Big Berkey Water Filters

  • PCB's Still Impacting Human Health Decades After Being Banned

    Even though chemical PCBs were banned in the US over three decades ago, they continue to affect the health of humans years later. A study conducted by Maryse Bouchard, a researcher based at the University of Montreal and CHU Sainte-Justine, shows that higher levels of toxic PCBs in the blood reduces cognitive performance of elderly people. According to the study, there is a significant correlation between PCB levels and cognitive ability of people between 70-84 years of age, with the cognitive ability of people between 60-69 years of age also affected, although to a lesser degree.

    The study also shows that the correlation differs between the sexes, with older women exhibiting the largest decline in cognitive ability in relation to their level of exposure to PCBs.

    “While most studies have looked at the impact of PCBs on infant development, our research shows that this toxin might affect us throughout our lives,” said Bouchard.

    Banning of PCB's

    PCBs or Polychlorinated Biphenyls, also known by other names including Aroclor, were widely used as insulating fluids and coolants in transformers and ballasts in fluorescent lighting, and as additives in common products such as pesticides, flame retardants, hydraulic fluids, paint, cement, adhesives and sealants. PCBs were added to paints to give them plasticity, and because of their water-proof properties, products containing PCBs were consequently used extensively to water-proof water tanks before the health hazards were revealed and their use subsequently banned.

    PCB Warning PCB Warning

    While the use of PCBs has been phased out over the last 40 years, these toxins persist in the environment and are ever present in the bloodstream of most people, particularly senior citizens. Bouchard's study assessed 708 US citizens, taking blood samples from each to determine PCB levels, as well as conducting a memory and motor-skill test to assess their cognitive ability.

    PCB's In The Body

    The PCB levels detected in the bloodstreams of the study participants were representative of those of the general US population. “Aging persons could be at particular risk because of higher cumulative exposure built up across a lifetime, susceptibility due to underlying medical conditions, such as vascular disorders, and diminished cognitive reserve capacity,” explained Bouchard. “Our present findings suggest that PCBs, even at levels generally considered to pose low or no risk, may contribute to cognitive deficits.”

    PCB disposal procedures range from effective and responsible remediation to irresponsible dumping of hazardous substances, which can leach into groundwater and drinking water sources. According to the EPA, “the major sources of polychlorinated biphenyls in drinking water are runoff from landfills; and discharge of waste chemicals.” PCBs accumulate in the fatty tissues of wildlife and marine animals and bioaccumulate up the food chain. Consequently, PCBs are found in the blood and tissues of humans both in the US and the rest of the world. This study highlights the need to take steps to address the health hazard imposed by PCBs in the environment.

    PCB contaminants can be removed from drinking water with a high quality drinking water filter, such as the Big Berkey range fitted with Black Berkey filter elements.

    Journal Reference:

    Maryse Bouchard. Polychlorinated Biphenyl Exposures and Cognition in Older U.S. Adults. Environmental Health Perspectives, November 2013

  • Becoming Water Wise with a Smart Water Meter

    Smart energy meters and smart power grids have been implemented to enable us to better manage our energy consumption and conserve energy. Technology is now being developed that will enable us to better manage our water consumption by converting our water supply network to a smart water grid that will allow us to conserve our precious water resources.

    Smart Water Meter

    While conventional water meters are typically only read once every couple of months, a smart water meter allows you to connect to your water utility, providing real-time data on your household's water consumption. Like a smart energy meter, this will allow you to better understand your water consumption patterns and aid in determining where you can make reductions and save on costs.


    Smart Water Grid

    By rolling out a system of smart management technology across the water network, including at water suppliers, water treatment facilities, and water distribution networks to effectively form a smart water grid, huge advances in water management and water conservation can be achieved.

    Saving Water with Smart Water Meters

    Smart water meters offer many benefits, including:

    • Fast, efficient reading of water meters  – utility staff can read water meters electronically, which will greatly simplify the water meter reading process.
    • Allow swift detection of leaks or theft.
    • Allow consumers to monitor their water use remotely.
    • Allow consumers to get real-time pricing data to take advantage of cheaper rates during off-peak periods.
    • Allow consumers to wisely manage their water consumption to enable them to make changes that can contribute towards water conservation.

    Smart Water Meters Prevent Money Going Down the Drain

    A recent study conducted by researchers from Griffith University's Smart Water Research Facility shows that using 'smart' water meters to identify water leaks in and around the home can produce substantial cost savings for consumers.

    According to Project Leader, Associate Professor Rodney Stewart, the benefits extend beyond the financial savings and include wider environmental and economic benefits too. “Reducing the amount of water lost through leaks has further implications for both energy consumption and treatment costs,” says Stewart.

