When we first moved to the Seattle area more than six years ago now, one of the first items I purchased was a Royal Berkey Water Filter and I’m so glad that I did. Although I’ve had other filters that I kept for survival purposes, I never bothered to get a really good gravity filter because I figured that the filters I had would do good enough in a survival scenario. And that’s probably true. But there’s a difference between good enough and truly great for your health, especially when your survival may truly depend on it, and that’s where the Berkey filters become so important.
With that in mind, the neighborhood where I live relies on well water and my neighbor bleaches it once a year to ensure the water stays safe from various pathogens even though it’s probably safe without any treatment. The problem is that bleaching the well really makes the water smell and taste bad for a few days so we tend to drink bottled water until that subsides.
But this time I got to finally wondering–even though I assumed it was the case–if my black Berkey filters remove chlorine? Can they remove heavy metals, pesticides, or plastics? What about immediately harmful substances such as gasoline? And what else can they remove, just in case I needed them to? Inquiring minds wanted to know.
A quick internet search and I found this truly awesome resource: Berkey Water Filter Lab Test Results where they lay out precisely what the black Berkey filters can remove, how well they do so, and even compare their filters to other popular brands. [Note: I keep mentioning the black filters because Berkey also used to make a white ceramic filter that they no longer seem to sell.] Of course, this is a Berkey sales page so you should expect a heavy bias towards their filters. Even so, it’s hard to argue the numbers.
Do They Filter Chlorine?
So, to answer my first question: do the Berkey filters remove chlorine? The answer is, yes, they do to greater than 99.9%. And I tested it personally this time seeing as though I had the opportunity and, as you might suspect, I couldn’t smell or taste the chlorine. That’s a good start.
Do They Remove Heavy Metals?
According to the aforementioned site, these Berkey filters remove heavy metals to greater than 99.1% which isn’t quite the 99.9% I would prefer. Best of all, they do remove a variety of heavy metals, including four of the worst: lead, cadmium, arsenic, and mercury. They also remove aluminum which I hear is also bad for other reasons.
What About Pesticides?
Here, again, dozens of pesticides are reduced to greater than 99.9% The list they offer is too lengthy to reproduce here and, to be honest, I don’t recognize a single one aside from DDT which isn’t even used in the U.S. anymore. Unfortunately, since there are apparently tens of thousands of pesticides used, who’s to say whether any specific compound will be removed. My guess is that these filters will get most of the big ones, but that’s just an assumption on my part.
Are Plastics Reduced?
It appears that according to their data: “Bisphenol-A, which is a common endocrine disruptor found in PET plastic bottles were removed to greater than 99.9% when bottled water was poured out into the Berkey.”
Phthalates, a common softener for PVC plastics, are also a problem. While it seems many semivolatile contaminants are removed, including several phthalates, I could only find one of the four (Butylbenzylphthalate) listed in the above article as being directly removed by the black Berkey filters. Honestly, I’m not super concerned about these.
What About Immediately Harmful Substances, Like Gasoline?
The Berkey filters also remove great than 99.9% of gasoline, as well as diesel, kerosene, mineral spirits and more. I really don’t know if that’s enough or not considering how sick consuming such chemicals can make you, but I guess I would take my chances if my water wasn’t obviously contaminated by these petroleum products. If, on the other hand, I’d spilled a bunch of gasoline in my water barrels then I wouldn’t risk it.
I Assume They Remove E. Coli, Salmonella, and Viruses, Right?
Yes, they remove E.Coli (as well as total and fecal coliform) to greater than 99.9%. The filters also remove Salmonella to greater than 99.9999999%. Similarly, viruses are removed to greater than 99.999% which, taken together, classifies them as a water purifier because they have been “tested by State and EPA accredited laboratories to exceed NSF/ANSI Standard 53.”
Do They Remove Good Minerals?
The test results state: “The technology utilized in the Black Berkey purification elements is designed not to remove ionic minerals from the water. The elements are, however, designed to remove sedimentary minerals…The best part is that the media used in the Black Berkey elements are designed not to remove all of the beneficial minerals.” I can’t complain about that!
Any Other Contaminants to Know About?
I then went looking for substances that the filters can’t remove and I had a more difficult time doing so. I did end up finding this article discussing how the Berkey filters don’t remove nitrates which can can cause something called methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby” disease, which I’ve never heard of before.
What’s even more interesting from the aforementioned article is where they state: “While Berkey says they cannot sell in Iowa due to the state’s licensing fees, they are actually not approved for sale because Iowa requires companies to prove their purification claims, and Berkey refuses to comply.”
Well, that’s an interesting twist, and I don’t quite know what to say about it either, especially when they link directly to an (supposed) unbiased third party that tested different gravity filters. Plus, Berkey includes multiple Envirotek Laboratories tests, among others, further down the page.
Personally, I’ve always believed in my Berkey water filter and have relied on it for several years without concern. In fact, I’ve never even bothered to replace the filters yet despite likely being well past their estimated gallons capacity. That said, it’s not like I’ve had to actually rely on them for dire survival purposes either. Will they work as expected when needed the most? I sure hope so! Besides, most of the survival community agrees.
What do you think? Are the Berkey filters as good as they say? Is there a better, perhaps less expensive option?