How to spot a counterfeit water filter

Look for these red flags when you’re counting on a filter to get dangerous contaminants out.

How to spot a counterfeit water filter

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - April Cook Hawkins makes every effort to fully and safely filter the water in her Flint, Michigan home. But hearing that counterfeit filters are being sold at top retailers has her blood boiling.

“It’s very concerning because it’s misleading the people,” she said.

Our InvestigateTV team exposed fake water filters circulating in the market, and the possible harm they can do. So how is a consumer to know that the water filter they’re purchasing, and trusting to make their water safe, is not a fraud?

“They confiscated over 100,000 filters in New Jersey that were imported. It is substantial. That’s why everyone has to do their due diligence,” said Doug Horner, Principal at Enpress, is with Enpress, a Eastlake company that makes water treatment components and filtration systems.

The market is being flooded with fake water filters, falsely using the seals of certifying bodies like the NSF, the Water Quality Association and IAPMO, or International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials.

“It’s very concerning to go and buy a filter for a specific purpose and find out its a counterfeit, using certifying organization credentials. It’s a problem. It’s a health problem,” said Scott Moegling, Water Quality Manager with the Cleveland Water Department.

Even though municipal water supplies in Northeast Ohio are good, we’re at risk during the transition, through lead laterals. According to the American Water Works Association, there are still 650,000 lead service lines in Ohio. That’s second only to Illinois and more than Michigan and New Jersey, who’ve both had significant water quality issues surface of late.

Moegling says phony filters can lead to anything from aesthetic problems, with a bad taste or odor, to more serious health implications. Those can include anything from microbiological to even metals, like lead, arsenic, barium, copper, and manganese.

To ensure that the filter you’re buying is legitimate, cross reference the product or model you’re interested in, on a certifying body’s website, like NSF, to verify that it’s certified, and that the company isn’t on a watch list. NSF 42 is a standard primarily for color and odor. NSF 53 certified products filter out health-based contaminants.

“When you get NSF certification, two things are provided: that the equipment is going to do what it says it’s going to do and secondly that the materials that it’s made from will not release harmful chemicals into the water as a result of passing through them,” said Moegling.

“They can accumulate contaminants and then slough them off so if you have 10 parts per million coming in, you could have 20 coming back out. It’s really awful,” said Horner.

A bad filter can actually do more harm than no filter at all. And some uncertified filters may be made with the wrong materials.

“Some carbon based filters actually have arsenic in it. If you’re not getting the right source of carbon you could be adding arsenic to the water and making it worse,” Horner said.

Enpress, an Eastlake company, produces these carbon filters for their Pioneer point of entry water filtration systems.
Enpress, an Eastlake company, produces these carbon filters for their Pioneer point of entry water filtration systems. (Source: WOIO)

He says point of entry, or whole house filters are worth the investment based on where you’re most at risk.

“The majority of your exposure is in the shower head. You’re in the shower, the water is contaminated because it’s not filtered. It’s being atomized and soaking your epidermis, largest organ and you’re inhaling it,” he revealed.

Pioneer water filtration system made by Enpress
Pioneer water filtration system made by Enpress (Source: WOIO)

Experts say shop reputable suppliers and look for certifying body logos, used only once on the back of the packaging, or on the back of the literature where claims of efficacy are written. Anything more is a red flag.

With fridge filters running an average of $50, and whole house filtration systems averaging about $1000, it’s easy to see why you might want to bargain hunt. But the old adage, “you get what you pay for” rings true here.

“Get educated. know the filters. Know what’s good,” said Cook Hawkins.

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