    The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, was conducted in and around Hervey Bay in Queensland, Australia, where smart water meters were installed in 22,000 homes. By monitoring the water consumption of these households with the smart meter system, 4% of homes being monitored were identified as having a suspected water leak, with the customers being alerted. Of the customers contacted, 46% investigated the issue further, confirming that a leak was detected and repaired. In 70% of those cases the cost of repairing the leaks amounted to less than  AUD$200 and in 50% of cases the repairs cost less than AUD$100. However, the overall result showed that water leakage was reduced by up to 91% in those households, which would amount to significant cost savings over time.

    While the financial benefits are obvious, consumers surveyed suggested they were motivated by environmental issues and the need to conserve water rather than by the financial benefits afforded by repairing the leaks.

    “Major urban centers across the globe will experience significant increases in demand for water as populations continue to grow,” Associate Professor Stewart said. “Questions around how much water is lost post-meter in households and what measures can be used to reduce those losses are vitally important for improving water management. This study confirmed that smart metering provides water utilities with a powerful tool to rapidly identify and address significant volumes of post-meter leakage. These findings will be of immense value to urban water managers attempting to reduce water demand or improve system efficiency.”

    Journal Reference
    Britton, T.C., Stewart, R.A.,& O'Halloran, K.R. (2013) Smart metering: enabler for rapid and effective post meter leakage identification and water loss management. Journal of Cleaner Production. 54: 166-176. DOI.10.1016/j.jclepro.2013.05.018.

  • Safe Drinking Water Provisions in the Face of Disaster

    When disaster strikes, the number one priority in ensuring the health and safety of survivors is the provision of safe drinking water. The stark reality of a large inhabited area being wiped out by a natural disaster is currently evident in the Philippines, where thousands of people have been left dead, and hundreds of thousands have been displaced without access to adequate shelter, food or drinking water in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.

    The horrific scenes that we are witnessing on our news channels are nothing short of apocalyptic. The situation in areas that received the brunt of the storm is pure hell. Help is slow in coming due to roads and airport infrastructure as well as other transport routes being inaccessible, making accessing the area a logistical nightmare. Desperate survivors are forced to loot shops for food, and drink whatever water they can find, regardless of the consequences. Considering the level of destruction, the fact that there is no power to boil water, and that water sources are most likely contaminated with all manner of toxins and pathogens, if victims are not provided with safe drinking water soon, this is very likely to lead to disease outbreaks, such as cholera and other life-threatening illnesses on a scale similar to that experienced in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The situation on the ground is becoming more dangerous as there are fears that people may soon resort to violence in their desperation to get food and water.

    Typhoon Aftermath

    Water Missions International, a nonprofit Christian organization that provides sustainable safe water and sanitation solutions for people in developing nations and disaster areas, has mobilized water treatment equipment and support staff as phase one of relief efforts to provide safe drinking water to victims of Super Typhoon Haiyan.  Two disaster response water treatment systems sponsored by FedEx, 20 safe water treatment systems funded by The Pentair Foundation and 10 potable water chlorinators will be able to provide safe drinking water for the daily needs of 160,000 people in communities surrounding Cebu, Philippines, one of the most severely affected areas.

    “Safe drinking water is the number one need in the aftermath of a disaster. Deadly waterborne diseases spread rampantly in contaminated and untreated water and can be fatal in a matter of hours,” said George Greene IV, PE, president and chief operating officer at Water Missions International.

    Water Missions International has the capacity to provide even more assistance to victims, but limited funding is restricting their ability to provide ongoing relief. If you wish to assist the victims of Typhoon Haiyan by contributing to relief efforts, please visit Water  International disaster response page, or the World Food Program, who are providing emergency food assistance.

    “Our specialty is water and sanitation. In addition to our own efforts, we're coming alongside other major aid organizations as their implementing partner for the water component of aid relief. We are in dialogue with UNICEF about partnering with other organizations providing aid as we actively carry out our own response,” said Greene.

    Water Missions International is also providing back-up solar powered water treatment options that will not be affected in the event that fuel becomes unavailable.

    “We are fortunate that our extensive experience working in Indonesia, another country of island chains, brings an understanding of the unique logistics requirements to move equipment and people across multiple islands,” said Greene. “It will be challenging. There could be isolated pockets of people all over the place, but Water Missions International has unique experience in these types of conditions and we are working to provide as much relief as possible.”

    Water Missions International is also monitoring the situation in other countries that may become affected by Typhoon Haiyan and will respond where necessary.

