Perusing one of my favourite blogs, Deep Sea News, I just came across the web site Filter For Good, which purports to be a public education resource on the environmental and health risks of the bottled water industry. That’s all very well, except that it’s not actually any sort of a grassroots group, it’s a joint project by Brita and Nalgene, makers of the ubiquitous water-filtering pitchers we all have in our fridges, and the spiffy clear-plastic reusable water bottles that a lot of people I know used to carry, respectively.

Why “used to carry”? Well, after Ecopledge launched their Detox Nalgene campaign to try and stop Nalgene from using polycarbonate plastic, which leaches the known endocrine disruptor Bisphenol-A, most people using permanent water bottles decided to opt for less toxic alternatives, like Sigg and Kleen Kanteen.

So people who take that site’s advice and ditch their bottled water habit for a Brita filter and a Nalgene bottle may be going from bad to worse, or at least from bad to another kind of bad. In that light, the Filter for Good campaign starts to look less like public education and more like corporate greenwashing, designed to try and detract attention from Nalgene’s own unimpressive environmental health record.

So… That got me wondering a little about Brita. Exactly what are their pitchers made out of, and how safe are they? Sounds like the jury’s still out on that to some degree. Thankfully, they don’t appear to be made from polycarbonate, but according to Debra Lynn Dadd, the company says they’re made from styrene acrilonytrile and styrene methyl metacrylate, which are not exactly guaranteed safe either. At least some styrenes also leach nasty things into water.

National Geographic’s Green Guide says that the specific compounds used in the Brita pitchers have been tested for styrene leaching and found safe, though they also emphasize that you need to find out what exactly is in your local tap water, and make sure any filter you plan on using actually removes those specific things, because most filters only remove certain contaminants, not everything, so no one type of filter is a cure-all. This article from the Natural Resources Defence Council has more detail.

So… Looks like Brita filters/pitchers are probably not too bad, but I’m still going to keep an eye open for news on styrenes, and maybe look into various other types of filters too.