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Our first member interview of 2020 sets the tone for a refreshing and healthy start to the New Year. Bill Cooper of Blue Ribbon Water, a local water purification company, talks about how he and business partner Mary Gene Tuthill Clavin started Blue Ribbon Water out of concern for a clean water supply into their homes. Learn more about this whole-house water purification business by reading the interview below.

Q: Is Blue Ribbon Water based in Newburyport? Are there other locations? How is business going for you?

A: Blue Ribbon Water, Inc is based in Newburyport. The founders have been part of the Newburyport community for over 35 years. One founder grew up here. We believe we have sold more filters in Newburyport area than any other company. We are now expanding to other communities with similar water concerns.

Q: Tell me a bit about why you got into the water business? How did it all start?

A: Our two families have been friends for many years. Our shared interest in the community, health and building a sustainable business brought us together on this venture.

Mary Gene is a lifelong fitness enthusiast with a deep interest in health and wellness. When she returned to live in the area with her young family, she reacted strongly to the odd taste and presentation of the tap water. She was concerned about what they were drinking and cooking with and of course, her family’s health. She knew there were necessary chemicals added to their water supply, and that other contaminants make their way into their water, but mostly, they wanted a clean water supply for their home. They began filtering their water in 1999. The impetus to start Blue Ribbon Water was an absence of reliable, professional service to maintain their system and change their filters on time. They thought of their water filtration system as one of the most important utilities in the house – keeping the drinking, cooking and bathing water clean, and it extends the life of appliances, bath fixtures, clothing, etc.

Q: How does your filtration system work? Is there anything unique about your setup that differs from other filtration systems?

A: Our filters are installed where the water line enters the home. Blue Ribbon Water plumbers install the system in about 3 hours. We address issues with municipal water for homeowners and business owners. The system includes one housing unit and several filters for clients to choose from. A pre-filter is installed if necessary. Recommendations for filters are based on the water quality concerns of each city or town, business or resident need. We research water reports from Water Districts, like Newburyport, to understand where the water comes from, how it is treated and prepared for distribution. We also look at how it measures up to current EPA guidelines. A key differentiator for us is that we service our filtration systems and change the filters at predetermined intervals.

It is important to know about our water, to understand how our filters help homeowners and businesses. Our water contains silt, sediment and particles that get picked up in the pipes along its journey to your home. This can stain your clothes, clog your fixtures and contribute to overall less healthy water. Additionally, your water is treated with disinfectants (specifically chlorine) to kill bacteria and microbes. This has a couple of risks; first the chlorine must work along the entire path to your home to be effective. Sometimes you end up with too much chlorine at your home, sometimes not enough. Your skin absorbs over 3X the amount of chlorine than drinking it, so is quite toxic to your skin and hair. Chlorine in the water is also known for breaking down rubber gaskets in appliances, requiring them to be replaced prematurely. It is also what causes the poor taste and smell.

The byproduct of the chlorination process is a contaminant called Trihalomethanes (TTHMs), which cause adverse health effects. Many link it to cancer. The EPA sets a legal limit of 80 parts per billion. Newburyport exceeded that legal limit on several occasions this past year.

The filter we recommend for Newburyport absorbs the chlorine, giving the water a clean, fresh taste, and eliminates the harmful chlorine. It also eliminates 90% of TTHMs and >99.9% of Cyst and Giardia. (just in case the chlorine concentration dissipates before it reaches your home).

Q: Who is your ideal customer? Is it where they source their water, a geographical location, well or city-sourced customers? Who needs your services?

A: Our ideal customer is a resident or business who wants great tasting, clean water throughout the home or organization AND wants to curb the use of plastic water bottles. So, someone who is concerned about health, wellness and the earth.

We believe everyone should have a whole-house filter. Putting a high quality filter at the point of entry into your home is the only way to take full control over the quality of water you drink, bathe in and cook with.

Our service plans remove the concern about filter changes.

Q: Do you service residents where their water has been affected by the Merrimac River pollution?