    In the past, Water Missions International has provided relief to some of the largest natural disasters to strike the planet, including assisting victims of the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Sichuan China earthquake in 2008, Haiti earthquake in 2010, and to victims of the recent floods that swept through southern Mexico in September this year.

    We just donated to Water Missions to try to help and if you'd like to learn more and donate to their International disaster relief efforts yourself, please visit

    Natural disasters are becoming more frequent and more destructive, and can strike anywhere, anytime. It is advisable to prepare for any eventuality by putting together an emergency plan and preparing an emergency/disaster kit, making provisions for food and water requirements for you and your family. A drinking water filter that is capable of removing bacteria and viruses should form an essential part of that kit.

  • Algal Blooms Becoming More Toxic Due to Nutrient Enrichment & Changing Climate

    Over the last few decades there has been an increase in toxic algal blooms in aquatic systems around the world primarily as a result of climate change and nutrient enrichment, which results in an abundance of toxic cyanobacteria, such as microcystin – a prolific cyanotoxin found worldwide that poses a serious threat to wildlife, natural ecosystems and human health. Microcystin is a potent liver toxin that is also potentially carcinogenic; consequently, it poses a serious health risk as a drinking water contaminant.

    According to a study conducted by a team of scientists from Oregon State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which was recently published in Science, the proliferation of toxic strains of cyanobacteria will increase proportionately as nutrient enrichment increases in freshwater systems.

    Toxic microcystin bacteria float, along with a dead fish, on the surface of this lake. Toxic microcystin bacteria float, along with a dead fish, on the surface of this lake.


    Cyanobacteria are one of the oldest living organisms on our planet. They evolved around three-and-a-half billion years ago in an oxygen-free, barren world devoid of most life-forms, and by producing oxygen, played a fundamental role in transforming this lifeless world into what it is today and allowing higher life-forms to evolve. According to the scientists, these early pioneers readily adapt and persist in the environment and as our world changes they are once again adapting to changing environmental conditions, and to an extent threatening some of the life they originally allowed to develop.


    Microcystis, a species of microcystin-producing cyanobacteria that flourishes in warm, slow flowing, nutrient-rich waters all over the world – is a strain that is particularly worrisome. It is able to migrate vertically within the water column, typically forming thick green algal mats on the water's surface. When conditions are optimal these toxin-producing cyanobacteria flourish and quickly out-compete and displace non-toxic cyanobacteria, resulting in algal blooms that are becoming more and more harmful.

    “Cyanobacteria are basically the cockroaches of the aquatic world, they're the uninvited guest that just won't leave,” said Timothy Otten, a postdoctoral scholar in the OSU College of Science and College of Agricultural Sciences, and co-author of the study. “When one considers their evolutionary history and the fact that they've persisted even through ice ages and asteroid strikes, it's not surprising they're extremely difficult to remove once they've taken hold in a lake. For the most part, the best we can do is to try to minimize the conditions that favor their proliferation.”

    There are over 123,000 large lakes (> 10 acres) spread throughout the US, and according to the latest EPA assessment a third or more contain toxic cyanobacteria. In some cases, such as Lake Erie, the area covered by algal blooms can be so vast that it is visible from space. Increasing temperatures and CO2 concentrations; dams; droughts; as well as nutrient runoff from agriculture, recreational and private land all exacerbate the situation.

    Toxicity of Cyanobacteria and Microcystin

    Scientists studying cyano-toxins believe that since cyanobacteria evolved before predators, it is unlikely that their original function was to be toxic. Recent studies suggest that microcystin  – a potent liver toxin and potential carcinogen – has a protective function in cyanobacteria, helping them cope with oxidative stress, which may explain why the genes responsible for synthesizing the toxins are so ubiquitous across cyanobacteria species and why they still persist millions of years after they evolved.

    Because cyanobacteria need light to proliferate and the toxins are retained primarily within the microorganism, the risk of exposure is greatest on or near the surface of the water, which poses a danger to bathers, kayakers and other recreational users.

    “Also, since cyanobacteria blooms become entrenched and usually occur every summer in impacted systems, chronic exposure to drinking water containing these compounds is an important concern that needs more attention,” Otten said.

    “Water quality managers have a toolbox of options to mitigate cyanobacteria toxicity issues, assuming they are aware of the problem and compelled to act,” Otten said. “But there are no formal regulations in place on how to respond to bloom events. We need to increase public awareness of these issues,” he stresses. “With a warming climate, rising carbon dioxide levels, dams on more rivers than not, and overloading of nutrients into our waterways, the magnitude and duration of toxic cyanobacterial blooms is only going to get worse.”

