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Drink to me with thine purifier

Water used to be so easy -- just turn on the tap and chug away. But then we were told tap water wasn't safe, that bottled spring water was the way to go. We lapped it up accordingly.

Later, we found out tap water is held to a higher standard by most municipalities than it is at most bottling plants. We also realized the stupidity of churning out disposable plastic carcasses that clog landfills and increase dependence on foreign petroleum.

Things got extra schizophrenic when companies started bottling tap water. The Nestle Pure Life bottle that came with my hot pretzel at the Boulevard Mall last week named its potential source as either a "protected underground well" or the "Public water supply of Allentown, Pa."

To sort out the confusion, here's your best game plan:

*Choose the right vessel: Why go to the trouble of securing pure water if you're just going to contaminate it using the wrong container? Plastic water bottles have been found to leach harmful chemicals such as Bisphenol A, shown to cause reproductive abnormalities in animals.

To avoid BPA, look at the bottom of plastic bottles and choose ones with the recycling code one, two or five. Or try stainless steel bottles ($4 and up). Never refill commercial water bottles intended for one-time use.

*Determine whether you even need a filter: Sometimes the water flowing from your tap is just fine the way it is. Check out your water quality by viewing your area's Consumer Confidence Report at www.EPA.gov or contacting your local water authority.

Erie County residents can visit www.ECWA.org and click on "Water Quality." This will give you a general idea of what is flowing through your community besides water. It's a great place to start.

If you want a closer look at what is pumping through your personal pipes, call the EPA's Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791 or visit www.epa.gov/safewater/labs to find cheap or free testing kits. If the results leave you feeling like Erin Brockovich, you might want to consider a filtration system of some sort.

*Best buys from Consumer Reports: Faucet mounted: Pur Horizontal (Target, $37.69 to $46.49) attaches to your faucet head and allows you to switch between tap and filtered water. It scored points for its space-saving design, but when tested, clogged sooner than the company said it would. Still, it took the bad stuff out and left the water tasting nice.

Under sink: The Kenmore model 38454 (Sears, $47.99) also performed very well overall. Its design saves space and it doesn't cost much to operate, but it has to be professionally installed, which can cost extra. If lead contamination is your problem, look elsewhere -- this model wasn't as effective at removing it as the Pur Horizontal was.

Pitcher/Carafe: No surprise here -- Brita Aqualux (Target, $25.99) is a Consumer Reports favorite, along with the PUR Pitcher (Target, $14.99). Pitcher purifiers are less of a commitment and cheaper up front but rate lower for quality, leaving some contaminants behind.

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