Making sure your drinking water is healthy and safe

Are Plastic Water Filter Pitchers Ok to Use?

Food

Water filter pitchers are a commonplace household item that almost everyone has. These handy devices magically turn our tap water into crisp, fresh mountain spring water. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration, but it does make it taste better! Since many water filter pitchers are made from plastic, we decided to take a look at how healthy and safe they are when compared to alternatives such as tap water and bottled water. Let's dive in!

First, to better understand the use and necessity of water filter pitchers, we need to understand their purpose. The main use for most at-home water filters is to change and enhance the taste, color, and smell of drinking water, thereby improving the water's aesthetic effects (1, 2). The EPA has established both primary and secondary National Drinking Water Regulations meant to protect the public against consumption of drinking water contaminants that pose a risk to human health (2). Primary Standards are federally-enforced mandatory water quality standards, while Secondary Standards are non-mandatory water quality standards established as a guideline to assist public water systems in managing the aesthetic considerations for drinking water like taste, color, and odor (2). In some households, however, water filters are a necessity. Water from wells, older pipes, and other external factors can negatively impact water quality even with EPA regulations in place.

So, What Do Water Pitchers Filter Out?

When looking at different water filter pitchers, it is important to check their certifications. Certification is important because it shows the product has been verified by an independent third party to do what it says it does (3). Most commercial plastic water filter pitchers are certified by either the NSF/ANSI (National Sanitation Foundation/American National Standards Institute), the WQA (Water Quality Association), or both (4). However, even among certain certifications there are different standards they can be certified with. For example, water filters certified by NSF/ANSI can be either standard 42 or standard 53 (3, 5). NSF/ANSI standard 42 focuses on the aesthetic effects of drinking water treatment and establishes minimum requirements for systems designed to reduce non-health-related contaminants (5). NSF/ANSI standard 53 focuses on the health effects of drinking water treatment and establishes minimum requirements for systems designed to reduce specific health-related contaminants (5). NSF/ANSI standard 42 reduces contaminants like chlorine, taste and odor issues, chloramine, particulates, iron, manganese, zinc, and total dissolved solids (TDS) in drinking water, whereas NSF/ANSI standard 53 reduces contaminants like heavy metals (lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, mercury, and selenium), cryptosporidium, giardia, inorganic compounds, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in water (3, 5). Since PFOA/PFOS--fluorinated organic chemicals that are part of a larger group of chemicals known as PFAS--are also a concern for people, the NSF has a P473 standard for that as well (19, 20, 21, 22).

Table created from information from [3], [5], and [21].

If you are looking for filters that can remove specific contaminants in your drinking water, make sure to check the product's NSF/ANSI standard certification beforehand. While most water filter pitchers are able to remove contaminants that affect the taste of water like chlorine, zinc, and hydrogen sulfide, not all are able to filter out contaminants like heavy metals and VOCs (8). Because of this, it's important to know what's in your water. You can check your community water system quality reports at the EPA Federal Reports site here, which also shows you potential water system violations. If your drinking water contains serious contaminants like lead or other heavy metals, it's advised to install a more comprehensive filtration system in your house or apartment (8).

Are Plastic Water Pitchers Bad?

Most water filter pitchers are made out of hard clear plastic, and popular brands advertise that their pitchers are BPA free. For example, according to Brita, their pitcher lids and filter housings are made out of polypropylene plastic, the reservoirs and pitchers are made from either NAS (a styrene based plastic) or SAN (styrene acrylonitrile), and all are tested by the NSF for material safety (12). However, there have been several studies that show that many hard clear plastics, including BPA replacements, do release estrogenic chemicals (23, 24, 25, 26). Plastics and endocrine disruption are still being studied, so erring on the side of safety, here are a couple of suggestions to help you properly take care of your water filter pitcher.

Tips for properly taking care of plastic water filters

  • Hand wash plastic components with a mild detergent and air dry upside down; make sure to not use any abrasive cleaners. Hand wash only, since the heat from dishwashers can stress the plastic over time.
  • Store filled pitchers in a cool, dim place away from sunlight to prevent algae formation. Both heat and UV light are shown to increase leaching from plastic, so it's safer to store your pitcher in the refrigerator or away from windows.
  • If you go on vacation and water has been left in the pitcher for a long time, it's a good idea to dump that water, give the pitcher a wash, and then refill it. Time of contact increases the potential of leaching from plastic, and standing water increases the risk of other contaminants building up.
  • Regularly replace filters for optimal performance depending on guidelines; most standard filters recommend replacement every 40 gallons, which is approximately every two months. Bacteria build up in the water filters themselves, so it is important to do this.

