Portable Purification: The Water Wave of the Future
By Carl Parlmer
n 1970, when the first countertop reverse osmosis (RO) system was invented for home and office, it was imperative the most suitable market for this new technology be found. At that time, few knew how an RO worked or on what principles it was based. It was believed the most appropriate market would be the 5-gallon, direct delivery bottled water buyer. Such products offered water quality “equal to or better than bottled water” at a greatly reduced price to the consumer. They also saved time and space, were far more convenient and supplied as much water as desired without concern for the next delivery date. Look at RO now. Thirty years later, it has grown to be one of the most successful point-of-use (POU) filtration processes in the world!
Portable vs. bottled water
The same will undoubtedly prove true for the future of portable water bottle filtration systems. Today, approximately 70 percent of the water people drink daily is consumed away from home, and billions of dollars are spent each year on individual convenient or sport-size bottles of “water to go”—0.5 liters (L) to 1.5 liters. Portable products target the same specific market, once again offering “equal to or better than bottled water” quality and convenience for far less cost. Which makes the most sense—paying roughly $1 per half liter (about $8 a gallon) for bottled water or spending about $.20 cents a gallon for filtered water from a reusable portable water bottle? Needless to say, the portable filter bottle has a tremendous future.
Portable products should be subject to the same testing standards as other water filtration products. Presently, there’s not a standard protocol for the portable filter bottle products specifically although NSF International is working with companies on testing methodology for Standards 42 (aesthetic effects) and Standards 53 (health effects). This effort doesn’t address microbiological reduction so much as chemical reduction.
With technological advances in preparation of carbons—i.e., impregnation with sorbent medias or disinfectants that offer additional adsorption/absorption or bacteriostatic properties and marrying those with porous and microporous polymers—claims for filtration technologies are greater than ever.
However, it’s recognized that the more torturous the path involved in filtration, the higher the amount of pressure required to push water through the system. Thus, if a filtered water bottle is fairly easy to get water from, it’s likely that it’s not removing a high level of contaminants. Conversely, the challenge to this market is to develop a mechanism to filter high amounts of contaminants without as much pressure. More recently, multi-stage filtration has been introduced as an option to overcome that problem.
There are currently four different categories of products on the market that make specific “claims” as they relate to their direct effect on the following:
1. Taste, odor and chlorine:
• Filtering capacity—up to 25 gallons;
• Standard retail price (SRP)—up to $9.95;
• Filter composition—porous plastic and GAC.
2. Taste, odor and chlorine plus heavy metals and VOCs (volatile organic compounds):
• Filtering capacity—up to 25 gallons;
• SRP—$24.95 to $39.95;
• Filtering composition—micropo-rous plastic, GAC and various sorbent media for different kinds of contaminant removal/reduction.
3. Taste, odor, chlorine, plus Cryptospo-ridium and Giardia:
• Filtering capacity—until it fouls;
• SRP—$12.95 to $44.95;
• Filter composition—porous plastic, GAC, iodine and iodinated resin.
4. Taste, odor, chlorine, Crypto and Giardia plus heavy metals and VOCs:
• Filtering capacity—over 100 gallons;
• SRP—$19.95 to $34.95;
• Filtering composition—micropo-rous plastic, GAC, various sorbent media for different kinds of contaminant removal/reduction.
Keep in mind, you get what you pay for. These contaminant removal claims should be backed by legitimate, third party test data to verify performance so not to mislead the bottled water user. Today, that includes health conscious, outdoor sports enthusiasts, foreign travelers, those concerned about disaster preparedness or anyone looking for a better/smarter way to have water of a guaranteed quality at their fingertips while reducing the inconvenience and expense of buying bottled water. People carry bottled water. Now, they can carry a portable water filter bottle instead.
Recent Hollywood blockbusters such as “A Civil Action” with John Travolta and “Erin Brockovich” with Julia Roberts have succeeded in increasing general public awareness as it relates to waterborne contaminants in drinking water and its potentially devastating effects on health. In addition, a 200-page report published in February 1999 by the National Resources Defense Council titled “Bottled Water. Pure Drink or Pure Hype?” concluded that bottled water quality assurance remains unsubstantiated in a large percentage of those products on the market. In its executive summary, the report states, “About one third of the bottled waters we tested contained significant contamination (i.e., levels of chemical or bacterial contaminants exceeding those allowed under a state or industry guideline) in at least one test.” While some felt the information in the report was skewed, misrepresented the character of certain contaminants and overhyped the public health threat—if any, there’s no denying the impact it and subsequent news reports had on public perception. The exposé on MTBE seen on 60 Minutes last January further added to the level of concern of today’s consumer. All of the above and excellent advertising by such companies as Brita, Pur, Culligan, etc., have had a great impact on the public and made our job of educating consumers on water quality options much easier.
