Water Defense lawyers clarify position on “endorsement” of NLP systems

Our recent posting noted that a Flint resident appears to be reading from a Scott Smith (Water Defense) letter in a social media video.  The video (at ≈ 41:30) states “here is what Scott Smith wrote:”

≈42:32 “This is the first filtering technology I have reviewed with test results that makes me comfortable in saying the water is safe for drinking, showering, and bathing.”

≈43:34  “and I look forward to taking a shower at your house and drinking the water after the treated NLP™ Aqua Solutions Technology.”

Mr. Smith later shared this video on Facebook, which implied to us, that he had no problem with either its content or his letter about NLP™ being read aloud:

After our posting and referral of this matter to the Michigan Attorney General (AG), and our cautionary note to Flint residents about the NLP™ system, WATER DEFENSE lawyers have since clarified their legal position.  They now state that  “WATER DEFENSE DOES NOT ENDORSE, AND HAS NOT ENDORSED, NLP FILTERS.”  Even though it seems to contradict our plain interpretations of Mr. Smith’s letter, we have since changed the title of our posting and some of the message text. We will let the Michigan AG handle it from here.

Ruffalo’s WATER DEFENSE Misleads Flint Residents: Supports Over-priced “Junk Science” Water Conditioners

Recent social media postings have started to advertise, that Mark Ruffalo’s WATER DEFENSE organization considers whole house filtration systems as an important health protection for Flint Residents.  The postings cite WATER DEFENSE sampling data and assert that the NLP™ brand filtration systems produce “the cleanest safest water in Flint.” The sources also state that WATER DEFENSE chief “scientist” Scott Smithasserted in writing, that only NLP™ brand filters produce water that is “safe for […] showering and bathing” in Flint.  This remarkable conclusion seems to be based on Mr. Smith’s 16 months of work collecting mountains of flawed data from homes of Flint residents—he has no apparent expertise in evaluating potable water safety or rating the performance of water filtration/conditioning devices.

Mr. Smith’s (WATER DEFENSE) efforts to exploit the troubles of Flint residents has been well-documented. First, they were caught trying to make royalties from their flawed WATERBUG™ sponge sampling technology. We then revealed Mr. Smith had launched a private side business soon after he came to Flint, that would attempt to sell Aquaflex™ filters to fix water quality problems revealed by WATER DEFENSE sampling. Both of those schemes blew up once they were revealed by FLINTWATERSTUDY and others.  The latest strategy, which helps promote junk science at NLP™, represents a perfectly logical progression in their quest to exploit the Flint Water Crisis for their own purposes.

Herein, we provide a few notes of caution for Flint residents, who might actually seriously consider WATER DEFENSE’s support for NLP™  brand products in order to protect their families health.

NLP conditioners are marketed as a miraculous product

The claims associated with the NLP™ water conditioners are beyond extraordinary, and even defy basic laws of chemistry and physics. For example, it is claimed that the purported benefits from this water conditioner can be achieved with “no chemicals, no salts, no magnets, no electricity, no backwashing, and no maintenance!”

But that is not all. Extraordinary health related claims are made regarding the properties of the water treated by the NLP™ conditioner.  Specifically, if water from this device is put on plants, growth of the root system is remarkably enhanced! The social media postings also report that if cows drink NLP™ conditioned water, they give 30% higher milk production. It is left to the imagination as to the wondrous health benefits of this water for humans.

Passing water through an NLP™ water conditioner supposedly has wondrous effects.

When we look at the science behind the conditioner, there are no peer reviewed scientific publications backing up the performance claims or the principles by which it supposedly operates. The explanations that the company provides makes no sense at all. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and in this case the NLP conditioners have been identified by some as “junk science”  water treatment (Note: NLP™ appears to be identical to a product marketed as “Turbu-Flow” in Australia based on identical web pages).

Dubious Claim: NLP conditioned water encourages root growth

System Seems Over-Priced and Does Not Appear to Remove Several Constituents Mentioned

Following the NLP™ water conditioner that seems too good to be true, the NLP™ filtration system includes normal whole house water filters and then a point-of-use filter.  These NLP products are indeed rated for removal of several contaminants by a credible organization– just like many other competing water filtration systems available in the marketplace.  However, claims are being made that the NLP filters also remove fluoride and other constituents, which we see no evidence that they can remove.