What If I Don't Want a Plastic Pitcher?

If you would prefer to not use a plastic water pitcher, no worries! There are glass and steel pitchers as well, although options are limited. It should be noted that most water filters do contain some plastic, even if the pitchers themselves are a different material. There are also water filters that screw onto the tap and countertop water filters that attach to taps that have less plastic. If you want to ditch the plastic pitcher completely, you can invest in a whole house filter or an under-the-counter reverse osmosis system.

Sustainability of Single-Use Filters

Since water filters need to be replaced on a regular schedule, you might be wondering what to do with the filter itself, which is usually housed in plastic. Many water filter companies have recycling programs, so you can look to see if there is a recycling component for your used water filters. For example, Brita currently partners with TerraCycle to offer a free mail-in recycling program for Brita filters, pitchers, dispensers, bottles, faucet systems, and packaging (14).

Make sure to not throw the filter directly into your municipal recycling bin as it can contaminate the recycling stream. It is also not recommended to cut open the filter to separate the plastic from the filter media inside. While the filters are made out of less plastic than bottled water, they are not a plastic-free solution.

Other Alternatives?

Popular alternatives to filtered water include tap water and bottled water. The EPA has established protective drinking water standards for more than 90 contaminants as part of its comprehensive Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), although there are still incidences where violations occur (16). Bottled water also presents various health hazards, so it should not be regarded as the de facto standard either. The plastic of bottled water is made from PET, a material regarded as safe for one-time use, but refilling bottles or storing them in hot places increases the risk of chemicals and microplastics leaching into the water (1, 17). The bottled water industry is also self-regulating and not always liable to FDA regulations, so there's a greater chance of contamination occurring (1, 17). Recent tests have actually found PFAS and arsenic in bottled water for sale (27, 28). Bottled water also has a huge environmental impact, since 86% of all plastic water bottles end up in landfills rather than being recycled (18).

Final Take-Aways

Plastic water filters are helpful tools that allow individuals to enhance and improve the taste and smell of their drinking water, as well as remove potentially harmful chemical contaminants. While we work to create better water filtration systems within our communities, plastic water filters are a good alternative for people's current drinking needs.


References

  1. http://www.uvm.edu/~shali/Brita.pdf
  2. https://www.epa.gov/sdwa/secondary-drinking-water-standards-guidance-nuisance-chemicals#self
  3. https://www.wqpmag.com/sites/wqp/files/notallfiltersarecreated.pdf
  4. https://wqa.org/programs-services/product-certification/industry-certifications/wqa-certifies-to-nsf-ansi-standards
  5. https://d2evkimvhatqav.cloudfront.net/documents/dw_nsf_ansi_42_53_401.pdf?mtime=20200417153151&focal=none
  6. https://www.brita.com/why-brita/what-we-filter/
  7. https://www.pur.com/why-pur/filter-comparison-pitcher
  8. https://www.consumerreports.org/water-filter-pitchers/things-to-know-about-water-filter-pitchers/
  9. https://www.pur.com/why-pur/filter-comparison-pitcher
  10. https://www.brita.com/why-brita/health/whats-in-your-tap-water/
  11. https://healthykitchen101.com/best-water-filter-pitchers/
  12. https://clearandwell.com/are-brita-water-pitchers-made-from-safe-plastic/
  13. https://www.brita.com/water-pitcher-support/
  14. https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/brigades/brita-brigade
  15. https://www.pur.com/help-pitchers-dispensers
  16. https://www.epa.gov/sdwa
  17. https://time.com/5686811/is-bottled-water-safest-best/
  18. https://green.harvard.edu/tools-resources/green-tip/reasons-avoid-bottled-water
  19. https://www.nsf.org/knowledge-library/perfluorooctanoic-acid-and-perfluorooctanesulfonic-acid-in-drinking-water
  20. https://www.nsf.org/knowledge-library/contaminant-reduction-claims-guide
  21. https://www.aquasana.com/info/education/nsf-certification
  22. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nsf-international-certifies-first-water-filters-that-reduce-pfoa-and-pfos-in-drinking-water-300370732.html
  23. Guart, Albert, et al. "Migration of plasticisers from Tritan™ and polycarbonate bottles and toxicological evaluation." Food chemistry 141.1 (2013): 373-380.
  24. Yang, Chun Z., et al. "Most plastic products release estrogenic chemicals: a potential health problem that can be solved." Environmental health perspectives 119.7 (2011): 989-996.
  25. Bittner, George D., Chun Z. Yang, and Matthew A. Stoner. "Estrogenic chemicals often leach from BPA-free plastic products that are replacements for BPA-containing polycarbonate products." Environmental Health 13.1 (2014): 41.
  26. Bittner, George D., et al. "Chemicals having estrogenic activity can be released from some bisphenol a-free, hard and clear, thermoplastic resins." Environmental Health 13.1 (2014): 103.
  27. https://www.consumerreports.org/bottled-water/whats-really-in-your-bottled-water/
  28. https://www.consumerreports.org/water-quality/arsenic-in-some-bottled-water-brands-at-unsafe-levels/
Roundups

The Best Water Filters

These easy to install filters are perfect for renters or homeowners!

