By Wes Jeanblanc
For more than 40 years third party testing has played an important role in the point-of-use/point-of-entry (POU/POE) water quality improvement industry. Traditionally, manufacturers have voluntarily submitted their products to third party testing laboratories like the Water Quality Association (WQA) and NSF International to seek a competitive edge in the marketplace, as well as compliance with various state health codes and independent listing agencies.
Labs are typically chosen based on the industry testing standards they follow, as well as the type of contaminant reduction claim being sought. Aesthetic contaminant reduction claims have usually been validated to the WQA standards, while health-related contaminant reduction claims have been certified using the ANSI/NSF standards under procedures certified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). In some cases, if a manufacturer wanted to have a product validated to a WQA and the corresponding ANSI/NSF standard, the product would be sent to multiple laboratories.
Unfortunately, given the differing testing conditions and criteria of the WQA and ANSI/NSF industry standards, it was possible that a unit would pass one standard and fail the other—even though the test results might be identical! For example, WQA S-200 (see Overview) requires at least 97 percent reduction of chlorine while ANSI/NSF 42 allows 75 percent reduction.
The variety of standards and testing agencies has been, at times, costly, time consuming and confusing to industry members, regulators and consumers alike. So, in response to the demands of association membership, some exciting new changes are in progress at the WQA laboratory.
Harmonization has been a goal between WQA and ANSI/NSF product testing standards for several years now. The most recent and significant standard to undergo this process was WQA S-100/NSF 44 for water softeners.
Initially, ANSI/NSF 44 and WQA S-100 were two very different standards. WQA S-100 had a softener efficiency rating, while ANSI/NSF 44 did not. ANSI/NSF 44 allowed capacity claims only for tested units, while WQA S-100 allowed manufacturers to validate a range of models using calculated results based on the test performance of representative and similarly sized systems. Harmonization has raised the bar for water softener performance requirements by adding new tests for such important characteristics as brine system accuracy, brine rinse effectiveness and water consumption during regeneration. Harmonization has created a uniform set of requirements for performance, structural integrity and product literature—including promotional information, installation instructions, the pre-purchase performance data sheet and the data plate attached to the unit.
Through a great deal of hard work and determination, ANSI/NSF 44-1998 became a first attempt at unifying the two standards. Subsequently, WQA S-100-98 was issued as a small list of exceptions to ANSI/NSF 44-1998. The release of ANSI/NSF 44-1999 incorporated many of the suggested revisions listed in WQA S-100-98, bringing the two standards even closer together.
Now, with the coming revision to ANSI/NSF 44, it’s quite possible the only remaining difference between the two standards will be the materials safety section. The difference between the two specific materials safety sections is that ANSI/NSF Standard 44 requires an extraction test of each completed water softener, while WQA S-100 allows the option of either an extraction test for the full unit or FDA Title 21 CFR (Code of Federal Regulations) compliance of the individual components. In the future, this lone difference may be resolved as support for component-based extraction testing, similar to ANSI/NSF 61, continues to grow.
Health effects & the Gold Seal
While the WQA Gold Seal program has traditionally applied to aesthetic claims such as hardness and chlorine reduction, increased consumer awareness—as well as an increase in the number of states requiring third party validation of health benefit-based claims—has lead to an increase in requests for health effect contaminant reduction testing. In response to these requests, the Gold Seal program has been expanded to include health-effect-related product performance claims made under the ANSI/NSF standards.
The WQA lab is in the process of upgrading its facilities to meet the demands of these new fields of testing. The laboratory has recently purchased a new gas chromatograph (GC) and atomic absorption (AA) spectrophotometer. The GC will be used to determine concentrations of total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) for product validations under ANSI/NSF standards 53, 58 and 62. The AA will be used to determine concentrations of arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, copper, iron, lead, manganese, selenium and sodium under ANSI/NSF standards 53, 58 and 62.
In some states, including California and Iowa, laboratories must be approved by the state environmental laboratory accreditation program before conducting drinking water treatment unit testing for health-effect-based contaminant reduction. In order to be certified by a state, the laboratory must first create and implement a formal quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) system describing and documenting all laboratory operations. Next, the laboratory must develop and validate test methods for each individual health-related contaminant. Once the methods are validated, unknown samples for each contaminant must be analyzed as a test of the laboratory’s analytical capability. If the results of the unknown samples are acceptable, then the state sends an auditor to the laboratory to review the facility. When all stages of the process have been completed to the state’s satisfaction, the laboratory becomes certified.