    Journal Reference:

    Hans W. Paerl, Timothy G. Otten. Blooms Bite the Hand That Feeds Them. Science, 25 October 2013: Vol. 342 no. 6157 pp. 433-434 DOI: 10.1126/science.12452763

  • Nitrogen Fertilizer Leaches into Groundwater for Decades

    Nitrogen fertilizer, used extensively in agriculture to enhance crop growth, lingers in soil and leaches into groundwater resources as nitrate for 'much longer than previously thought', according to a new research study conducted by scientists in France and at the University of Calgary. This not only results in eutrophication of freshwater and coastal ecosystems, causing algal blooms which impact wildlife, but also causes contamination of drinking water held in underground aquifers, which can be hazardous to human health.

    Algae Bloom as a Result of High Levels of Nitrogen/Fertilizer Algae Bloom as a Result of High Levels of Nitrogen/Fertilizer

    Nitrogen Found Present Decades Later

    The study, led by Mathieu Sebilo from the Université Pierre et Marie Currie in Paris, France, and by Bernhard Mayer, professor of geochemistry and head of the Applied Geochemistry Group at University of Calgary's Department of Geoscience, found that three decades after crops had been fertilized with synthetic nitrogen fertilizer in 1982, about 15% of the nitrogen component still lingered in the organic matter present in the soil. After 30 years, approximately 10% of the fertilizer nitrogen had leached through soils and into groundwater, and is expected to continue to do for another fifty years or more.

    The findings of the study, published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, show that while nitrogen losses from fertilizer leach through soils at low rates, this continues over a number of decades. According to Mayer, “that means it could take longer than previously thought to reduce nitrate contamination in groundwater, including in aquifers that supply drinking water in North America and elsewhere. There's a lot of fertilizer nitrogen that has accumulated in agricultural soils over the last few decades which will continue to leak as nitrate towards groundwater.”

    Nitrates Most Widespread Drinking Water Contaminant

    Because nitrates in drinking water can have serious health implications, nitrate levels in drinking water are regulated by both the United States and Canada. Surveys conducted by the EPA and the U.S Geological Survey in the 1980's reveal that nitrate contamination is the most widespread drinking water contaminant, affecting both domestic drinking water wells and public supply wells more than any other pollutant.

    This is the first study to track the fate of fertilizer nitrogen that remains in soils over a number of decades using stable isotope 'fingerprinting'. Using N-15 – a stable isotope of nitrogen – as a tracer to monitor the fate of fertilizer nitrogen applied to crops of sugar beet and wheat in France in 1982, the scientists where able to measure the amount of N-15 labelled fertilizer nitrogen absorbed by plants over the thirty year period, enabling them to determine the amount of fertilizer nitrogen that remained in the soil and the long-term fate of the fertilizer nitrogen pool that is retained in soils.

    The researchers found that

    • 61-65% of the N-15 fertilizer applied to the crops in 1982 was taken up by the wheat and sugar beet plants over the course of the 30-year study
    • 32-37% of the fertilizer nitrogen remaining in the organic content of the soil in 1985, three years after it was applied
    • 12-15% of fertilizer nitrogen still remained in the soil three decades later

    Between 8-12% of the fertilizer nitrogen applied to the crops in 1982 had seeped down towards groundwater in the form of nitrate over the 30-year period, and will continue to leach through the soil at low rates “for at least another five decades, much longer than previously thought,” according to the study.

    100 Years of Seepage

    The researchers predict that approximately 15% of the fertilizer nitrogen that was initially applied to the crops will seep from soils into the groundwater over a time frame of about 100 years after the fertilizer was initially applied in 1982.

    Mayer, who is internationally recognized as an expert in the field of using stable isotopes to track environmental contaminants, expects that if similar studies were conducted in Alberta, the results in terms of nitrogen retention within soils and fertilizer uptake by crops would be similar, however Alberta's drier climate and different geological characteristics may cause the rate of nitrate seepage into groundwater to be slower.

    Nitrate contamination of water resources can be minimized if farmers follow the 4Rs when it comes to nutrient stewardship:

    • apply the Right fertilizer source
    • at the Right rate
    • at the Right time
    • and in the Right place

    Journal Reference:

    M. Sebilo, B. Mayer, B. Nicolardot, G. Pinay, A. Mariotti. Long-term fate of nitrate fertilizer in agricultural soils. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1305372110

  • Contaminated Water Breeds Low-Weight Babies, Sometimes Born Prematurely

    Something In The Water

    Pregnant women who live in regions where the drinking water is contaminated have a greater chance of giving birth to premature babies or to babies that have low birth weights of under 5½ pounds, according to research conducted by a team of investigators from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

    The study, which was published in the Canadian Journal of Economics (August 2013), reveals that babies born to mothers who have consumed contaminated water are likely to exhibit various forms of cognitive and developmental impairment, and that this is more pronounced in the babies of less-educated moms. As these women are also less likely to move away from areas where drinking water is contaminated, better forms of communication and consumer education is necessary to increase awareness amongst people residing in these areas.

