In August 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) informed the leaders of the City of Newark, New Jersey that the faucet-mounted, point-of-use water filter cartridges and filters that the city was handing out to residents were not adequately filtering out lead from the drinking water. The agency advised the city to start handing out bottled water.
This is a scary prospect because approximately half of all Americans use some sort of filtration system or boil their water before drinking it, according to Consumer Reports.
Indeed, many of us use some sort of water filtration system for very good reasons. In 2016, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published a United States map of lead-related reports in drinking water systems based on the EPA’s violation and enforcement records from 2015. The organization found that 18 million people were served by water systems with lead violations.
We wanted to know why the faucet-mounted cartridges and filters by PUR failed in Newark. As well, we wanted to know the results of the Newark tests, and why the cartridges worked in Flint, Michigan.
As always, it’s complicated.
First, let’s look at Newark.
Newark Water Filters
The EPA conducted a second round of testing at three residences in Newark on August 6, 2019. This was a second round of testing. In two of the homes, the lead levels after filtration exceeded 15 parts per billion (ppb), the applicable federal and state drinking water standard. Bear in mind, that this is an actionable level for the federal government to get involved, as any amount of lead is dangerous, especially with chronic exposure.
We wanted to know if the filters were at least filtering some lead. The results were hard to come by as only one news organization, NJ.com, reported the test results. We were unable to verify the findings with the EPA’s website.
According to NJ.com, one household’s unfiltered water had 1,600 ppb of lead, and after filtration the number dropped to 57.9 ppb. The other residence had 112 ppb of lead unfiltered, and 50 ppb post-filtration.
At least we know the filters were filtering out some lead. However, the results were inconsistent. These faucet-mounted water cartridges and filters by PUR are certified to remove up to 150 ppb of lead. Brita faucet-mounted water cartridges and filters are also certified to remove up to 150 ppb of lead. However, these numbers and swings are quite dramatic.
Eric Olson, a water expert with the NRDC, told NJ.com:
“My two operating theories are either that the lead levels were extremely high in the water and the filter could not address it, or for some reason, the filter was not properly installed or maintained,” Olson said. “Using hot water can damage the filters.”
There are many variables that can affect the unfiltered and filtered water:
- Site-specific plumbing and service line materials
- Water usage
- Stagnation time
- Particulate lead release caused by physical, hydraulic, and chemical disturbances to lead and associated galvanized pipes
- The age of the filter
- If the filter is properly installed
- If the filter is subjected to hot water
Bloomfield Township in New Jersey purchases its water from Newark. It, too, is handing out free filters and cartridges, as well as testing the filters – particularly after the disturbing Newark results. The township says the filters are working fine.
Location 1: 8/13/2019
- Unfiltered Reading 22 ppb
- Using Filter Reading 5 ppb
Location 2: 8/13/2019
- Unfiltered Reading 6 parts ppb
- Using Filter Reading 3 ppb
Location 3: 8/12/2019
- Unfiltered Reading 36.1 ppb
- Using Filter Reading 0.34 ppb
Location 4: 8/12/2019
- Unfiltered Reading 4.37 ppb
- Using Filter Reading 1.65 ppb
Location 5: 8/12/2019
- Unfiltered Reading 1.81 ppb
- Using Filter Reading 0.63 ppb
It should be noted that the Township of Nutley, New Jersey also purchases water from Newark for 436 residences. The township is expediting PUR water filter testing at this time.
PUR Water has not released a statement about the findings in Newark yet. We find that disturbing. PUR has two styles of faucet-mounts: one is sideways and the other is upright. Does this make a difference? Perhaps PUR had a manufacturing issue and produced a defective batch of filters.
Flint Water Filters – Comprehensive Study
In 2016, the EPA completed a comprehensive study in Flint, Michigan of the faucet-mounted Brita and PUR water filtration systems. The raw results are available on the EPA’s website. Valerie Bosscher and her team at the EPA compared 345 samples that provided before and after filtration results.
These filter models have dual certifications in accordance with NSF/ANSI-53 and NSF/ANSI-42. Bear in mind, the PUR water filters are the same that were distributed in Newark, New Jersey and the surrounding townships.
The Flint results showed a maximum lead concentration of 4,080 ppb for unfiltered water. This was only in one household. Once the new filter was installed, the lead levels dropped to 907 ppb. 90% of the unfiltered results were equal to or less than 57.2 ppb of lead. When we observed the household at 58 ppb, the new filter reduced lead levels to 0.11 ppb.
The highest recorded lead level for a new filter was 1.01 ppb. However, the median lead level was <.05 (< 0.11 ppb).
For a used filter, the highest was 2.9 ppb of lead and the median was <.05 (< 0.11 ppb).
We filtered the raw results and came up with numbers that were in accordance to the team’s:
- Used PUR (119 samples) – Average 0.23 ppb
- Used Brita (63 samples) – Average 0.25 ppb
- New PUR (148 samples) – Average 0.175 ppb
- New Brita(64 samples) – Average 0.2 ppb
The investigators determined, “This study demonstrated the removal of a combination of soluble and particulate lead from concentrations much greater than the 150 ppb certification challenge concentration, to well below the current 10 ppb certification acceptance criterion. Therefore, properly certified, installed, and maintained filters can be expected to reliably reduce lead exposure from drinking water, even when high lead levels (in excess of 1,000 ppb) are present in unfiltered water.”
Bear in mind, that this study was a field study and subject to variations due to personal habits and use. However, the investigators mentioned a field study in Washington, D.C. that had comparable results.
Water Filter Tips
We think more results have to be collected in the Newark, New Jersey area on the faucet-mounted filters. However, we applaud the EPA for its abundance of caution approach.
We wonder if public education on how to use the filters properly is needed and that might be the cause of the dramatically different results compared to Flint, Michigan. These faucet-mounted filters can be tricky and it is best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to a “T”.
- Do not use hot water through the filters.
- Touch the faucet to see if it is hot or cold before you turn it on.
- Run cold water through the faucet for approximately 15-30 seconds before switching and engaging the filter.
- Mind the indicator lights on the cartridge. The green light means the filter is fine, the yellow light indicates you will need to change soon and red means change. The light will start to change after 100 gallons of water have been used.
- Make sure your filter is installed and mounted correctly. Both Brita and PUR have instructional videos on installation. Since the designs have slightly changed, watch the video of the exact model you purchased.
- Studies have shown that the filters can grow bacteria. The researchers are looking into whether or not the bacteria is harmful or not. They do suggest following the manufacturer’s instructions.
Other Filtration Systems
- Using “whole house” for lead removal can cause problematic water quality changes, including removal of chlorine, that can increase bacteriological risk and increase lead release from premise plumbing after the ‘whole house’ or point-of-entry filter.
- Under-the-sink removal systems that are certified with the NSF standard are fine.
- In one study, pour‐through pitchers failed to remove particulate lead.
To find out the health effects of lead on dogs and cats, please read Hemopet’s article, “Lead Poisoning in Dogs and Cats”.
Please help the residents and their companion animals of Newark, New Jersey afflicted by lead in their water, donate to the United Way of Greater Newark. The organization says that an online gift will go 100% toward purchasing bottled water. The United Way of Genesee County continues to collect donations to purchase water for the residents and companion animals of Flint, Michigan. The non-profit, Natural Resources Defense Council, has been at the forefront of addressing these water crises.