In December 1999, after almost a full year of work, the WQA lab submitted an application to the state of California for the analysis of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead and selenium. The next contaminants to be submitted will include barium, turbidity and TTHMs. Also, in the near future, the laboratory will be submitting an application to the state of Iowa for these same contaminants.
Currently, the laboratory test benches are being upgraded for maximum efficiency while testing under the ANSI/NSF standards. The water softener testing benches have been completely renovated for the newly harmonized ANSI/NSF Standard 44. The new water filter, reverse osmosis (RO) and distiller benches are now being designed to comport with ANSI/NSF standards 42, 53, 58 and 62.
In the interim, health effects testing requests under ANSI/NSF standards 53, 58 and 62 are being handled by laboratories that have met requirements of the WQA’s subcontract laboratory program. The requirements of this program include demonstrated compliance with ISO/IEC Guide 25 (guidelines from the International Standardization Organization and the International Electrochemical Commission on creating a documented laboratory quality system), an on-site audit of both the quality system and testing facilities by the WQA lab quality assurance officer, and periodic data verification studies. If product testing is to be performed for compliance with a particular state health code, then the subcontracting laboratory must also provide proof of accreditation with the appropriate state agency.
Perhaps the most exciting new opportunity created by harmonization of ANSI/NSF and WQA standards, the WQA lab’s impending state certification in California, and the WQA subcontract laboratory program is the possibility of one-stop certification shopping. The WQA lab is currently working with NSF to create a program in which product testing data could be transferred between the two testing organizations.
The potential benefits of a reciprocal agreement between the two would be tremendous: a manufacturer could send a unit to one testing agency to earn both the Gold Seal and an NSF listing. This would greatly reduce both the time and cost associated with testing, as only one set of test results would be required to satisfy both programs.
Interest in the WQA laboratory and customer satisfaction at the laboratory-level are at an all time high. The amount of product testing in the WQA lab has doubled during the past two years. In 1999, manufacturers used the WQA Gold Seal program to substantiate their reduction claims and to obtain regulatory and consumer acceptance of their products at double the rate prior to 1998.
There are no signs of slowing down for 2000. A willingness to adapt to changing industry needs and demands while providing the highest integrity test results and product performance validation is what the WQA lab offers—a good value that’s truly growing stronger each year.
About the author
Wes Jeanblanc is the quality assurance officer for the WQA laboratory in Lisle, Ill. His bachelor’s degree in chemistry is from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and he holds WQA’s highest certification, Certified Water Specialist, Level 6. Before joining the WQA in 1998, Jeanblanc worked in both research and development and quality assurance for Abbott Laboratories, a Chicago-based pharmaceutical company. For more information, call lab supervisor Tom Palkon or technical director Joe Harrison at (630) 505-0160 or (630) 505-9637 (fax).
Gold Seal testing is available for water softeners, reverse osmosis systems, distillation units and filters. All standards utilize these basic validation assessments:
- Product performance—Testing measures contaminant reduction capabilities over the life of the water treatment product
- Structural integrity—Testing measures durability under pressurization beyond the
usual demands of home water systems and simulates 10 years of normal use.
- Materials safety assurance—Confirms nothing harmful will be added to the water.
- Literature reviews—Ensures the WQA’s Code of Ethics standards in product advertising, labeling and installation instructions are followed.
Consumers should look for the Gold Seal and one or more of these:
WQA S-100: Household and Commercial Water Softeners
WQA S-200: Household and Commercial Water Filters (In-Line)
WQA S-300: Point-of-Use Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Systems
WQA S-400: Point-of-Use Distillation Drinking Water Systems
ANSI/NSF 42: Drinking Water Treatment Units, Aesthetic Effects*
ANSI/NSF 44: Residential Cation Exchange Water Softeners*
ANSI/NSF 53: Drinking Water Treatment Units, Health Effects*
ANSI/NSF 55: Ultraviolet Microbiological Water Treatment Systems*
ANSI/NSF 58: Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Treatment Systems*
ANSI/NSF 62: Drinking Water Distillation Systems*