These types of disclosures through the various media will continue to have an impact nationally on our industry, but they’ve generally failed to reach wide-range international exposure. Testing, including protocol, procedures, methodology and standards, vary dramatically in laboratories throughout the world. Extensive red tape, language barriers, time zones, extreme water contamination levels, climate extremes, quality control across borders and so on have all resulted in stagnation, so to speak, in getting what’s needed—clean water—into the hands of those most in need.
A report by the World Health Organization stating “a child dies of a water-related disease every eight seconds” is staggering and needs to be more highly publicized (see www.who.int/water_sanitation_ health/index.html). The same could be said for former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon’s book Tapped Out that states: “United Nations authorities note that 9,500 children die every day from lack of water more frequently, from diseases caused by polluted water.” In State of the World by Lester R. Brown, it proclaims, “In developing countries, 25 million people die every year from pathogens and pollution in contaminated drinking water. And diarrhea, which causes severe dehydration and malnutrition, kills nearly 3 million children under age 5 every year and accounts for one fourth of the deaths in this age group.” Knowledge is power; recognizing the problem, realizing the need and providing the solution is our industry’s job. It’s also an opportunity.
Proceed with caution
Back to the important issue of “health claims.” Our industry’s reputation can be tarnished greatly by those who make claims that are untrue, unsubstantiated and may result in an unsuspecting buyer suffering the consequences of drinking water not properly filtered. Buyer beware. Better yet: Buyer be aware. “Waterpreneurs” are constantly looking for a more effective process/product to sell the public. They need to be able to rely on facts. For example, through-put testing is very important when it comes to different contaminants and their volume of specific reduction or removal. Substantiated testing results should be the deciding factor in choice of product, not designer labels. It’s also important to have verified endorsements from independent agencies and organizations—third-party testing labs and consumer magazines—who have used the product under extremely challenging conditions.
What the future holds
There are new portable products hitting the market virtually every day proclaiming the latest innovation and advanced performance criteria. Patent issues will become a major concern to our industry. There will be different kinds of processes, product claims, multi-staged systems and new anti-microbial concepts to help protect the consumer from the variable drinking water problems. As always, “mine is better than yours” will be the subject of product promotions. In this instance, compare and contrast will come down to the following checklist for rating filtered water bottle products:
- Filtering capacity;
- Analyte reduction: aesthetics, inorganics, organics, radiologicals and pathogens;
- Initial investment and filter replacement cost;
- System design, size, weight and durability; and
- Reliability, convenience and user-friendliness
Most of us have heard many of the latest catchphrases—biofilm, iodinators, silverators, depth filtration, torturous path, multi-stage, porosity, absolute, nominal, surface area, sorbent media, ceramics, porous plastic, GAC, PAC, field tested, lab tested, proprietary, patented, patent-pending, infringement, non-potable, potable, trace minerals, etc. The industry lingo may change, but the real issue is water purification and filtration are designed to provide assured quality drinking water that looks, tastes and smells better and is safer, more convenient and less expensive than bottled water.
Rest assured—the drinking water market is growing and that will never change.
About the author
Carl Palmer’s original company, Aq-RO-Matic Inc., developed the first RO countertop and water treatment products for homes and offices. That company was bought by Coca-Cola Inc., which owned Arrowhead bottled water at the time, in 1973. Palmer founded Pure Water International and International Membrane Laboratories in 1980. AMF Cuno Corp., now CUNO Inc., purchased both companies in 1983. Palmer developed the “Best Water” RO unit for Shaklee Corp. and founded U.S. ThermoElectric Corp., which was purchased by Shaklee. He jointly founded with the Slovak brothers the well-known Water Factory Systems in the early ’70s, which is presently owned by Cuno. Today, he’s president and CEO of Seychelle Environmental Technologies Inc., a publicly traded company that designs, manufactures and distributes a complete line of multi-phase portable water filtration products. Palmer can be reached at (949) 234-1999, (949) 234-1998 (fax) or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or website: www.seychelle.com