    “Fetuses are vulnerable to all types of pollution, including water contamination caused by chemicals and bacteria,” said lead author, Janet Currie, Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing. “This contamination can lead to a host of problems, including low-birth-weight babies who can have lifelong cognitive struggles. It's a particular problem for less-educated women who also presumably have less options in terms of housing.”

    Previous research has primarily focused on the relationship between air pollution and infant health; this study is one of the first to look at the health effects of water contamination on infants. Currie and her fellow researchers examined New Jersey birth records together with data on drinking-water quality for a ten year period between 1997 and 2007. The birth record for each infant showed the birth date, health of the infant at birth, and information pertaining to the mother, including race, marital status, and level of education. In order to assess whether any of the women relocated because of contaminated water issues, the team looked at records for women who had given birth to more than one child to determine whether the they had moved before giving birth again.

    pregnant woman

    To assess water quality, the researchers accessed records from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), looking at violation records for 488 water districts. They discovered that more than 25% of the districts supplied had water contamination violations, with 30,000 people being affected as a result. The contaminants ranged from bacterial and chemical pollutants, including high coliform counts, radon, and dichloroethane – a hazardous solvent used in degreasing agents and in the manufacture of plastics.

    The team then paired the infant's birth records with the water systems that provided the family's home with drinking water. Because people tend to drink more water during hot weather, they also included daily temperatures for this time period into their analysis.

    “We found that infants exposed to contamination in utero tend to have mothers who are younger, less educated and less likely to be married than other mothers. They are also more likely to be African-American or Hispanic,” Currie said. “The results also suggest that mothers who are less educated are less likely than other mothers to move in response to contamination, while older mothers are more likely to drink bottled water or move.”

    While it is standard practice for the DEP to alert all residences should there be a contamination event, Currie suggests that people renting their home may not get these warning notices.

    “If someone puts something in your mailbox, do you even see it? Does your landlord pick it up?” said Currie. “Notices are being sent that people don't receive. There's an undercurrent here that the way information is sent isn't adequate. We need to get this information to people directly.”

    Currie suggests that health-care workers make information on water contamination risks and hazards available in clinics and exam rooms so that expectant moms are made aware of the dangers.

    “If it's going to be harmful for some groups, we need to at least let those groups know about them, so they can avoid it,” said Currie.

    Journal Reference

    Janet Currie, Joshua S. Graff Zivin, Katherine Meckel, Matthew J. Neidell, and Wolfram Schlenker, "Something in the Water: Contaminated Drinking Water and Infant Health," Canadian Journal of Economics 46, No. 3 (2013): 791-810.

  • Berkey versus Doulton

    In today's article, we are going to compare the Big Berkey versus Doulton Coutertop SS2 water filters. Berkey was born out of a relationship with Doulton and why you'll find many similarities between the 2 systems.

    Filtration Capabilities:

    Both the Doulton and the Big Berkey filters are capable of removing a wide range of contaminants, including chlorine, VOC's, hazardous pesticides and chemicals, as well as sediment and taste and odors. The Berkey's standard filters also remove heavy metals, while additional post filters need to be used on the Doulton to reduce these contaminants. While the Doulton is capable of removing 99.99% bacteria and cysts, it is not capable of removing viruses to the required 99.9999% that qualifies the Berkey as a water purifier. The Big Berkey is capable of 99.9999% removal of bacteria, 99.9999% removal of cysts, and 99.9999% removal of viruses, making it a true water purifier that will ensure that the water you drink is free from harmful sickening contaminants. Both units can be fitted with post filters in the lower chamber to remove fluoride – the Berkey post filters remove fluoride and arsenic, while the Doulton post filters remove fluoride and heavy metals (heavy metals are removed by the standard Berkey filters – there is no need for additional post filters to remove toxic metals, such as lead).

    Advantage: Big Berkey

    Big Berkey Water Filter Big Berkey Water Filter


    The Big Berkey produces a maximum of 84 gallons per day with the standard 2 element system compared to a maximum of 12-15 gallons a day produced by the standard Doulton system. Both units can be expanded by adding 2 extra filters to the upper chamber, bringing the total number of filter elements to 4. This would increase the output of the Berkey to 168 gallons per day and the output of the Doulton to 24-30 gallons per day. The Berkey has a far greater output and is clearly able to support far more people.

