By Carlos David Mongollón

A Solution for Materials Safety
While the actual new millenium may be a year away, chronologically and for all practical purposes, the beginning of this month is the date that’ll be celebrated—and if you’re reading this, the world didn’t fall apart as some were predicting.

Meanwhile, those in the POU/POE water treatment equipment industry have a major success to celebrate in the agreement by NSF International’s joint committees on Drinking Water Additives (DWA) and Drinking Water Treatment Units (DWTU) to use Standard 61 rules as an option for materials safety compliance. The DWA committee approved it Sept. 23; the DWTU committee Nov. 17. Acceptance means a product’s components can be assembled into a finished product with minimal extra testing fees.

Full implications are yet to be felt, however, as a task group still has to work out details of rewriting sections of both the DWTU standards and Standard 61 to include appropriate language to make it so. But, since materials safety was the final obstacle, the agreement all but caps a five-year-plus effort to harmonize ANSI/NSF and Water Quality Association standards.

“It was the last major hurdle I see toward getting basically every major thing we wanted into the NSF standards and clears the way for NSF and everyone else, from WQA and Spectrum Labs and the whole industry to use one set of rules,” said Joe Harrison, WQA technical director. “That means retiring WQA’s Gold Seal program.”

Previously, WQA standards used FDA Title 21 CFR, a federal regulation against which manufacturers guaranteed compliance for materials safety, to ensure components didn’t impart any contaminants into water above national drinking water standards. The DWTU standards, however, required whole system extraction testing of complete assembled units that created another level of testing and expense for compliance—discouraging WQA’s goal announced in 1993 for universal certification of the industry’s products. Standard 61 involves a list of compliant components that a manufacturer can choose from (with certain caveats measuring the additive effect of each component) that have undergone extraction testing paid for by the individual component manufacturer to assemble a product and be assured it will be safe for consumers.

“And most importantly, I think, it puts the responsibility for toxicology assessment, materials formulation and disclosures, and extraction testing on the shoulders of the people making the materials and components rather than those buying and using them to put together a product,” Harrison said.

Putting that burden on DWTU manufacturers and assemblers is unreasonable since their asking resin or plastics extruders, for instance, to disclose chemical formulations is akin to asking Coke or Pepsi for what goes into their particular brand. “It’s a proprietary thing they don’t disclose freely,” he added and, as a result less than 50 percent of softeners, for instance, have no certification. “That’s not to say they’re not good, effective, safe products. It’s just that people making them see the certification process as too onerous, time-consuming or expensive to participate.”

Companies represented at the DWTU Joint Committee meeting included EcoWater, New Aqua, Fleck Controls, Osmonics/Autotrol, CUNO/Water Factory Systems, Robert B. Hill Co. and Hellenbrand Industries. Each said they were more likely to seek certification with Standard 61 as an option. Over 20 people volunteered to be on the task group, which will need at least a year to finalize new language.

Some like CUNO’s Tom Gutman felt Standard 61 would be a better measure of materials safety as it relies less on a manufacturer’s assurance and more on documented evidence of component safety.

“The concept that’s employed in (Standard) 61 is that you can bring to market a device that’s made from previously approved/reviewed materials and, if you need to substitute any—say a manufacturer or supplier goes out of business,” Gutman said, “you can do that without having necessarily to do a new test, but still with the absolute assurance NSF will review the sum total contributions from all constituent parts to ensure the device doesn’t contribute any contaminant in excess of an acceptable level.”

That’s pretty good news to ring in the New Year with, eh?


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