News Feature | October 8, 2013

Filtration Exec Faces Charges For Misleading Customers About Tap Water

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,
@sarmje

tapwater.regular

Badmouthing tap water can land a person in serious trouble. 

Love Springs, a water-filtration company in Australia, has gained criticism and the attention of the courts over the years for making bogus claims about local tap water, including that it causes bone cancer, miscarriages, and comes directly from sewage treatment plants. Now the head of the company is facing consequences for these fear tactics. 

"Last year the company admitted several charges, and [last week] boss Phillip John Smart was personally convicted of seven charges of misleading conduct," TVNZ reported

Four years ago, the company was hit with $20,000 in fines. "Love Springs deliberately misled consumers with its stories about local tap water," said Peter Lawlor, then a fair trade minister in the Australian state of Queensland, in The Brisbane Times

Even back then, Smart was viewed as a sort of ringleader. He was hit with a $5000 fine after pleading guilty. But that was not the end of it. Now the charges go beyond that, and Smart will face a full sentencing from the courts in December. 

"Smart knew of, encouraged, and approved training techniques designed to mislead customers. Smart and his staff would door knock residents, telling them if they consumed tap water it could produce adverse health effects, increasing their chances of developing terminal illness," NewsTalkZB reported

The tactics were executed by door-to-door salespeople who told customers that tap water is dangerous. Love Springs sells costly water filtration equipment for homes. Complainants said one family spent $1300 on a filtration system and another signed up to pay around $60 a month for three years, The New Zealand Herald reported. The reports said low-income residents were targeted.

While the claims from Love Springs were outlandish and deceptive, the idea that tap water is not healthy sometimes gains traction with voices in an around the water sector, especially those hoping for regulatory changes. As The New York Times noted, "Only 91 contaminants [in tap water] are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet more than 60,000 chemicals are used within the United States."

That might be problematic, the report said. "Government and independent scientists have scrutinized thousands of those chemicals in recent decades, and identified hundreds associated with a risk of cancer and other diseases at small concentrations in drinking water, according to an analysis of government records by The New York Times."

Still, there's a big caveat when it comes to paranoia about tap water. 

"Drinking water that does not meet a federal health guideline will not necessarily make someone ill," the Times said. "Many contaminants are hazardous only if consumed for years. And some researchers argue that even toxic chemicals, when consumed at extremely low doses over long periods, pose few risks."

Image credit: "Tap Water," © 2005 jcheng, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/