December 2, 2023

Many of us have pitchers with Brita filters in our fridges that we use for our drinking water. In fact, most Americans treat water this way, as found by a 2022 survey by Aquasana, which found that 77% of Americans filter their water at home before drinking it. Brita is one of the leading companies to offer water filters as consumer products in various forms, including pitchers, dispensers, individual filters and bottles.

However, are these at-home filters necessary for ensuring drinking water is free of contaminants?

The answer to this question depends on where the water comes from, how it reaches its destination and how it is regulated. Riverside’s water is supplied by local groundwater, specifically Bunker Hill Basin, Rialto-Colton Basin and the Riverside Basin, according to the City of Riverside website. 

Dr. Frederick Pontius, professor of civil engineering and construction management, worked in the field of drinking water management. He said that municipal water — or water that comes out of the tap — is regulated heavily by the state of California in accordance with federal law under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This regulation involves frequent sampling and testing to ensure it complies with federal water quality standards.

“When the water comes onto campus, it is required to meet the regulations set by California and if it meets the rules, it is considered safe,” Pontius said. “Some people would argue that that’s not the case, but as far as state federal law, that’s how it’s defined.”

Pontius said the drive to buy a filter from private companies such as Brita often stems from concern about contaminants such as lead entering drinking water, and from less extreme concerns such as the taste of water. Chlorine, added to water to cleanse it, can make water more distasteful to some people. At-home filters can target these chemicals to improve taste and odor, as Brita highlights on its website.

“All Brita filters cut chlorine taste and odor and reduce other contaminants, and our new and improved Longlast+ Filter removes 99% of lead and reduces the most contaminants vs. other pour-through systems,” according to Brita’s website.

Lead is a primary contaminant of concern regarding water quality for much of the public because exposure to high levels of lead can cause lead poisoning, which can become dangerous, especially for children. 

Pontius said lead can contaminate water especially when the water has a sat in the pipe for an extended period of time. When this occurs, the water that first leaves the tap might have a higher concentration of lead than normal.

However, Congress banned the use of lead in public water systems in 1986, according to the EPA website. As a result, lead leaching into water from pipes is uncommon and is primarily an issue only in older cities such as Washington, D.C.

“There are still issues with lead, so advertisements on Brita are about lead,” Pontius said. “That’s fair, but lead service lines have been prohibited for a long time and lead-free components are required in municipal water systems, so it’s not as pervasive as a problem.”

Since lead is no longer used in service lines, there is less need for at-home filters that target lead.

“It’s mostly aesthetic quality like [taste as to] why people buy them,” Pontius said. “It would be very hard to show a health benefit upon treating water that already meets federal regulations or state regulations.”

However, using Brita filters can still be worthwhile for consumers if they care particularly about taste and smell.

“I think they are necessary because I think they do clean the water so it tastes better when you drink it,” said Taylor Farr, senior communication sciences and disorders major and former Brita customer. “[However], I don’t think it’s worthwhile to use just because the filters are expensive and if you use it often you have to replace the filter regularly.”

Though the impact of a Brita filter might not be significant in a municipal area such as Riverside, Pontius said that it is helpful to be aware of an area’s regulations on drinking water because it can indicate if a resident should be concerned about contaminants.

“If a customer is uncertain, they can get a little extra sense of protection by using a Brita filter,” Pontius said. “I’m not opposed to that.”

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