However, the NLP™ filtration system seems extremely overpriced for what it is rated to remove, compared to other high performance systems that remove even more contaminants.  Specifically, the NLP™ system is marketed at a “discount” price of $4200 and the social media postings indicate that replacement filters cost over $500 every 6 months. While we at FLINTWATERSTUDY never endorse specific water treatment products, systems are available on Amazon.com that have proven performance exceeding that of the NLP™ system for just $700 with replacement cartridges that cost only $110. Thus, the price markup for the NLP™ systems is 500-700% versus those actually rated to remove the constituents cited on social media.  In other words, according to our analysis, FLINT RESIDENTS COULD BUY A SYSTEM AT 20% OF THE COST THAT WILL ACTUALLY REMOVE MORE.

Does it really protect your water heater and private property from damage?

Another astonishing claim, is that this product will protect Flint home plumbing and water heater from property damage by scaling due to hard water. The clear implication is that purchasing this over-priced system is actually also an investment that might save you money someday. Putting aside the issue of whether the product even works, the problem with this particular claim is that Flint water is already non-scaling.  Over the years we have thoroughly cleaned out dozens of water heaters in Flint homes—we have never identified hardness scale that could damage the plumbing of Flint residents. This is as expected, because the Lake Huron water has only moderate levels of hardness. In fact, we actually did a temporary hardness test to examine the scale forming potential of a sample of current Flint water— it is minimal at  4.25 mg/L as CaCO3 even at boiling.  Current Flint water does not need any “softening.”

Current Flint water (Left) at 20C and (Right) heated to 100C showing no scale formation

How do you know it is not really a miracle product?  TEST RESULTS

Science is all about proving things and getting to the truth.  Because it is possible that this device supported by WATER DEFENSE actually re-writes basic laws of chemistry and physics, and our decades of experience in water treatment are wrong, we actually purchased an NLP™ conditioner to see if it worked as advertised.  Our NLP™ device had a list price $279.00 but we got it on sale for “only” $199.00.  The device looks like a 10 cm piece of stainless steel pipe with some brass baffles inside it that should cost about $5 in materials. Four high profile and dubious claims about the device were tested including: 1) it produces “wetter water,” 2) the treated water produces more soap suds because of reduced surface tension, 3) it stops hardness scale from precipitating, and 4) it raises ORP.

1. Claim: NLP™ conditioned water is “wetter”

Result: What does this claim mean?  We have no idea. We did a “wetter” panel test – three RED cups were filled with Blacksburg Tap water (i.e., control) and three BLUE cups were filled with “conditioned” Blacksburg tap water. We then asked three random scientists if they thought one is “wetter” than the other. Here is what we found:

The results were inconclusive; in all likelihood, both waters are equally wet.

2. Claim: NLP™ conditioned water makes more soap due to reduced surface tension

Result: We assembled a small rig to pump Blacksburg Tap Water (flow rate = ~150 mL/s) through and tested two conditions – a control and one with the conditioner in the flow. Washing detergent is added to each bucket containing 5L water right before starting the experiment (same experiment as in the Australian Turbu-Flow video).

The soapsuds are not changed by the conditioner, contrary to claims in the video. If anything, in our experiment, the control perhaps has somewhat more suds.

Watch videos of the experiment:

We also measured the actual water surface tension by capillary rise method.  Hard well water treated by the NLP conditioner was not significantly different from untreated well water. Another false claim.

3. Claim: NLP™ conditioned water stops hardness scale from forming

Result: We took synthetic hard water (197 mg/L as CaCO3) at 20 o C and pH 6.8 and pumped it through the NLP water conditioner and the water was then heated to 100 oC. The heated water was filtered through a 0.2 um filter to determine the [Ca2+] concentration that remained dissolved in the water. This concentration was subtracted from the initial concentration to determine the temporary hardness (amount of CaCO3 precipitated). The control experiment was pumped at the same flow rate but without the conditioner. This was done in duplicate. The results show that the NLP™ conditioner did not stop scale from forming.

Mean Temporary Hardness Precipitated out of control and conditioned waters

Visually, it also seems that the precipitated water has identical scale formation.  Certainly there was plenty of scale that formed:

We then increased the temporary hardness of the test water to 292 mg/L and redid the experiment (see results below). The conditioner did nothing.

4. Claim: NLP™ conditioned water will produce water with higher ORP

Result: The ORP (measured using a HANNA HI 9828 meter) of “conditioned” tap water was actually the same as untreated water. If anything, it was slightly, but not significantly lower– the exact opposite of what was claimed.

In summary, it seems the conditioner offers NONE of the purported benefits when put to scientific test.  Now of course, we have not yet fed the water to cows and see if they produced 30% more milk, but we did what we could.

