common in general with the questions we have to ask, and in line with the answers I got when I tried to contact them about reacting to their filters as well. If you want to pursue it with them more you’ll need to do two things.

  1. Make sure it is truly the manufacturers that you’re talking to. When I tried to contact them I was panicked and confused because I was having trouble finding safe water, and I think the folks I contacted were Berkey *dealers*, not the manufacturers. I’m not 100% clear on who the manufacturers are, but I *think* it’s these guys
  2. You’ll need to quit asking them about corn. They won’t understand that. They are thinking about whole kernels of corn or corn starch because they are unaccustomed to thinking about the vegetable sources used as raw materials for chemical reactions. It’s supposed to be impossible for us to react to the particles of corn left after chemical reaction or fermentation and filtration, however time after time, we do react to corn derived chemicals, and sometimes dramatically. You need to ask them about chemicals, materials, and polymers, and what the plant sources of those are. Is there activated charcoal inside the filter? What plant source is it from? How is the carbon activated, with acid or steam? What kind of acid is used? Is an antimicrobial agent used? What is the plant source of that? And so forth.

Last I checked on Delphi, the black Berkey filters are not confirmed safe but not confirmed unsafe. But there is at least one reported reaction to them besides me. I react to the black Berkey filters but I also react to the ceramic ones and I’m pretty sure it’s not a corn problem. The reason to use the ceramic filters vs the black is simply that the ceramics have been confirmed with careful questioning as safe and have been tested by many many sensitive corn allergics. They don’t work for me but again, that’s because I have other issues.

In any case, if you are having issues with the black filters, here’s another question: Do the black filters take safe water and make it less safe for you, or do they simply fail at making unsafe water safer? If it’s the former, then it’s probably the black filters being corny due to an antimicrobial agent or how the charcoal is activated or something. If it’s the latter, switching to ceramic may be a good plan, but they may still not get everything out of your water that you need to have removed.

You will want to also get the fluoride add-on filters and use both in your Berkey system. That should remove much much smaller particles of impurity from your water. I found that while the Berkey ceramic filters made safe water unsafe for me, the fluoride filters took out a little bit of whatever the ceramic filters added in.  So my tap water = no reaction, Berkey ceramic filtered tap water = moderate reaction, Berkey ceramic filtered water + fluoride filter = mild reaction. Again, my issues with the ceramic filters were not corn, but what I learned from that is that the fluoride filters really do something extra.

Here are some conversations on Delphi about the black vs ceramic, and about the Berkey filtration system in general:

http://forums.delphiforums.com/avoidingcorn/messages?msg=13230.9
http://forums.delphiforums.com/avoidingcorn/messages?msg=11993.1

Another piece of information on Berkey filters, from the FB group from a long time ago: Apparently the “super sterasyl” ceramic filters contain activated carbon from coconut husks, which could be a problem for the coconut allergic. There are hollow ceramic filters that you can get that don’t have the carbon inside, but they need to be ordered from Doulton separately from the Berkey. I *think*, but am not sure, that it is these filters. One would need to contact Doulton to confirm. The description on that mentions an antimicrobial agent, which I would hope would be the silver mentioned in the Delphi posts linked above and not something corny.

10 thoughts on “Ask Corn Allergy Girl: Water Filtration

  1. Thanks so much! It’s loads of information and lots to process, but extremely helpful and I will pass it along. It’s wonderful to have one site to refer to, with references attached (especially when passing it on, whether to individuals or manufacturers). It certainly makes me realize how much I don’t know or understand yet about how corn creeps it’s way into pretty much everything.

  2. This is an old thread, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to add a comment. We have no corn allergies in the house (thank the Lord), but my younger two children are allergic to egg, banana and avocado. Our oldest does not have these allergies. The oldest was born before we purchased the Berkey (with black filters); the younger two were born after (and I drank the Berkey-filtered water while pregnant with them). I am wondering if there is some sort of a connection? There are no other egg/banana/avocado allergies in the family (close or extended) that I am aware of.

    It may be of note to add that banana and avocado allergies are “latex family” allergies, as they share similar proteins with latex. Apple is another in this family, and our youngest is allergic to that as well.

    Have any other Berkey owners experienced anything like this?

