Local water and air purifier brand Sterra has recently come under fire by a scientist in Singapore for its claims about microorganisms found in local tap water.
Clarence Sim, a PhD student at the Genomics and Ecology of EuKaryotes (GEEK) Lab at Nanyang Technological University's Asian School of the Environment, posted an Instagram video on Feb. 1, debunking claims made in Sterra's Facebook advertisement.
In a statement to Mothership, PUB also described the ad as containing "misleading claims".
The ad appeared to be promoting one of Sterra's water purifiers.
"What seems like innocent tap water might not be as clear as it appears. Zoom in, and you'll discover a bustling city of bacteria, algae. Things you definitely don't want in your daily hydration," was the ad's narration.
The ad contained footage of a glass being filled up with water from a tap. It then showed a sample of water from a glass being placed under a microscope.
Under the microscope, numerous microorganisms could be seen in the sample.
Does our local tap water contain all those microorganisms? Maybe not.
Sim identified some microorganisms in the supposed sample, namely diatoms and leaf debris. These are typically found in ponds and not tap water.
Sim noted that another bunch of microorganisms featured in another clip, which Sterra claimed was "bacteria", was actually algal cells.
Another clip in the ad depicted a unicellular ciliate, which Sim said is commonly found in aquatic and soil environments.
"Using scare tactics"
Sim called out the company for using microscope footage "that [they] don't know or don't understand".
"I'm calling Sterra out for using fake news and for using scare tactic ads.
In the caption of his Instagram post, he described the company as "being unethical in their advertising".
He added that the ad could mislead people into thinking that tap water in Singapore is unsafe for drinking.
"Y'all stop scaring Singaporeans that the tap water is that nasty. Just to be clear, Singapore’s tap water is safe for consumption and you will not find these protists (a group that mostly consists of unicellular microorganisms)."
Instagram users in the comments section also called out Sterra for fearmongering.
In another Instagram post on Feb. 3, Sim filmed a time-lapse video of himself putting a sample of water from the tap in his lab under the microscope.
The subsequent image on the computer apparently showed that the sample was completely devoid of any microorganisms.
PUB to issue advisory to Sterra
In response to Mothership's queries, national water agency PUB said that it was aware of the issue.
The agency said that Sterra's online ads contained "misleading claims" about Singapore's tap water, that it contains harmful microorganisms such as bacteria and algae.
PUB revealed that it has issued a number of advisories to Sterra to emphasise that the company should cease such misleading advertisements.
"We will be issuing another advisory to Sterra in response to this latest advertisement," PUB stated.
PUB emphasised that it takes a serious view on water quality.
"Tap water in Singapore is safe to drink," the agency reiterated.
"Every day, water samples are taken from our distribution network across the island and tested. Our tap water complies with the Environmental Public Health (Water Suitable for Drinking) (No.2) Regulations 2019 and is well within the WHO Guidelines for Drinking-Water Quality. There is no need for any point-of-use (“POU”) water treatment or filtering devices to further treat the water."
Mothership reached out to Sterra multiple times but only received what appeared to be automated responses from its customer service email address.
Top photo from clarencesimple / IG