Overall Verdict:  Is This Criminal?

We already knew that Ruffalo’s group had no shame, but in this particular case, we question not only their ethics, but also the legality of these activities. The false health claims are particularly worrisome– implying to Flint residents that this is the only filter system that produces water considered good enough by WATER DEFENSE for safe bathing in Flint, is just sickening. We have therefore referred this matter to the Attorney General.

Primary Authors: Dr. Marc Edwards and Siddhartha Roy

Experimental work: Christina Devine, Gregory House, Siddhartha Roy and Dr. Marc Edwards

Supporting Wayne State University and University of Michigan’s flushing reminder

A recent press release reminded Flint residents of the advantages to flushing their plumbing and point-of-use (POU) filters.  We support this advice.

There are two types of flushing that are useful:

1 – Flushing out your pipes with your filter in bypass mode: Last year the EPA recommended that Flint residents flush their lines 5 minutes every morning to remove the increased bacteria that normally build-up in the water during stagnation, and to bring chlorine into the home.  The reminder to flush “several minutes” is consistent with this prior EPA advice.

2 – Passing your water through your POU filter for a short period of time to reduce bacteria, before collecting the water for cooking or drinking. The existing advice on how long to flush your filter varies. Some manufacturers have recommended 5 second, others 30 seconds, and still others including EPA recommend “at least 30 seconds” as illustrated in the following examples:

  1. “Flushing the filter for about 30 seconds after it has sat idle for several hours (such as in the morning) may help limit the amount of bacteria on the filter.”
  2. A high bacterial count can occur when water does not pass through an AC filter after it has not been used overnight. The first water drawn from the filter that day may be cloudy with bacteria. Flushing the filter at full flow for 30 seconds reduces the HPC bacteria counts to 1/7 the initial numbers, and as the AC filter is used during normal household activity for four hours, the HPC bacteria are reduced by 1/25. Still, several studies indicate that the HPC bacteria count is higher in effluent than in influent.
  3. These filters should be flushed for at least 30 seconds before each use.
  4. In view of these conclusions, it is appropriate to recognize that although bacterial growth occurs in POU and POE water treatment devices, the increase of HPC in these devices does not indicate that a health risk exists, so long as the water entering the device meets acceptable water quality standards. …Also, consumers should be instructed to run water at full flow for at least 30 seconds before use after a prolonged period of quiescence.

The Wayne State/University of Michigan advice to flush the POU filter for 15 seconds is, therefore, consistent with this prior guidance.

EXCLUSIVE! Mark Ruffalo’s WATER DEFENSE Sampling Methods Revealed

An Instant Tragi-Comedy-Horror Film Classic

Background

A coalition of Flint Citizens and scientists labored for almost 2 years to expose the Flint Water Disaster, and after a federal emergency was declared, the citizens, scientists, non-profits, EPA, CDC, the State of Michigan and FEMA were working together to solve problems.

A month after the recovery was underway, actor Mark Ruffalo’s “nonprofit” WATER DEFENSE came to Flint, and immediately began to “discover” dangerous levels of contaminants that no one else could confirm. The results, which supposedly came from “independent certified labs,” were provided to residents, and alarmist videos were released about supposed dangers of bathing and showering in Detroit water (4 months after switching from the Flint River).

We now reveal VIDEO RECORDINGS of Water Defense endorsed and/or coordinated SAMPLING EVENTS. These reveal why they are finding problems that no one else can.


WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY!

The videos you are about to see are for mature audiences only–some will find this content comedic, others will find it horrifying, and still others will find it tragic.

The Water Defense coordinated sampling efforts create mountains of scary and useless data, after their improperly collected samples are submitted to “certified laboratories.” These reports have have been used to misinform and create unsubstantiated fear amongst unsuspecting members of the public in Flint and East Chicago.


Water Defense’s 12-step program to collect samples purportedly showing dangerous levels of bacteria or other contaminants in water, results of which are then used to encourage use of over-priced and over-hyped filters that supposedly render the water safe.

WATER DEFENSE Step 1:
Get a kitchen knife and an unsterile water bottle

WATER DEFENSE Step 2:
Find Lead AND “Bacterias” that others do not find.

WATER DEFENSE Step 3:
Establish your team’s scientific credentials

 

WATER DEFENSE Step 4:
Use a knife to scrape “bacterial fungi”* from the outside of your basement sewer pipe. 