    • I am unsure as to why I’m reacting, but I definitely cannot use the Berkey with the black filters. We have not tried the ceramic filters yet, but I am allergic to coconut so I wonder if that will even be a possibility. I am allergic to corn, and one of the immediate reactions I have is a migraine. I had one that was not abating whatsoever until I removed the Berkey water. It took weeks to overcome and is really frustrating. I need to find a suitable water source as our water company will be switching to using paracetic acid for treating the water in the next 9 to 18 months.

      To answer your question, I have corn allergy, but also avocado and latex allergy. I am having severe reactions to the Berkey water. The specific reason is unknown at this point, but it is most certainly the water filtered through the Berkey.

      • Carey, maybe give the Propur G2.0 filters a try. These should be free of both corn and coconut based on some very close lines of questioning that my friend just engaged in with them. My experience with them so far is that they take safe water and do not make them UNSAFE, but unfortunately there is “some contaminant” in the water that they are not getting out. I do believe that this is specific to me and they are very worth giving a shot. You can use your Berkey housing for them and just replace the filters, I’ve done it.

        Also see my note about making sure that it’s the filter not the stainless housing! Do that test (with using a bowl to catch the water) before you potentially waste money on a new filter! Also if you have a safe bottled water maybe use that so you can determine whether the water is being made unsafe by the filters or the filters are just failing to take the bad stuff out.

      • Thank you for the recommendation. I plan on purchasing those soon. In the meantime my husband contacted Berkey and we discovered that the black filters do contain coconut! Hopefully that was the culprit for me. At any rate I can’t use it anymore so again, thank you for the alternate recommendation.

    • I am not allergic to coconut, but I think I have a latex allergy. I am definitely allergic to avocados and bananas, whether that’s a latex problem or not. I avoid latex just in case. I have been doing some process of elimination lately with these water filters and the berkey black definitely takes safe water and makes it unsafe. I know other corn allergy folks have reported this.

      Please note that I have also NOT been able to find ONE stainless steel catch tank that doesn’t infuse water with allergens. I had to purchase a glass water dispenser (i got the anchor hocking brand because I tolerate their glass bakeware, but used a different spigot from the one that comes with it) and use that as the bottom catch tank. I just stacked the stainless steel top tank on top of it, it fit perfectly.

      • Wow, thank you both so much! I shudder to think that I might have triggered some sort of allergy in the two kids with the latex-like protein problem by drinking water I thought was SAFER for them. It definitely sounds like there could be a correlation, if you both have the latex issue as well. They do not seem to react to the water now, only the egg, banana, apple, etc., but I’m thinking it wouldn’t hurt to use a different filtration system. I have no idea what that might be, though.

        Interesting about the Anchor Hocking catch tank. I’m sure things can leach out of stainless steel, esp. if it comes from somewhere like China.

      • Claire, I think it’s jumping the gun to assume that your berkey filter caused a latex allergy or even that there is a latex protein in the berkey filters, unless your kids are actually having reactions to the water coming from the berkey. Otherwise saying “my kids drank berkey water and now they’re allergic to latex” is like saying “I tied my shoes today and now my ankle hurts.” Those things happened, but they may not be correlated.

        I was discussing having actual immediate allergic reactions to the water coming through the berkey filters, which I have no particular reason to suspect is a latex reaction. If I do have a latex allergy it really isn’t a sensitive enough one to have to worry about that.

        I believe that my issue with the black berkey filters is a corn allergy and chemical sensitivity problem, and I also believe that I have been subject to the “spreading” phenomenon from my corn allergy- so many chemicals are corn derived that I believe my body has now attuned to the chemicals themselves.

        For anyone reading this comment who has immediate allergic reactions to water run through the berkey filters, I recommend that you consider whether it’s the filters or the tank bugging you! The polish used on those stainless water tanks causes me a TON of problems, and it is NOT a metal allergy as I use stainless cookware. So far my observation is that any metal that is rated for high heat is pretty fine with me, and it’s only the stainless that’s been prepped to withstand lower temps that I have issue with, so I feel very positive it’s a polish or lubricant used during the manufacture and not the metal itself.

        The way I tested this was by taking a glass bowl I knew was safe and putting it inside the lower tank of the berkey filter to catch the water when it came out of the filters. Drinking this water was fine, while water that sat in the tank for even an hour was definitely NOT.

  3. Pingback: A little breathless in St. Pancras | Diary of an allergy survivor

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