    Advantage: Big Berkey

    Doulton SS2 Doulton SS2


    The initial cost of the Big Berkey is slightly higher at $258 compared to the current price of the Doulton – the Doulton is currently on special at around $200 (normal recommended retail price is $359). However, the Berkey is much more economical to run and maintain in the long run. While the replacement costs of the Berkey filter elements ($54.50/filter) are slightly higher compared to $35 for the standard Doulton replacement elements ($49.95 for the Imperial Doulton filter elements), the replacement intervals are much longer. Each Berkey filter element will filter 3000 gallons of water (6000 gallons per set of 2) before needing to be replaced (with no time limit), compared to 535 gallons for the standard Doulton element and 1000 gallons  for the more expensive Doulton Imperial filter element (1070 and 2000 gallons per set of 2 respectively) – both of which need to be replaced after 6 months regardless of the amount of water that has passed through them. Based on the maximum daily outputs and recommended replacement time limitations, the overall operating cost equates to approximately 1.8 cents per gallon for the Berkey compared with 6.7 cents per gallon for the Doulton – the Big Berkey clearly provides a much more economical source of clean, filtered water.

    Advantage: Big Berkey

    Versatility (Setup and Portability)

    These water filters are very similar in design – they are both freestanding gravity filters that don't require electricity or plumbing to operate, which makes for a simple setup and enables them to be readily portable. They have the same dimensions in terms of height and diameter, and as far as weight goes, there is not much in it – the Big Berkey weighs 9 pounds with 2 filters compared to the Doulton's 8 pounds with 2 filters. When turned on it's head, the upper chamber of the both units will fit snugly inside the lower chamber, reducing the overall size to aid portability.

    Advantage: Neither

    Viewable Water Level

    Both units are constructed from opaque material, which prevents the user from being able to quickly ascertain the level of water within the chamber to facilitate refilling. While both manufacturers offer translucent alternatives (eg. the Berkey Light), the Berkey also offers an optional waterview spigot upgrade for the Big Berkey, which lets the user view water levels on a tube indicator. 

    Advantage: Slight advantage Big Berkey


    Both units are constructed from plasma welded 304 stainless steel and will not leach chemicals or toxins into the water held within the chamber.

    Advantage: Neither

    Aesthetic Design

    As both units are constructed from sleek stainless steel they will both grace any kitchen with style.

    Advantage: Neither


    Both units are constructed of durable food grade welded stainless steel, and are similar in positive feedback regarding spigots, parts, and filters.

    Advantage: Neither


    The Berkey comes with a 6 month manufacturers guarantee against part defects, a 2 year manufacturers prorated warranty on the filters, and a lifetime warranty on the stainless chambers, spigots, and hardware, together with excellent customer service and after-sales support. The manufacturers of the Doulton have a 1 year warranty against defects of the stainless steel, parts, and filters.

    Advantage: Big Berkey


    While these water filters are similar in many respects, the Big Berkey is superior in terms of its filtration capabilities, output, overall affordability, durability and after sales service.

  • Using Blue, Green and Gray Water to Improve Water Security

    In last weeks post we looked at the problem of dwindling water resources in light of climate change. Water security is an issue, not just because there is likely to be less water available in a warmer, drier climate, but also because as the world population grows, so too does the demand for water. A growing world population also requires food resources – it is estimated that food production will have to increase by approximately 70% by 2050 to satisfy the needs of the growing global population. In order to meet this demand, agriculture will also place increasing pressure on our dwindling water resources, which will also be in demand from urban areas, industrial users, and for recreation.

    With more and more people depending on a limited supply of water, it is imperative that we manage our water resources prudently, looking at innovative ways to utilize the resource more efficiently. The implementation of integrated water management plans that make use of  'blue,' 'green', and 'gray' water can go a long way to improving water security.

    Irrigation fields

    Let's take a look at what these different colors mean, the role that each of these types of water play in the grand scheme of things, and why they are all vital to water security.

    Blue Water

    Blue water refers to water that is present in rivers, lakes, underground aquifers and reservoirs. This water is used for a multitude of purposes including drinking water, water supplied to domestic households and businesses, and it is also used in agriculture to irrigate crops. Because our freshwater reserves are limited, it is essential that we protect and conserve these resources and use them sparingly.

    Green Water

    Green water refers to water that is held within the soil which is available for plants and microorganisms within the soil to utilize. This water can be absorbed by plant roots, then used by plants for growth before being released back into the atmosphere. Green water is a resource that is frequently overlooked in terms of crop growth, and this is an area that can more optimally utilized in future water management planning.