* “Bacterial fungi” is a new life form proposed by the Water Defense-TYT collaboration. If true, it is not only Nobel Prize worthy, but also WaterBug™ sponge worthy.

 

WATER DEFENSE Step 5:
Cap the already unsterile bottle. Whoops, dropped it on the floor? No worries… after all, the goal is to find bacteria no one else finds, and sampling the outside of a sewer pipe is not trying hard enough. Rub the cap on your shirt too.

 

WATER DEFENSE Step 6:
To find lead, collect water from the sediment clean out tap* on water heater. Act horrified when sediment comes out.

*Virtually every water heater manufacturer advises: It is recommended that the tank be drained and flushed every 6 months to remove sediment which may buildup during operation. When you don’t do this regularly, here is what can buildup in almost any water heater across the U.S. depending on water quality, hardness, temperature settings, etc.

 

WATER DEFENSE Step 7: Re-establish your team’s scientific credibility and incredible powers of observation … comment on the water that comes from the sediment clean out tap.

 

WATER DEFENSE Step 8:
Claim you are using EPA’s grab sampling method*, but violate it in ways that create falsely high lead (e.g., collect water from three valves that have high lead because they are not designed to dispense water for consumption, use infrequently used taps, etc.). Oh, and, don’t be scared just yet! That will come later when we give the invalid results to consumers!

* From EPA grab sampling instructions: Always collect a first-draw sample from a tap where the water has stood in the pipes for at least six hours (e.g., no flushing, showering, etc). However, make sure it is a tap that is used regularly, and not an abandoned or infrequently used tap.  […] First-draw samples collected at single-family residences must always be drawn from the cold-water kitchen tap or bathroom tap. [40 CFR 141.86 (b)]

 

WATER DEFENSE Step 9:
Send the improper samples to an independent lab who has no idea how you collected the samples! The *independent* is key!

 

WATER DEFENSE Step 10:
Now use the printouts from the “independent certified lab” to reveal all the “bacterias,” “bacterial-fungi,” lead, and other chemicals that no one else finds.

Don’t ever mention to consumers that if your sample collection methods are garbage and violate established protocols, that the results from an independent certified lab will be garbage too.

 

WATER DEFENSE Step 11:
Have in-depth discussions on primetime (oops, sorry online) and stage calls to frightened residents discussing the WATER DEFENSE test results. Mention similarities to Flint. Ingratiate yourself with unsuspecting residents with real problems who unfortunately trust your shoddy sampling!

WATER DEFENSE Step 12:
For maximum effect!


Experience the full magic of “An Improper Sample” on YouTube:

YouTube Reviews


Afterward

To be clear, there are serious lead-in-soil and lead-in-water issues that consumers in East Chicago, IN have been grappling with for many years. But the EPA R5 (after Susan Hedman resigned) rightly deserves much of the credit for exposing this issue. Three weeks after our post praising EPA’s efforts in East Chicago, Water Defense came to do their testing, just like they came to Flint a month after the Federal Emergency was declared (and 5 months after the disaster was first exposed).

Water Defense endorses sloppy tests done with a kitchen knife and is not embarrassed by “testing” using their now discredited sponge. In one video they use one sampling bottle to collect water from three different outlets (all of which are not intended for drinking water, by the way), and virtually everything they do is a case study in how to not conduct legitimate sampling as per EPA or Standard Method protocols. The mountains of useless and confusing data tend to obscure their unscientific sampling methods.

They also claim it is about the “integrity of data at trial” (i.e., in court), but when you endorse sampling with a kitchen knife and a used water bottle and unsanitary and illegal methods, will a judge or jury really listen?

Mark Ruffalo should be ashamed of his unscientific fear-mongering, which is causing residents unnecessary psychological trauma, undermining serious government relief efforts, and causing some residents to waste thousands of dollars on unnecessary filters to remove contaminants that are not even present in their drinking water.

Additional Reading about WATER DEFENSE sampling:

Curious about the right way to sample drinking water and why that is the case? Check our FAQ from last week for a primer.

Primary authors: Siddhartha Roy and Dr. Marc Edwards

Jeannie Purchase and Kathryn Little present their Flint Water Educational Outreach work from Spring Break ’17 at VT Engage Poster Showcase, win 1st prize

Read about the outreach work done by the Flint team where they reached 1000+ Flint kids during the 2017 Spring Break.

Inspiring the Next Generation of Citizen Scientists: Flint Water Educational Outreach — Jeannie and Katie’s poster (click on the poster for a high-res image)

 

Katie and Jeannie with their poster