A: Yes. There are over a half million people along the Merrimack River who depend directly on the water from the river. Newburyport sources its water from the Artichoke reservoir, which sits very close to the Merrimack River aquifers.

A recent decision by the state and federal EPA, to let a NH company dump waste-water laced with PFOA/PFAS into the Merrimack highlights the issue. Although the decision was reversed, PFOA/PFAS are “forever” chemicals and remain in the water and ground. It is a glowing example of the risks that are out of our control when it comes to water contamination.

Q: What is the most interesting aspect about your business that many people might not know?

A: Our mission is to bring clean, healthier water to every faucet through your home, restaurant or business, while encouraging a cleaner environment by curbing the use of single use plastics. We’re promoting a behavior change that will help individuals and the climate.

Blue Ribbon Water is the only company we are aware of that is singularly focused on installing whole-house filters for municipal water customers. We are a full service company – from water research and filter selection to installation and ongoing maintenance and filter changes.

Q: Do you have a success story that you’d like to share with the membership?

A: We have several members of one family who all received whole-house water filtration systems as holiday gifts. The matriarch has agreed to pay for filter changes each year as a gift to family members. She is investing in the health of her family, her home and appliances, and doing what she can to help our climate crisis.

We have 100% satisfied customers. All have commented about the difference they experience with the taste, sediment removal and feeling of their skin and hair.

Q: What advice would you give to people about their water?

A: Three points:

  1. Our water quality is not getting any better. Our water sources are under siege, with new threats are being uncovered and reported on almost weekly. EPA regulations are dated, and do not regulate many contaminants that should be.
  2. Filtering drinking water from a refrigerator or point of use solves only a small part of the health risks. And it’s hard to keep up with frequent changes. People absorb chlorine and contaminants through skin and inhale water vapors at a much higher rate in the shower or bath than through drinking.
  3. Use of bottled water is by far the most expensive solution for the individual, and has an extremely high carbon footprint. Production of plastic bottles. Transportation of plastic bottles.  And plastic water bottles last 450 in our oceans and landfills. Plastic pollution is so prevalent that we are actually eating microplastic in our fish and food.

Q: Are you from Newburyport or the surrounding area originally?

A: I have lived in Newbury for over 35 years, and the other co-founder, Mary Gene Tuthill Clavin grew up in Newburyport.

Q: What is your favorite thing to do in Newburyport?

A: Where to begin?

  • Dining at awesome restaurants
  • Boating, beaches and water sports
  • Being part of a close community

Q: Do you have any special talent(s)?

A: My personal interests include photography and music. In college, I co-founded the concert committee that still exists today. I am an avid skier, and was involved in ski racing for many years.

Mary Gene is a longtime runner, former fitness trainer, loves to paint and has started several businesses. She’s the co-founder of Newburyport Junior Clippers Special Olympics and advocate for people with intellectual disabilities.

Q: What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?

A: Professionally, I was part of the group that built HP’s consumer / big box retail business, helping grow it to over $16B within 10 years.

For Mary Gene, her biggest personal accomplishment has been raising her 3 daughters who are terrific people and supporting a very special organization, Melmark New England, a school for children with autism and neurological disorders.

Q: Besides owning a business, how else are you involved in the community?

A: Both Mary Gene and I have been active in the community for a long time. I was a member of the Finance Committee and Chairman of the Capital Planning Committee in Newbury for almost 10 years. Mary Gene co-founded Newburyport Junior Clippers, a recognized group of Special Olympics of Massachusetts; involved at Immaculate Conception Church designing religious education for children and young adults with special needs and a member of the Newburyport Garden Club.

Q: What are the business’ goals for the future?

A: Our goal is to expand our commitment to healthy living and a clean planet. Our contribution as a business is to provide means to curb the use of plastic bottles by providing healthy, great tasting water in the home, business or restaurant. Our filtration systems put you in control of the quality of your water and personal health. And of course, your water will taste great!           

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