Do water filters really get the lead out?

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Three popular water filters and one less known one were put to the test with water spiked with total dissolved solids and lead.

Cleveland 19 purchased four types of water pitcher filters at a local store at the end of February: a Pur pitcher filter, a Brita pitcher filter, a Zerowater filter and Walmart's home brand Great Value filter.

Each filter states it removes different things and only one of those filters said that it removed lead on the package.

CWM Laboratories, a Cleveland lab certified by the EPA to test drinking water, worked with Cleveland 19 to give each filter a standardized test. CWM performed each filter test with the same batch of municipal water.

"We started to play with it in the lab a little bit, well we spiked the samples with certain levels of lead and other contaminants," said Ron Gribik, the vice president of operations for CWM Cleveland.

By "play with it," Gribik meant adding a controlled amount of specific contaminants to the water filtered through each filter.

The lab tested for metals and total dissolved solids (TDS), which is the water term for anything like minerals or salts that in water.

The lab also tested each filter for aluminum, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, mercury and zinc.

Starting with the results of the TDS test, CMW spiked the water with 500 parts per million dissolved solids, and found out that three of the four brands – Brita, Pur and Great Value – filtered less than half of the solids out.

Zerowater filters removed all but eight parts per million.

When the TDS were doubled to 1,000 parts per million, there were similar results.

Brita, Pur and Great Value removed just under half of what was put in the water.

The Zerowater filter again removed all but eight parts per million.

CWM also tested for filtration of lead. The Zerowater brand was the only filter that claimed on the box to specifically remove lead.

Each of the other filters tested did not claim to remove lead. It's important to read the fine print and know what each filter states it will remove and what it will not.

Other than Zerowater, "the other ones didn't specifically say [they removed lead] so we thought it would certainly be interesting to see, despite making the claim of filtering lead did they or did they not filter lead out," said Gribik.

CWM spiked the water with 20 parts per billion (ppb) of lead. The EPA states that there is no safe level of lead. The agency rules state action must be taken if any drinking water contains lead at a level higher than 15 ppb.

With a level of 20 ppb, Brita and Great Value didn't filter out half.

Pur removed about two thirds of the lead. Zerowater filtered out all the lead but about a half a part per billion.

The Zerowater filter brought the spiked water down to a level lower than the city's unfiltered municipal drinking water which contained just under 1 ppb of lead.

Next, CWM spiked the testing water with 200 ppb of lead.

Brita, Pur and Great Value all filtered out about 90 percent of the lead, but the filtered water would still contain more lead that the EPA allows.

Zerowater removed 98 percent of the lead, bringing the level down to less than five parts per billion.

Cleveland 19 reached out to the manufacturers for each filter.

Doug Kellam, the CEO of Zerowater said that he was a little disappointed that any contaminants -- no matter how low the levels were, remained in the water filtered through the Zerowater filter.

"I am, I am ... yeah and a little surprised too," said Kellam. "It can happen but if it does we would guarantee that filter."Kellam said it's important for consumers to realize that there are differences between water filters – other than packaging.

"There's a huge gap between perception and reality and it looks like you're investigating that," he said.

There is another factor – cost.

Do water filters really get the lead out?

Kellam said he knows that his product is more expensive than his main competitors. He estimated that since the Zerowater filter has a shorter lifespan, it costs about two and a half times more than Zerowater's competitors.

"I could probably go my entire life without wearing my seat belt and it would never ever impact me that's the way drinking water is too. Most people will never be impacted by any safety issues in their drinking water but you know what it's worth," said Kellam. "The bottom line is, I think people should just get the best filter they can get. If that's us that's great. If, for their purposes, that's something else that's fine too. I just think people should be more aware of those differences so they can make their decision."

Cleveland 19 reached out to all of the filter companies involved in the test. Great Value never returned multiple requests for comment. Pur asked many follow up questions about our survey but thus far has not issued a statement.

Brita responded by saying they recently introduced a new filter specifically certified to remove lead, and accurately pointed out the filter we tried was not certified to remove lead. Cleveland 19 and CWM put the new Brita filter, the Longlast filter, to a similar test and found the results were similar to Zerowater's test results. Again, showing it is important to read the packaging to see what each filter promises to remove.


Cost per replacement filter




22.5 gallons



100 gallons



120 gallons

Great Value (Walmart brand)


40 gallons

Secondary Test

*NEW*Brita Longlast


120 gallons

Brita responded with this statement Wednesday:

Brita has been a leader in offering families a cost-effective, environmentally friendly option for great tasting water for over 20 years. There are two current trends that have us keenly aware that we play an important role in how people are thinking about and consuming water. One is the findings of contaminants in water supplies around the country. We know we have a unique opportunity to provide people with solutions that offer peace of mind, such as our new Longlast filter that removes 99 percent of lead. The other is a focus on improving our health and wellness. As people choose water over other beverages and understand the importance to their overall health, Brita provides solutions in many pitcher shapes and sizes, including our Stream pitcher that filters as it pours. And as tracking against both of these, we've evolved in the category and haveset out to offer greater options for people to match their lifestyles -- whether at home or away. We remain committed to making water safe to drink and good for the whole family.

Deb Mudway, Marking Vice President, Helen of Troy Home, responded on behalf of Pur with this statement Thursday:

The PUR pitcher featured in the WOIO-TV test is our base model and is certified by nationally recognized NSF and WQA to remove 96 percent of Mercury and 95 percent of certain industrial pollutants and more, but do not claim lead removal. As well, TDS is not an accurate indicator of water quality so can be misleading. However, PUR does have a line of pitchers that are certified to reduce lead which are different models. For example, the PUR Ultimate Pitcher Filtration System with Lead Reduction reduces 99 percent of lead1 and many other contaminants. PUR’s faucet filtration systems are certified to reduce over 70 contaminants, including 99 percent of lead, 96 percent of mercury and 92 percent of certain pesticides. In fact, we are proud to be theNo. 1 selling brand in lead filtration among filters certified to reduce lead.21Certified by the WQA to remove 99% of lead, average reduction of lead at pH6.5 & PH8.52Based on Nielsen sales data for the 52 weeks ending 10/14/16.

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