Berkey water filters have become one of the most popular choices for homeowners who want to purify their drinking water without installing an under-the-sink system.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that many of these filtration systems aren’t legal for sale in California! We all know California puts warnings on just about everything. But I was still pretty confused about a total ban on something seemingly harmless.
So why are Berkey water filters banned in California?
- Berkey water filters are banned in California because they aren’t NSF certified as required by state laws
- Berkey uses independent third-party laboratories to test instead of NSF or ANSII
- Berkey says NSF testing would reveal too much of their product design to competitors and claim their own testing is more rigorous anyway
The law(s) in California
Several California state bills from 2006-2014 sought to address the problem of lead-contaminated water.
Lead does not commonly occur in water sources. Instead, it leaches into the water supply via lead-containing pipes and plumbing products . That’s why the laws focused on products that come into contact with drinking water.
California passed these “no-lead laws” on January 4, 2014. It regulated the maximum lead content in service line pipes, appliances, valves, fittings, and fixtures. Anything that works with public drinking water must not contain over 0.25% lead.
“The phrase “lead-free” will be defined as (a) containing no more than 0.2 percent lead in solder and flux, and (b) containing no more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent lead in the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures under this law.”
Before this, these products could legally contain up to 8.0% lead.
The state of California does not go around testing every product for illegal amounts of lead in water appliances. They rely on accredited certifying organizations to verify that each product follows the rules.
In this case, these institutions are the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) .
These organizations work together to test the relevant products before they go to market. They have various certifications depending on the type of product that is being tested.
In the case of water filters, the relevant certifications are NSF/ANSI 42, 53, and 401 .
NSF Standard 42 regulates the aesthetic effects of drinking water products, such as chlorine, taste, odor, and particulates.
NSF Standard 53 verifies a product’s ability to reduce negative health effects of drinking water. These include organic and inorganic contaminants such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, lead, and volatile organic chemicals (VOCs).
NSF 401 certifies that a water filter can protect consumers from emerging contaminants and incidental compounds. These include traces of prescription drugs, herbicides, and pesticides that have entered the water stream.
Why doesn’t Berkey have a certification?
Berkey refuses to acquire the certification to sell its water filters in California because it would be bad for business. They offer two reasons, both of which you can find on their website in an open letter on the issue: Why some Berkey products are not available in California. (theberkey.com).
The first is that NSF certification is both costly to obtain and maintain.
To be NSF-certified, companies need to pay for initial testing from an NSF-certified third-party organization. After that, the NSF requires a company to resubmit their products or workspaces to regular checkups.
These services would increase their operating costs, leading to more expensive products. Berkey has decided this isn’t worth it.
“In the end, we have concluded that the additional taxes, certifications and red tape have created too large of a barrier for our firm to offer our systems in the state of California.”
Berkey also claims that NSF testing would reveal too much of their product design to competitors. Berkey’s water filter looks much different from many others. It is a single porous membrane rather than an enclosed cluster of carbon and other filtering mediums.
The company says that its patent is not strong enough to protect its intellectual property. If they were to release details of their manufacturing process, other companies would follow suit to undercut them.
Are Berkey water filters unsafe?
No, they just haven’t undergone the testing and certification California law requires. Most other states do not ban Berkey filters.
Berkey subjects its products to many tests, both in-house and by third-party labs . Berkey claims that these tests “are much more rigorous than those required by NSF.”
Remember that Berkey water filters are freely available to consumers outside of California.
Living in California and still want a Berkey?
Hopeful buyers in California don’t need to despair because several Berkey models are actually available for sale in-state.
Some of their products are classified as outdoor drinking water purification systems, which fall under different regulations than indoor systems.
California residents can purchase these items from Berkey:
- Sport Berkey
- Go Berkey
- Travel Berkey
- Berkey Light (With or without LED lights)
- Black Berkey Filter Elements
- Super Sterasyl™ Elements
- PF-2 PF-4 Filters
- All Replacement Parts
It’s surprising that one of the biggest USA brands in home drinking water filtration (and one of our favorite ceramic filters) doesn’t sell in the most populated state in the country. That’s because California consumer protection laws require more compliance than Berkey is willing to give.
It’s hard to say whether this is to protect its intellectual property or to keep overhead costs down.
Berkey products are still for sale across the rest of the United States. California residents can also still purchase products such as replacement parts, filters, and filtration systems that are meant for outdoor use.