Counterfeit Water Filters Are a Bigger Health Risk Than You May Realize—Here’s What You Need to Know

Lauren Phillips

It’s more than just a copyright concern.

Water filters may not be the most glamorous kitchen tool, but they’re an important one. Whether you have a built-in filter in your refrigerator, have an attachment for your sink, or use a filter pitcher, you’re likely (knowingly or not) taking some sort of action to ensure the water you drink is clean. Filtering water means replacing that filter at regular intervals, which isn’t cheap—but cutting corners on these filters could mean putting your health at risk.

According to a new warning from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), counterfeit water filters are a serious concern. In July 2019, CBP officers in California seized more than 5,000 counterfeit refrigerator water filters from a shipment from China. The filters seized were worth an estimated $224,202; since October 1, 2018, CBP at the Los Angeles/Long Beach Seaport in California have seized more than $8.4 million of counterfeit replacement refrigerator water filters, under-sink ion exchange filters, pool and spa filters, and water filters—almost 170,000 products at one U.S. port alone.

The filters seized July 2 infringed Brita, GE, Frigidaire, PUR, and NSF certification protected trademarks; in other words, they mimicked products from these companies, according to import specialists from the Machinery Center of Excellence and Expertise. NSF International is an accredited, third-party certification body that tests and evaluates products to public health and safety standards; the products seized had counterfeit certification markings and were not evaluated, tested, or certified.

Why does any of these matter? These counterfeit filters can pose a serious health risk if people purchase them and bring them home, per the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM). Water filtered with the counterfeit items might look, smell, or taste fine, but some counterfeit filters tested show that they do not remove lead from water, and many actually introduced harmful chemicals into clean water. (AHAM also warns that counterfeit filters could damage your refrigerator and/or kitchen if there’s a leak.)

According to an AHAM statement included in the CBP release, the 5,200 counterfeit filters seized in July could have equated to more than 33 million glasses of potentially unsafe water. If you unknowingly purchase a counterfeit replacement filter online (where counterfeit filters are widespread), it might look authentic, but might not offer the clean water you expect. Anyone who knows and follows the guidelines for how much water you should drink a day could take in gallons of that potentially unsafe water.

So what can you do to ensure your water filter replacements are genuine? “We are advising consumers to protect their families by ensuring they are purchasing these products from legitimate sources only,” says LaFonda Sutton-Burke, CBP Port Director of LA/Long Beach Seaport, in the CBP’s release about the issue.

If you need a new filter for your fridge or Brita pitcher, purchase it from a retailer you know and trust in person or online. If you order your filters online through a marketplace such as Amazon or eBay, make sure the item seller is the brand itself or a retailer name you recognize, even if it means your order is more expensive. Buying filters from a third-party seller offering a lower price might save you a few dollars, but it could also mean purchasing a counterfeit filter and potentially consuming unsafe water. For more information on the dangers of counterfeit water filters and how to ensure yours is genuine, visit Filter It Out, a website and campaign by AHAM.