Brita, a vastly popular water filtration company, is currently undergoing a class-action lawsuit. Los Angeles resident Nicholas Brown filed the suit on Aug. 16, claiming Brita’s advertising and packaging are misleading customers into believing their products are removing hazardous contaminants from their drinking water.
In a legal filing obtained by Reuters, Brown said that the filter does not remove or reduce “highest risk, notorious or prevalent contaminants” from tap water, specifically referring to arsenic, uranium, radium, hexavalent chromium and two types of per- and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS).
PFAS, also called “forever chemicals,” are found within a range of products, including non-stick cookware and cosmetics.
“They are called forever chemicals because they last a long time in the environment and animals. The C-F bond is very strong and difficult to break, so they are not easily broken down in simpler substances,” said environmental chemistry professor Laurance Beauvais.
Forever chemicals (PFAS) have been linked to cause cancer and hormonal dysfunction, and are estimated to be found in around half of the nation’s tap water, according to a recent study by ScienceDirect. In southern California alone, PFAS were found in more than 200 water systems that serviced over 18 million residents over the last 10 years, according to an ABC7 analysis.
Arsenic — among the previously addressed contaminants — has been linked to kidney damage and other health concerns. However, according to the 2021 City of San Diego Annual Drinking Water Report, it is not a cause for concern within San Diego as it was not detected in any of the water treatment plants.
“Arsenic, uranium and radium are naturally occurring and can be found in different geological formations. So, it is a problem for people living in certain areas,” Beauvais said. “Most people, especially if they are using the Brita with tap water, should not have an issue with these contaminants. If you are in someplace with high levels — Bangladesh has high levels of arsenic — you would use a better, more expensive filter.”
Brown claimed to have been led to believe the $15 pitcher he bought from the company was a “water treatment device” due to the packaging reading “FRESH FILTER = FRESHER WATER” and “Reduces 30 contaminants including Lead, Benzene, Mercury, Cadmium, Asbestos and More,” according to Today.
Its cheap prices and convenience have made Brita’s marketing especially effective for college students. The company has even made it a point in the past to reach out to university campuses, as seen with their 2016 College FilterForGood Eco-Challenge.
Jackie Bain, a fourth-year finance and information studies double major, is among the many students who invested in the college dorm essential.
“Moving into a college dorm, it was just kind of something I knew to do. Now I have lived off-campus for two years and still have my Brita. I feel a little tricked by the company,” Bain said. “I will probably continue to use it. Buying a new one is another cost and as a student, I try to avoid as many expenses as possible.”
Other students, following the news of the lawsuit, have ditched their filters.
“I bought it because it was on so many college lists to get and I wanted to have some sort of water filter for my room. The information makes me feel sad it didn’t work, it would have been convenient,” said fourth-year marketing major Hannah Rausch. “I won’t be using it anymore due to potential health damage.”
The lawsuit aims for Brita to change their marketing language to be more transparent on the product’s filtering abilities. They also seek monetary compensation for California residents who purchased Brita filters in the past four years. This is due to Brown and his attorneys asserting Brita violated California’s False Advertising Law, California’s Unfair Competition Law and “unjust enrichment and breach of warranty,” according to the New York Post.
Despite the pushback, the Clorox-owned company denies any wrongdoing. A spokesperson dismissed these allegations as “meritless” and “baseless” in a statement to Today. The spokesperson, who was unnamed in the article, said the products reached minimum requirements for ranking water treatment systems, and have been tested to reduce contaminants within allowable levels set by regulatory authorities, according to the New York Post.
The spokesperson then went on to say the “meritless suit” proposes Brita list every contaminant the filter does not remove, comparing it to a drug manufacturer listing which conditions their drug doesn’t treat, or a food manufacturer listing nutrients their food doesn’t contain.
Brown’s lawyers were quick to issue a press release to Today in response to Brita’s rep.
“Lulling customers into a false sense of security about the quality and safety of their water is not only immoral, it’s illegal,” said Managing Partner of Clarkson Law Firm Ryan Clarkson in the statement.