Sometimes we take tap water for granted. If it comes out of our tap it has to be safe, right? Unfortunately, that's often not the case. While our water treatment plants do a great job filtering out the obviously toxic stuff, harmful chemicals like lead, pesticides, PFAS, and pharmaceuticals can still make their way into our tap water. That's why we always recommend a water filtration system! If you're a homeowner, you can install a filtration that integrates with your own water throughout your house.

There are also a ton of great options if you're renting or can't install anything in your home. A small water filter pitcher or countertop dispenser are great options if you're looking for something hassle free. If you're feeling a little more crafty, you can install a faucet mount. These mounts require no tools and can easily install on most faucets!

These water filters are all meet NSF standards and remove dozens of contaminants.



a) Zerowater 10 or 23 Cup Pitcher

b) PUR Faucet Water Filter

c) AquaTru Reverse Osmosis Counter Top Water Filtration System

d) PUR Lead Reduction Pitcher

e) Culligan Faucet Mount

f) AquaSana Countertop Water Filter

g) Lifestraw Home Water Filter Pitcher*

h) Berkey Water Filter*

i) Brita Tap Water Filter for Faucets

j) ZeroWater 40 Cup Ready-Pour Glass Dispenser


*Meets NSF standards but is not NSF certified


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We rely on EWG's consumer databases, the Think Dirty App, and GoodGuide in addition to consumer reviews and widespread availability of products to generate these recommendations. Learn more on our methodology page.

*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

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Roundups

The 9 Best Stainless Steel Water Bottles

Our Top picks for an Everyday Water Bottle

Buying bottled water is expensive and not great for health and environmental reasons. Whether you're bringing water on your commute or to the gym, we love stainless steel bottles because they are lightweight and there are tons options. Some are insulated in case you want to add ice or drink something hot in the winter. Options also abound for styles of tops (sports, straw, pour spouts, twist off...etc) and sizes, so there's definitely something out there that will work for you. And of course there are so many colors, so you can find something that expresses your personality and style. We find that have an attractive water bottle definitely helps us remember to hydrate more throughout the day. These 9 stainless steel water bottles are well reviewed, easy to find in store and online, and something that you can bring with you everywhere.

Also, in case you're wondering if you need to get rid of your old plastic reusable water bottle, then check out our advice about how to use them safely.

The 9 Best Stainless Steel Water Bottles

a) Brita b) Contigo c) Corkcicle d) Hydro Flask e) Klean Kanteen f) Simple Modern g) Takeya h) S'well i) Yeti


*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

popular

Assume that Bottled Water is Safer than Tap...Think Again!

Testing Finds Arsenic in Bottled Water at Whole Foods

Bottled water is marketed as healthy, pristine, and pure. And people believe this, often paying a premium cost for water that they believe will be healthier than what comes out of the tap. Bottled water is one of the most-sold beverages in the United States — which makes it especially disturbing to think that it may not be so safe after all.

What's So Dangerous About Bottled Water?

Recent studies by the Center for Environmental Health and Consumer Reports have found alarming levels of harmful chemicals in bottled water sold across the country. In June 2019, the Center for Environmental Health tested popular bottled water brands Starkey, owned by Whole Foods, and Peñafiel, owned by Keurig Dr Pepper and found concerning levels of arsenic. These levels are high enough that we believe they require a warning label under California state law Proposition 65, but no such label is in use.

Keep Reading Show Less

It's almost the end of summer and time to start thinking about those back-to-school supplies. Backpack, lunch box, pencils, pens, crayons, notebooks, NSF/ANSI 53 certified water bottles to filter lead…wait, what was that last one? Yep, many children in this country will be attending school in a state where there is currently no requirement to filter and test school drinking water for lead. Even in states and counties where they do have laws on the books, there are still gaps that need to be addressed to better protect children. So, here is what you need to know and what you can do about it.

Keep Reading Show Less

If you've made it here, you probably already know that bottled water isn't great. Plastic in general can also be tough because of the ever popular BPA and it's sister chemicals. So we found the best 7 glass water bottles that are well reviewed and that you can bring with you everywhere. That assures that even if your plastic water bottle is BPA free, you won't have to worry about BPA replacements.

