Article Solutions for Cities By Robert Mungerro Sanchez

Fire sprinkler systems can harm the environment and people. EcoSmart Filters can fix that

Robert Mungerro Sanchez is the founder of Ecosmart Filtration Inc. and Fire Prevention Services, as well as the inventor of the EcoSmart Filter. He can be reached at


In California, almost every building must have a fire sprinkler system. As water stagnates in those systems, pipe alloys such as lead, cadmium, mercury, chromium, and nickel seep into the water. Those alloys are not just dangerous for fish and wildlife when illegally dumped into storm drains: They can also be dangerous for humans.

Fire sprinkler contractors and in-house maintenance personnel must drain and discharge this rancid water regularly as a part of routine (and legally required) testing and maintenance. Many cities throughout California also prohibit non-stormwater discharges under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. For instance, in San Diego, those caught illegally discharging fire sprinkler water can see fines of up to $10,000 per day per incident.

Even so, many sprinkler contractors and maintenance personnel illegally discharge water. Based on 2018 numbers from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about 100 gallons of polluted water from commercial fire sprinkler systems per building is illegally discharged annually in California. That’s enough to fill roughly 21 million Olympic-sized swimming pools. This does not include other sources, like buildings with multiple risers, military bases, or buildings built after 2018.

Now there’s a better solution for cities, contractors, and building owners

It’s a challenge that I understand all too well. I’m a state-licensed fire protection contractor and my company, Fire Prevention Services, installs, inspects, and tests commercial sprinkler systems. After seeing this problem up close, I invented a filtration system that helps contractors and maintenance personnel cost-effectively adhere to city ordinances while protecting the environment: the EcoSmart Filter.

My priority, other than environmental protection, was making the system affordable. Affordability — or lack thereof — is one of the reasons many contractors and maintenance personnel illicitly discharge contaminated water. They need to truck the water off the premises or use a shop vac to suck up the water and dispose of it at a recycling facility.

The EcoSmart system is a culmination of a lengthy and precise engineering program. We considered multiple engineering solutions and five prototypes made from polished and passivated 304 stainless steel rated for 150 psi. This keeps the filter from corroding while removing all contaminants. Each prototype was scrutinized and tested in field facilities before a final design was cast.

EcoSmart Filters simply attach to commercial sprinkler systems. They capture sediment from sprinkler systems in a basket strainer and sequester all heavy metals and bacteria into a hybrid filter. Once filtered, the water can then be discharged onto open surface areas, where it can safely flow into storm drains and receiving waters without causing environmental damage.

Final testing procedures included capturing before and after samples of water from sprinkler systems and sending them out to three EPA-approved testing labs and one microbiological analysis company. Final reports from all four labs confirmed that water filtered through the EcoSmart Filter is clear of pollutants and below EPA detection limits.

The final design is now out in the world as engineered mobile and permanent filtration systems. Each filter offers various options for building owners, fire protection contractors, and maintenance personnel depending on their needs. These filters give building owners and other fire protection contractors viable and affordable options that protect the environment, avoid fines, and follow the Best Management Practice Manual produced by Cal Fire and the California Water Resource Board.

I like to call it a win-win-win for everyone.

To see EcoSmart Filters in action, visit Independent experts tested EcoSmart Filters at Pat-Chem Laboratories Moorpark (California), Envirotek Laboratories, Inc. Bensalem (Pennsylvania), Chemtek Environmental Laboratories (California), and Legend Technical Services Inc. (Arizona). The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the California Water Quality Control Board reviewed a draft version of this article and videos of the filter in action.