    Gray Water

    Gray water refers to wastewater that has been used for some other purpose and has typically been degraded or fouled as a result. Gray water can originate from domestic household use, commercial/business use, or industrial use, and while it is generally treated to remove hazardous contaminants before it is discharged, it may still harbor some impurities. Reusing gray water to irrigate agricultural crops will not only reduce the amount of blue water that is drawn from freshwater reserves, but also increase the amount of green water that is available in soils for plants to utilize.

    These three types of water sources will be the topic of discussion during a symposium  “Blue Waves, Green Dreams, and Shades of Gray: Perspectives On Water” that is going to be held on Tuesday, 5th November as part of the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America, which is taking place from 3-5 November in Tampa, Florida. The theme of this year's conference is “Water, Food, Energy, & Innovation for a Sustainable World”.

    All three of these water sources – blue, green, and gray –  have to be protected and optimized in order for agriculture to rise to the challenge of feeding more than 9 billion people by 2050 while still leaving sufficient water for other uses. Rattan Lal, presider of the symposium, sums it up aptly when he states “There is no substitute for water.”

  • Climate Change Predictions Would Pose a Water Scarcity Risk to More than 600 Million People

    According to a study published recently in the journal Environmental Research Letters, climate change predictions, which are anticipated to set mean global temperature increase at around 3.5 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial temperatures, will pose a risk of new water scarcity or aggravate existing water scarcity issues for 668 million people around the world. The study reveals that the number of people living in water-scarce river basins will increase by 11% from the number in 2000, and that those that are already residing in water-scarce regions, the effects on water scarcity will be aggravated further.


    Results from the research show that populations who will experience the most drastic changes and be most affected include those living in Southwest US, Southern Europe, Middle East and North Africa. The study further illustrates that should global mean temperatures increase by the internationally agreed target of  2°C, 486 million people (8% of the global population) will face new or aggravated water scarcity, particularly in North East Africa and the Middle East regions.

    “Our global assessments suggest that many regions will have less water available per person”, explains lead author, Dr Dieter Gerten, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Even if the increase is restricted to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, many regions will have to adapt their water management and demand to a lower supply, especially since the population is expected to grow significantly in many of these regions.”


    “The unequal spatial pattern of exposure to climate change impacts sheds interesting light on the responsibility of high-emission countries and could have a bearing on both mitigation and adaption burden sharing”, said Dr Gerten.

    Declining precipitation is the primary driver behind new or aggravated water scarcity, but this will be further exacerbated by higher temperatures which will result in increased evapotranspiration of water, and consequently, reduced water resources.

    As the global population is anticipated to increase, so too will the demand for water, putting even greater pressure on water resources and the availability of these resources in vulnerable regions.

    The research team assessed the impact of a variety of different global warming scenarios, by combining existing simulations from nineteen climate change models with eight different global warming levels ranging from a 1.5°C to a 5°C increase above pre-industrial temperatures. Overall, 152 different climate change scenarios were analyzed.

    In addition to water scarcity, the scientists also examined the impact that future climate change would  have on terrestrial ecosystems around the world, in an effort to assess which regions will be most affected by radical ecosystem changes, and whether any of the areas most likely to be affected are biodiversity hotspots or rich in endemic species.

    According to Dr Gerten: “At a global warming of 2°C, notable ecosystem restructuring is likely for regions such as the tundra and some semi-arid regions. At global warming levels beyond 3°C, the area affected by significant ecosystem transformation would significantly increase and encroach into biodiversity-rich regions. Beyond a mean global warming of 4°C, we show with high confidence that biodiversity hotspots such as parts of the Amazon will be affected.”

    Journal Reference

    Dieter Gerten, Wolfgang Lucht, Sebastian Ostberg, Jens Heinke, Martin Kowarsch, Holger Kreft, Zbigniew W Kundzewicz, Johann Rastgooy, Rachel Warren, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. Asynchronous exposure to global warming: freshwater resources and terrestrial ecosystems. Environmental Research Letters, 2013; 8 (3): 034032 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034032

  • Big Berkey versus Sawyer Dual-Bag System - Filter Comparison Series

    In this article we will compare the Big Berkey drinking water filter with the Sawyer Complete 4-L Dual Bag system (Point ZeroTWO Purifier – Model SP194). Both these units are gravity fed water filters that purify water as it passes through filtration media.