Glass does tend to be a bit more heavy than stainless steel, but sometimes people complain about stainless steel having a taste or not being as easy to wash. We like how with these glass bottles, you can flavor your water or even drink iced tea in them, throw them in the dishwasher and then put water in them without a nagging smell or taste. Some of these brands have different sizes and colors, so poke around to find a size and look that work for you.

Also, in case you're wondering, it's tough to find glass bottles without plastic lids, but if the water isn't constantly touching the lid, a plastic lid usually isn't something to get too worried about. If you have some old plastic reusable water bottles kicking around (who doesn't!) then check out our advice about how to use them safely.


7 Glass Water Bottles

a) Bkr b) Contigo Purity c) Ello Pure d) Lifefactory with Classic Cap e) Purifyou f) Soma g) Takeya


*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

Food

Are Copper Mugs Poisoning You?

What you need to know about the safety of copper cookware and drink ware

Copper, the pinkish-orange brassy metal that coats our pennies can also be found in the kitchen! We often see copper in those fancy mugs known for serving Moscow mules, but it is also found in other kitchenware like pots and pans. You may have seen some articles or blog posts warning about the dangers of kitchenware made of copper, or other voices claiming this fear is unnecessary and that these dishes and mugs are completely safe. Or, maybe you've never thought twice about it. Well…what's the deal?! Here we will clear up this mystery so you can feel comfortable and safe sipping on your refreshing Moscow Mule.

Copper Exposure and Health

Copper is a naturally occurring metal used industrially for electrical wiring, pipes, and other metal products and used agriculturally and in healthcare as an antimicrobial agent or contraceptive. Copper is an essential element, meaning that humans require some level of copper in our bodies(1). However, at high levels, (above 1,300 parts per billion), ingesting copper can irritate your digestive system and cause nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea (2).

So, how are humans exposed to this metal? Like other metals, copper, when in contact with a liquid has the potential to leach off and become dissolved in the liquid. When consuming the liquid, any leached copper will be ingested and could cause the unfortunate digestive irritation mentioned above. The rate of this dissolution reaction depends on the properties of the metal, the properties of the liquid, and the temperature of these substances.

Copper in the kitchen is most commonly found in the form of mugs, or cookware like pots and pans. Copper kitchenware is sold either lined, meaning the inside is coated with a different, less corrosive metal, or unlined, where the item entirely copper. Going back to our fun chemistry lesson above, the potential to ingest copper at home (or at the bar!) comes from the possibility of the copper leaching into whatever substance you are cooking or drinking. So, the big question: Will the copper in your kitchen products leach and cause toxicity? In short, probably not.

Mugs – Although copper does leach faster than most metals used in cups, it would take many, many hours of sitting in the mug before your Moscow Mule became dangerous to drink (3). Of course, Moscow mules are not the only drink served in copper mugs, and other substances can behave a little differently. Most beverages are OK, but acidity and heat speed up the dissolution reaction (4). Something as acidic as lime juice would still take a few hours to leach, but to err on the side of caution, leaving hot and/or acidic substances in unlined copper dish ware should be avoided (3).

Pots and Pans – Because of the high temperatures used when cooking, unlined copper cookware should not be used (4)! The good news—nearly all copper cookware on the market is lined with a different metal. However, you can never be too careful! When cooking with copper items, make sure the inside is a different color, or that the label specifies "lined" to be certain that it is safe to use.

Pipes – The most common way humans are exposed to ingested copper is through tap water when copper faucets or storage pipes are used. If you are concerned about your water at home, run the water 15-30 seconds prior to drinking (2).

Our Advice

Don't fret about enjoying a drink out of a copper mug! If you are investing in new copper mugs, we recommend purchasing stainless steel-lined ones, but regardless there is no need to panic. If you have unlined mugs, just take care to ensure super hot or acidic substances don't sit in them for extended periods of time, and be extra cautious around children. As for pots and pans, invest in lined copper only. If you're on the market for some new copper kitchenware, here are some lined options pots, pans, and mugs. Now enough anxiety about copper, it's time to sit back, relax, and enjoy that Moscow mule!

Sources

1 https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002419.htm

2 https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/ToxProfiles/tp132-c1-b.pdf

3 https://www.huffpost.com/entry/moscow-mule-not-poisonous_n_598c7552e4b0a66b8bb1938d?guccounter=1

4 https://accelconf.web.cern.ch/accelconf/p01/PAPERS/TPAH106.PDF

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