Question: We were referred to your magazine as a source for water information and do hope you can help! Our family just relocated to Nevada and we find the tap water horrendous compared to what we were accustomed to in New Jersey. Apparently this is what people mean when they refer to hard water—metallic tasting, surface spotting and all. Neighbors advised that we’d be best off with a reverse osmosis (RO) system and we began investigating such a purchase. We’re confused by the inconsistencies in guarantees and warranties. Some units state they remove selenium, for example, yet others don’t even mention that substance. Other units say they remove cadmium; still others do not. In short, we’re at a loss as to how to comparison shop when there seem to be no universal standards. What do these labels mean, and why are they all referring to different substances? Any help you can offer will be most appreciated!
Stefanie and Steven Miller
Answer: Your question is not unique to homeowners, as dealers themselves often need clarification on exactly the same issues. First and foremost, according to Hal Voznick of Vertex Water Products, Montclaire, Calif., a standard RO system removes 95% of all dissolved minerals. Many residential units are certified by the WQA as doing precisely that or labeled as having met the ANSI standard: California law states that no manufacturer may claim to remove a specific contaminant—selenium, for example—without outside tests proving the actual capabilities of that particular system when handling that particular substance. Other states have similar statutes. Third-party testing services are available from many respected labs, notably the WQA, NSF and UL. There are lots of potential contaminants, and each requires an individual test, which is both time consuming and expensive.
As a result, most manufacturers pick and choose which testing to perform based on their geographic sales area. If there is a known contaminant in the region—copper, for example, is common in the southwest—the manufacturer will purchase testing for that substance to have the marketing advantage of being able to claim on the unit itself that it has been proved to effectively and efficiently reduce copper. If there is no known radium in the area where this RO system is retailed, the manufacturer has little incentive to engage in the testing for that particular substance.
The lack of a testing label regarding a particular substance doesn’t mean the RO system doesn’t remove that substance—it means the manufacturer has not had its performance in regard to that particular substance independently verified through lab testing. Dealers and other water professionals will know what local conditions are, and the municipal water authorities usually can provide many informative pamphlets for consumers, who can then comparison shop the units with more expertise.