    Big Berkey Big Berkey Water Filter

    Filtration Capabilities

    Both these filtration systems are classed as water purifiers as they are capable of removing minute contaminants such as bacteria, viruses and cysts that standard water filters cannot always eradicate. However, while Sawyer state that their filter removes sediment and 'other' contaminants as well, it provides no further information on what other contaminants the filter is or isn't capable of removing. The Big Berkey on the other hand lists an extensive range of contaminants that their filters have been tested and proven to remove. The Big Berkey can also be fitted with post filters in the lower chamber to remove additional contaminants that the Sawyer definitely would not be capable of removing, such as arsenic and fluoride.

    Advantage: Big Berkey


    Sawyer Complete 4-L Dual Bag system Sawyer Complete 4-L Dual Bag system


    The Big Berkey produces a maximum of 84 gallons per day with the standard 2 element system, while the Sawyer is reported to filter 1 gallon (4 liters) in 15 minutes (4 gallons per hour or 96 gallons per day at maximum flow rater). However, from reviews of the Sawyer system on Amazon, this seems to be rather optimistic, with reviewers citing inconsistent flow rates and clogging being issues, and that it typically takes around an hour to filter 1 gallon of dirty water. So depending on the sediment levels in the water this can effectively vary anywhere from 24-96 gallons a day.  Additional filter elements can be added to the lower chamber of The Big Berkey to improve flow rate to 168 gallons should a faster flow rate be required.

    Advantage: Slight advantage to Big Berkey


    The purchase price of the Big Berkey is slightly higher at $258 compared to $220 for the Sawyer. Replacement filter elements for the Berkey cost $54.50, with an output of approximately 3000 gallons per filter element, while the Sawyer claims that the filter has an unlimited life with an output of 1 million gallons, but admits that this has not been tested.

    Advantage: Sawyer

    Versatility (Setup and Portability)

    The Big Berkey is a portable countertop gravity filter that is easy to setup, operates without electricity or plumbing, and weighing in at around 9 pounds is easy to move around. Weighing just 2.5 pounds, the Sawyer is an ultra-lightweight gravity filter that also doubles up as a hydration pack, making it an ideal choice for hiking, backpacking and outdoor activities. The Sawyer filters will not withstand freezing conditions, so it has some limitations as to where it can be used and in what conditions, while the Big Berkey will still function efficiently in really cold conditions – as long as the water isn't frozen ;)

    Advantage: Neither

    Viewable Water Level

    Both of these filters are constructed from opaque material, so it is not possible to view the water level in either unit. However, if this is an important consideration, Berkey offer a translucent alternative – Berkey Light  ($231) – and it is also possible to upgrade the Big Berkey by fitting a waterview spigot (available as an optional extra) that allows the user to view the water level on an indicator tube.

    Advantage: Big Berkey


    The Big Berkey is manufactured from food grade plasma welded 304 stainless steel that will not leach chemicals or toxins into the water or negatively affect the taste of the water it filters. Sawyer does not provide any information on the material used in the filter bladders, except that they are BPA free. However, reviews of the Sawyer on Amazon indicate that the filtered water does tend to have a plastic taste to it initially.

    Advantage: Big Berkey

    Aesthetic Design

    The stylish stainless steel Big Berkey will look good in any kitchen, whereas the plastic bladder design of the Sawyer dual-bag system is more suitable for outdoor activities and emergency relief.

    Advantage: Big Berkey


    The stainless steel Big Berkey is strong and durable with filters protected within the housing. However, the stainless steel housing can dent if the unit is dropped, but the plastic Berkey Light offers an alternative if this is an issue. The plastic bladder design of the Sawyer is designed for outdoor use so it should stand up to much wear and tear, however, the construction of the actual filter mechanism is rather fragile and it is positioned outside the unit, making it vulnerable to breakage. 

    Advantage: Neither

    Guarantee & After-sales Support

    The Berkey comes with a 6 month manufacturers guarantee against part defects, a 2 year manufacturers prorated warranty on the filters, and a lifetime warranty on the stainless chambers, spigots, and hardware, together with excellent customer service and after-sales support. The Sawyers guarantee is limited to its untested claim that the filter is capable of producing 1 million gallons before needing to be replaced, yet from reviews on Amazon, customer service and after-sales support clearly seems to be lacking.

    Advantage: Big Berkey


    The Big Berkey is an excellent choice if you are looking for a high-end portable countertop water purifier that is backed by a reputable company that offers excellent after sales service. If you are looking for a versatile water purifier to use during outdoor activities where conditions remain above freezing, the Sawyer Dual-bag system offers a lightweight solution that can double up as a hydration pack, and you can easily fold it up and put it in your backpack when not in use.

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