After 50 hours of research and independent lab testing of the Berkey’s claims, our test results—and those of another lab we spoke with, and a third whose results are public—were not entirely consistent, which we feel further illustrates the importance of certification to the firm NSF/ANSI standard: It lets people make buying decisions based on a real, dependable apples-to-apples comparison of performance. In addition, because the Berkey system is larger, more expensive, and harder to use than many water filtration options—which also have the benefit of independent NSF/ANSI certification—we wouldn’t recommend it to most people looking for a water filtration solution.
Big Berkey with Black Berkey Filters
Big, pricey, and lacks NSF/ANSI certification
Berkey countertop systems and filters are much more expensive and less convenient than other water filtration options, and their performance claims don’t have independent certification to international standards.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $260.
The Big Berkey’s manufacturer, New Millennium Concepts, claims that the filter can remove more than a hundred contaminants,1 far more than other gravity-fed filters we’ve researched. We tested these claims on a limited scale, and our results were not always consistent with lab results that New Millennium commissioned. In particular, results from both our commissioned lab and the lab most recently contracted by New Millennium showed less effective filtration of chloroform than that third, earlier test (which is also listed in New Millennium’s product literature).
None of the tests we cite here—not ours, and not the New Millennium-contracted tests by Envirotek or the Los Angeles County lab—comes near the rigor of NSF/ANSI tests. Specifically, NSF/ANSI requires that filters of the type Berkey employs pass twice their rated capacity of contaminated water through the filter before measurements are taken. While to our knowledge all of the tests we and New Millennium contracted were thorough and professional, each used its own, less strenuous protocol, and because none of the testing was done to full NSF/ANSI standards we have no clear way to compare the results precisely, or thus to compare the overall performance of the Berkey filter with that of other gravity-fed filters we’ve looked at in the past—another reason that we continue to recommend filters that are certified to NSF/ANSI standards.
One area where everyone’s findings did align was on removing lead from drinking water, suggesting that the Berkey would perform well at removing heavy metals. If you have a known issue with lead or other metals in your water, the Berkey is worth investigating as a stopgap measure, especially if you’re considering a whole-house treatment system, or you need something that works without power.
The difficulty of comparing inconsistent lab results aside, New Millennium Concepts did not respond to repeated requests for an interview to discuss our findings. Taken together, our reporting left us with an opaque understanding of the Berkey system, which isn’t the case with many other filter manufacturers.
For everyday water filtration, most NSF/ANSI-certified pitchers and undersink filters—like the Brita and Filtrete we recommend in our other guides—are smaller, more convenient, far less expensive to buy and maintain, and are easier to use, and also provide the accountability that comes with independent, transparent testing.
Keep in mind that most municipal water supplies are safe to begin with, so unless you know that you have a problem locally you probably don’t need filtering for health reasons. If emergency preparedness is your main concern, consider the advice in our guide to emergency preparedness, which includes products and advice to keep clean water available.
Source: NY Times – Wirecutter