CBC MARKETPLACE: YOUR HOME »
Home water filters: Which one's
best for you?
Broadcast: November 14, 2000
Ines Colabrese; Research: Mike Gordon
since water contaminated with E. coli killed seven people
in Walkerton, Ontario earlier this year, Canadians have
been paying more attention to the serious concerns with
their tap water.
no wonder that many people are looking for ways to make
sure their water is safe to drink. This often means buying
a water filtration device for the tap, the fridge or for
something you can take with you in the car.
these products make water safe to drink?
out to give you the tips on how to best shop for water
filters. Along the way, we found three filters that claimed
they got rid of E. coli. And some surprising details about
a home water filter system can be a daunting task.
have gone through the process that Anne Clifford and her
husband Mike did recently: they went shopping for a home
water filtration system. Anne and Mike live in Toronto
concern is for my child and other children," Anne Clifford
told Marketplace. "Although I'm not concerned with
the bacterial content in the water in the city, I am concerned
about the amount of chemicals we consume."
relies heavily on chlorine to kill bacteria in its water
supply. It also uses filtration beds made up of layers
of granular activated charcoal, sand and rock.
of Canadians have to rely on wells for their water. Usually,
the water is of excellent quality. But well water can become
contaminated with bacteria. The biggest fear,
of course, is E. Coli.
led many Canadians to shop for water filters to resolve
their fears. But right now, there are no federal regulations
requiring any of these products to have any government
approvals. So when you venture into the Marketplace,
you're on your own.
No regulations for filters
Thomas knows all about water filtration devices. He worked
as a leading toxicologist with Health Canada for the past
30 years. His special interest was water filters.
food. We protect drugs. We should protect the products
that treat our drinking water," Thomas told Marketplace. "And
I think the public has a right to this protection."
we are on our own, trying to make our way through the sales
pitches of hundreds of products.
food. We protect drugs. We should protect the products that treat
our drinking water," says
Dr. Barry Thomas, Health Canada toxicologist.
across a few of them for this story:
- The Bottom's Up Filter sells for
about $40; works on any fresh water source; says it gets
rid of Giardia, cryptosporidium and E. Coli
- The Rainfresh ceramic filter sells
for about $200; packaging says it traps and kills bacteria
and fecal coliforms, including E. coli
- The Doulton ceramic filter sells
for just over $300; says it eliminates 99.99 per cent
of E. coli in water
to see if these systems would make water contaminated with
E. coli safe to drink. So we asked the companies for the
scientific studies that showed the products were effective.
the documents. Then we erased all mention of the companies.
We sent that data off to regulators and scientists; organizations
like the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
EPA sets high standards
has set a high standard for E. coli removal from water.
It is law in the United States. Here in Canada, no such
law exists, so water filtration products do not have to
live up to the EPA protocol. But, if a water filtration
company asks, Health Canada recommends that any product
sold to reduce E. coli should adhere to the tough EPA standard.
scientists test these products, they start with heavily
contaminated water. To be successful, a product would have
to remove at least 99.9999 per cent of the E. coli from
the water. The EPA considers any less a health hazard.
say water filtration devices must adhere to specified
standards. There are no Canadian regulations requiring
these products to have any government approvals.
standards are also applied by NSF International, the leading
North American expert in testing and certifying water filtration
devices. The not-for-profit organization charges companies
for testing to verify that products live up to their claims.
asked the scientists at NSF to look at the scientific studies
the companies sent to us.
Checking the studies
checked the studies that came with the Bottom's Up product.
NSF found that while the Bottom's Up studies made
reference to the EPA protocol, they did not actually follow
NSF's concerns to the Bottom's Up distributor in
the Toronto area, Terry Walsh.
NSF scientists say that in one of your studies you cite
the EPA guide standard and protocol for testing microbiological
water purifiers, but that the test didn't actually follow
Well, now, I think you'd have to talk to the manufacturer
about that because, I mean, I go by the information that
he provides me from the labs and that's what I have to
Mark Jost, vice
president at NSF International, helped check out the scientific
data on the water filters we looked at.
the question to company owner Carl Palmer. He wrote: " We
were assured by each independent lab that they followed
strict EPA protocols methodology...We do not doubt the
credibility of each laboratory listed."
looked at the scientific data behind another product: the
Rainfresh ceramic filter. It's sold in Canadian Tire stores.
owners would not talk to us on camera. But last September,
they were featured in a Toronto Star article. They told
the newspaper they took water from a pond north of Toronto,
put it through their filter and drank from it. They said
that proved Rainfresh got rid of most E. coli.
one of the scientists at NSF, said that's not a very scientific
standards that were referenced in most of the literature
that we saw, you have to follow an EPA protocol for purifiers," Jost
said. "That challenge is for over a million organisms per
hundred millilitres. You cannot say that pond water has
that type of contamination."
distributor for Bottom's Up water filter.
scientific study sent to Marketplace by the Rainfresh
company said they had removed even more E. coli than is
called for by the EPA standard. But when the NSF scientists
looked at the study, they found they had done an easier
test, which didn't meet the EPA standard.
Envirogard, wrote: "Our tests proved directly that our
ceramics are effective. Anyone who claims otherwise is
we asked the EPA to comment on the scientific studies of
the Doulton ceramic filter. It's made in England and sold
When the EPA looked at Doulton's scientific
studies, it pointed out that the laboratory which performed
the studies didn't appear to follow the EPA protocol. We
asked the makers of Doulton for their response. Head office
in England told us they stand by the scientific evidence
they gave us and they take issue with being assessed against
the EPA protocol.
to the EPA standard, they wrote: "…it has not been
accepted globally as the best or the only way to test this
type of water filter device."
filter will get rid of E. coli. And that's true of all
three products we've looked at. But the question for the
EPA is not whether the products get rid of E. coli, but
by how much.
spokesperson for the Canadian Water Quality Association.
the material the EPA read, the agency tells us that none
of these three filters demonstrates by the studies they
supplied that they meet the EPA standards.
EPA adds, to say the filters don't work would be inappropriate.
for E. coli reduction just aren't conclusive by EPA standards.
And what about the other water filters on the market? It
can be tough to know which work and which don't because
there's no regulation of the industry.
is what Health Canada's Barry Thomas has been calling for.
That would mean products would have to be sold certified,
assuring shoppers the products can do what they say they
information I've seen is about two-thirds of the drinking
water treatment devices on the market are not certified," Thomas
said. "So the consumer could have some difficulty finding
Canada has twice tried to introduce laws that would force
companies to certify their products. Twice, the proposed
law was voted down.
Water Quality Association represents about half the water
filter manufacturers in Canada. Ralph Suppa is the association's
not seen any persuasive, scientific evidence to demonstrate
that our products need to be legislated," Suppa told Marketplace.
that legislation would put some of the association's members
out of business.
Health Canada and the Canadian Water Quality Association
remain in a stalemate.
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