It all started in a minivan…
In the late 90’s Todd Emerson, fire Captain, husband, and dad to three, convinced his wife to take out a loan on their Plymouth minivan and cash in her retirement funds. He had discovered Berkey water filters, and thought there might be an opportunity to sell them. They spent $12,000 on their first order and James Enterprise Inc. (JEI) was born.
The minivan got booted outside as the garage became headquarters for their business.
Todd bought a book on how to build a website and within a few months they had sold enough water filters for his wife, Sandie, to be able to stay home, run the business, and raise the kids. They found themselves in the cross section of the rise in popularity of gravity-fed water filters and e-commerce.
Todd retired from the Pueblo Fire Department in 2013 and was able to focus more time and energy on the business. They decided to dabble in this thing called Amazon and expand to selling more products than just water filters. JEI also developed their own brands that ranged from glass drinkware, boot scrapers, outdoor apparel, and recreation gear. Outgrowing their garage they set up shop in an old strip mall, then moved to a stand-alone building to hold their now many employees.
Adding onto their warehouse three times in four years, it became evident that the best return on investment for this family business was to focus energy on just water filters. They poured energy into developing BerkeyFilters.com and became the largest distributor for New Millennium Concepts (NMCL), the manufacturer of Berkey products. The company continued to evolve and grow at a rapid pace earning them a spot on INC 5,000 Fastest Growing Private Companies three years in a row 2015, 2016, and 2017.
The original goal, which still remains at the forefront of operations is "always ensure every customer is 100% satisfied." By striving for "every customer of ours is a customer for life" the company has excelled in innovation.
Everything changed two days after Christmas
On December 27, 2022 JEI was issued a Stop Sale or Removal Order (SSURO) by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) preventing any sales of Berkey water filter system products. The reason for the stop sale order alleges that “Berkey water filter systems were unregistered, misbranded pesticides,” according to an EPA Inspector.
According to the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), “a pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest, or intended for use as a plant regulator, defoliant, or desiccant, or any nitrogen stabilizer.”
Due to claims that Berkey treats living microorganisms like bacteria, a pest, this water filter should be, per FIFRA definition, categorized as a pesticide or pesticide device.
In May of 2022, the EPA communicated with NMCL that Berkeys need to be registered as a pesticide device. In an EPA Close Out letter, “Under FIFRA section 7, all pesticide devices sold or distributed in the United States must be produced in a registered establishment. A pesticide device is defined as any instrument or contrivance that is intended for trapping, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest or any other form of plant or animal life.”
NMCL complied, obtained an EPA-issued Establishment Number and began posting the number on the outside of the box for each Berkey filtration system that they manufactured. EPA staff, told NMCL that these actions did not satisfy FIFRA regulations. All previous discussions and correspondence with the EPA were based upon a long-time joint understanding that Black Berkey elements were “pesticide devices” and were not “pesticides,” making them exempt from registration. At no point did an inspector explain why the EPA, which has been aware of Berkey products for 25 years, never required any sort of registration until 2022.
During an unannounced, unscheduled inspection of JEI facilities on November 22, 2022, an EPA inspector told JEI “that NMCL mentions that their filters remove viruses and that the EPA is cracking down on virus claims because of COVID-19,” and “that the EPA had stepped up its enforcement efforts, particularly in regard to anti-microbial devices.”
In mid-January of 2023, JEI in an effort to adhere to the EPA’s demands, decided to remove all references and statements that could be construed to indicate that the filters could remove waterborne pathogens, or pests. Spending hundreds of hours to delete content on websites, social media accounts, and packaging.
Nearly a year later, the SSURO has still not been lifted and business has been significantly impacted. Employees had to be laid off, services had to be ceased, and third-party partnerships had to be paused, if not all together ended.