By Kenneth E. Schaeffer

Summary: Manufacturers, distributors, buyers or users of activated carbon media or products have undoubtedly seen various terms and test methods used to specify activated carbon, the acronym ASTM and a test number listed as a standard reference, such as Iodine number 900 minimum per ASTM D 4607. ASTM activated carbon standards are an important tool that allows manufacturers to have quality control test standards for production purposes and permits end-users to compare activated carbon products using properties such as hardness, ash, activity, density, moisture, etc., that offer implications for their application or use. This article reviews how the ASTM Committee on Activated Carbon, D-28, is structured and such standards are developed.

ASTM International, formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials, was organized in 1898 and is a not-for-profit organization that provides a forum for the development and publication of standards for materials, products, systems and services.

An independent view
Volunteers from academia, manufacturers, producers, consumers and governmental agencies work under the guidance of ASTM staffers in technical committees to produce global standards that serve as documents for manufacturing, procurement and regulatory activities. About 75 percent of ASTM’s income comes from the sale of publications and standards produced by the committees, 15 percent from training courses and technical publications, and the other 10 percent comes from annual dues and administrative fees. There are approximately 130 technical committees staffed by over 30,000 volunteer members from more than 100 countries around the world.

ASTM committees are not static—they merge, change, disband and evolve as technology and material changes occur. Technical committees can have many subcommittees related to the same type material such as the 11 subcommittees under A01 that cover various types of ferrous metals and properties of metals.

ASTM doesn’t have any research or laboratory facilities of its own and depends on interested stakeholders and committee member companies to perform quality and analytical testing required to foster new test standards. Each ASTM committee is supported by a designated ASTM staff support person that provides administrative assistance to committee members. ASTM support personnel ensure ASTM procedures and policies are followed; and ASTM assists in meeting planning, public relations, editorial assistance, and computer services.

ASTM technical committees
There are a wide variety of products for which ASTM provides direction and guidance. Committees range from A01—“Steel, Stainless Steel and Related Alloys”—to T03—“Temporary Committee on Light Sport Aircraft.” For a full listing, go to and click on “Technical Committees” in the left-hand column. You’ll be able to review the committees by designation or alphabetical listing, as well as see a broader overview of the standards development process described above. Another relevant committee to the water quality improvement industry is ASTM Committee D19 on Water (the subject of a future WC&P article), which can be found near the bottom of this committee listing. But the main focus of this article is the Committee on Activated Carbon, D-28.

Activated carbon committee
This committee was formed in 1962 and currently has over 30 members that are responsible for development of definitions and terms and nomenclature, test methods for activated carbon as well as promotion of research in the activated carbon field. Committee members are made up of representatives from activated carbon manufacturers, distributors, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), quality control (QC) equipment manufactures, end-users and academia.

D-28 is structured into five subcommittees:

  • D28.02–Liquid Phase Evaluation
  • D28.03–Nomenclature & Editorial
  • D28.04–Gas Phase Evaluation
  • D28.90–Executive
  • D28.92–Long Range Planning

Committee positions include chairman, vice chairman, recording secretary, membership secretary as well as subcommittee chairmen. The Committee on Activated Carbon meets twice a year during ASTM committee week, usually March and October, and reviews current activated carbon standards for renewal (standards are reviewed every five years). New standards evolve from end-user input or manufacturing quality control concerns. Test methods are usually tested and verified by a member manufacturer or user quality control labs in a “round-robin” type procedure that validates the proposed test method. All standard ballot actions undergo a rigorous review process within the subcommittee, main committee and society level before approval. Any negative ballots for a proposed standard must be addressed before a standard is authorized by the committee.

Interested persons and potential members are welcome to attend Committee D-28 meetings; the next scheduled meeting is in October 2002 in Norfolk, Va. The D-28 Committee can be contacted online at

Existing & proposed standards
For current ASTM activated carbon standards, guides and practices, see Table 1. New standards under consideration and review include—guide for carbon reactivation, guide for nitrogen isotherm method, granular activated carbon pressure drop test method, methylene blue test method, molasses number test method and chlorine removal test method.

ASTM Standards are not a “Seal of Approval” such as with the NSF® or UL® marks. ASTM develops and distributes the standards but the Society does not verify that products are tested according to the standard. Many manufacturers, however, indicate that a product has been tested in accordance with ASTM standards by listing such information on the product specification sheet or label.

Copies of the ASTM International Activated Carbon Standards (stock Number ACTCARBON) are available from ASTM for a fee.

D-28 reviews and reissues existing standards and they also explore possible new standards as new or modified activated carbon products are produced. Activated carbon products or materials such as catalytic activated carbon, activated carbon cloth and activated carbon impregnated paper may require specific ASTM test standards in the future.

Other carbon standards
While many of the ASTM Activated Carbon Standards are used for production QC purposes and/or activated carbon comparisons and purchasing specifications, other standards and certifications are also utilized by the industry. Many readers might be familiar with the AWWA (American Water Works Association) activated carbon standards for powdered activated carbon (PAC), ANSI/AWWA B600-96, granular activated carbon (GAC), (ANSI/AWWA B604-96), and reactivation of GAC (ANSI/AWWA B605-99) for municipal drinking water. There are also other activated carbon standards and certifications such as the FDA Codex from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for food grade applications, U.S. Pharmacopoeia (USP) for pharmaceutical grade applications, NIOSH guidelines for respirator applications and Underwriters Laboratories (UL), NSF International, and even Kosher standards, as well as other international standards such as JIS in Japan and CEFIC in Europe.

While not the only standard, certification and guidance for activated carbon products and their use, ASTM provides a third party, peer review development process for ensuring correct usage and application of such products for a variety of goals, including water quality improvement. This offers a unique way for those more narrowly focused on activated carbon for water treatment to participate in advances of the guidelines for production, testing, regulation and use of their products to improve their customers’ quality of life.

About the author
Kenneth E. Schaeffer has a master’s degree in environmental science from the University of Texas at Dallas and has been in the activated carbon industry for over 20 years. He’s president of Carbon Resources, LLC, a supplier of activated carbon products, equipment and services in Oceanside, Calif. He’s also vice chairman of the ASTM Committee on Activated Carbon, D-28. Schaeffer can be reached at (760) 630-5724 or email: [email protected]


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