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When Christopher O. Ward saw an ad on the subway Monday night for a Brita water filter ending with "it turns even New York tap water into drinking water," he was indignant. Ward happens to be the commissioner in charge of the city's water system.
According to a New York Times article written by Corey Kilgannon, Ward promptly faxed a complaint to the company, and by yesterday Brita was pledging to take down the signs.
Promoting Brita's two-stage water faucet filters on the uptown No. 1 train, the ad depicted a network of decrepit pipes with the warning, "Your tap water has been through a lot."
The commissioner of NYC's Department of Environmental Protection, Ward is a dedicated tap water drinker who brags about avoiding bottled water even in restaurants. His agency has been struggling to bolster public confidence that city water is drinkable, and even good-tasting.
The city has been running its own advertisements since May promoting the integrity of the its 160-year-old water system. The DEP regularly reminds the public that New York water scores high in taste tests among American cities.
Ward enjoys ribbing people for buying expensive bottled water when, as he says, a city resident can get 750 gallons of good drinking water for $1.52.
"I get on the train and boom there's an ad telling me I need a Brita filter to make my tap water drinkable," he told Kilgannon. "I was outraged, and New Yorkers should be, too. Here we've just gone through all sorts of contamination fears after Sept. 11, and we've spent over a billion dollars to keep water standards high, and they run ads fueling false concerns."
He faxed a letter to officials at the Brita Products Company, which is based in Oakland and owned by the Clorox Company, calling the ads dishonest and an example of "fear-mongering in a city already replete with recent trauma."
Ward accused the company of running an ad campaign that is "instilling unnecessary fear" and one that "damages and severely undermines the public health sensibility of nine million people who drink, bathe and cook with surety that their water is safe."
Yesterday, Brita officials told DEP officials that the ads would be taken down as soon as possible. "We ordered an immediate stop to the ones still going up, and the others will be coming down," said Mary O'Connell, a Clorox spokeswoman.
"The ads weren't intended to be critical of New York City's water supply," she said. They were meant to promote the ability of the faucet filter system to sift out sediment caused by pipes in old buildings, she said, not the city's water system.