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On March 4, Mayor Anthony A. Williams unveiled his administration’s latest stop-gap measure for the tens of thousands of residents fearful of imbibing lead-infused tap water.
No, the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA) wasn’t going to replace all lead service lines. Nor was the D.C. Department of Health going to start daily door-to-door deliveries of Evian. Nope. The city would help residents get the lead out of their water themselves, by handing out 10,000 free Brita water-filtration pitchers to day-care centers and households with lead service lines.
Brita Products Co. donated the 3-quart “Magnum” pitchers, which retail for about $26. Brita flacks promise that the filter inside each pitcher eliminates 98 percent of lead—enough to bring the water quality well within federal government standards.
Brita, a subsidiary of the Clorox Co., offered to donate the pitchers two weeks ago, after WASA officials called to ask about prices, possible discounts, and donations. Brita’s largess is “consistent with Clorox’s philosophy,” says company spokesperson Vicki Friedman. In the past, Clorox has donated bleach to residents who have suffered through earthquakes or storms. “I’m not sure what they use it for,” says Friedman.
Brita’s good deed has turned into a bit of a public-relations coup. The Washington Post mentioned the donation twice in recent weeks. That’s two more mentions than the brand’s chief rival in the water-filtration market, PUR water filters, has had.
Not to be outdone, representatives of Procter & Gamble, the makers of PUR, are also in talks with D.C. officials about getting their products in the hands of more District residents.
“We have no comment on what Brita is doing there,” says Kurt Weingand, a principal clinical scientist with the P&G Health Sciences Institute in Cincinnati. “We have a different approach than the one used by Brita,” Weingand says. “It’s targeted to get water-filtration products to people who need them most.”
Weingand declines to say whether Procter & Gamble would be donating PUR products or offering them at a reduced cost. He does allow that the options on the table include faucet mounts as well as pitchers. “We do think that point-of-use filtration is a real solution to this problem,” says Weingand. “We feel that we can be a part of this solution.”
The water-filtration giants aren’t after just good PR. They’re fighting over a potential customer base. Brita users will soon learn that if they want to keep drinking cleaner water, they’ll have to replace the filter every couple of months. The retail price of one filter: $7.99. So far, Brita has no plans to donate replacement filters, says Friedman. WASA is looking into acquiring Brita cartridges at a discount, says agency spokesperson Pat Wheeler.
If Procter & Gamble comes through, WASA may have to work out a deal for PUR users, as well. A refill cartridge for a 10-cup PUR pitcher will run you $19.99. A cartridge for a PUR Plus faucet-mounted filter, which cleans about 100 gallons of water, retails for $21.99.
So far, demand for Brita filters has been less a deluge than a trickle. By March 8, the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, which is handling distribution, had handed out only 564 pitchers, according to an agency spokesperson, 300 of which went to day-care centers.
On March 9, D.C. agency workers began giving away more Brita pitchers at the Mount Bethel Baptist Church on Rhode Island Avenue NW. To pick up a free Brita, residents have to show their driver’s licenses. An Emergency Management Agency employee then plugs their addresses into a WASA database to find out if they live in areas with lead service lines. Residents who can vouch for living with a pregnant or nursing woman or a child under the age of 6—the workers take most people at their word—can also receive free pitchers.
Northeast resident Hudson Warren Jr. is among the few residents who walked out empty-handed. A D.C. EMA worker told Warren that his home, which was built in the early ’40s, has copper service lines. So no pitcher for him. “I’m sort of disappointed. I feel they should give everybody one,” says Warren, citing recent news of elevated lead levels in water from copper service lines. “I think [WASA] should do the whole thing. It’s causing people a lot of headaches.” CP