By Jason Bourque

The regulatory landscape in Canada is changing. To many, the draft of a proposed new drinking water treatment system standard by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA B483) may seem like an abrupt occurrence. In reality, the events that led up to the March 21st public review of the standard (available on CSA’s website www.csa.ca) have been percolating for years.

Where it started
The early days of this standard go back to another significant Canadian regulatory move. In the late 90s, a controversial legislation titled ‘Bill C-14’ was facing the Canadian water treatment industry. The bill was viewed by many in our industry as extreme and unnecessary. Its scope was so vast that ultimately the voice of the POU/POE water treatment industry in Canada—the Canadian Water Quality Association (CWQA)—partnered with the Canadian Institute of Plumbing and Heating, and the Canadian Copper & Brass Development Association to create what was known as the Safe Drinking Water Coalition. Together, the associations pooled their resources and invested significant funds and energy in fighting the unruly legislation. Thankfully for our industry, the coalition prevailed.

When Bill C-14 died on the order paper, many thought it was over. However, like most popular horror movies, it appears to have a sequel; something from the bill survived and came back in a different form. Now, Canada is in another state of fear as we face the monster that threatens our industry.

My illustration is an extreme one. I don’t believe the intent of CSA B483 was ever to create a monster. In truth, regulatory authorities were simply trying to grasp the good that existed in Bill C-14 and bring forward a respectable standard into this country. A standard that would nobly ensure drinking water treatment devices were safe for the public.

Where we stand today
So why does it seem so scary all of a sudden? Perhaps because the draft standard that came out for public review in March far exceeds what our industry felt was necessary. I believe most thought that the standard would be in line with current NSF standards, but the draft goes beyond this to include mechanical testing requirements.

To provide some background, the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) is a not-for-profit, membership-based association serving industry, government and consumers in Canada and the global marketplace. CSA Technical Committees use what they refer to as a ‘balanced matrix.’ This means that every draft standard produced must involve four categories of individuals covering producer interest, general interest, user interest and regulatory authority. There are minimum and maximum numbers of individuals who can represent each category, but the Technical Committee is relatively equally split among the four different interest groups. Normally, this process works flawlessly, ensuring that all stakeholders have an equal voice in the process.

Structural problems
The evolution of a well-intended idea into a scary monster of a regulation is, in my opinion, the result of how the CSA B483 Technical Committee is structured.

CSA B483 is unique in the respect that those of us who work in the POU/POE field day in and day out are also sharing the producer interest category with, say, faucet manufacturers whose POU/POE arm is a relatively insignificant portion of their business. Kitchen faucet manufacturers have always had their product raised to a higher bar than faucets for POU devices. This is likely based on simple usage patterns. Comparing the two types of faucets is like comparing apples and oranges.

The kitchen faucet manufacturers’ presence on the committee brings not only their years of experience developing standards, but also a set of testing procedures and thoughts on usage patterns that are akin to kitchen faucets. This is in sharp contrast to our own industry, which has never had to sit at the standards development table at CSA before, nor have we had the size of market to justify usage pattern studies that back up our theory that POU taps aren’t used as often as a kitchen faucet. So, the producer interests’ one-quarter voice at the table is skewed by kitchen faucet manufactures who have been successful at proposing testing requirements that are in their comfort zone.

The corrosion and adhesion testing, on-off cycle testing and swing spout testing for faucets are only one aspect of the CSA B483 draft. As it currently reads:

  • all diverters and supply saddle valves will undergo on-off cycle testing
  • 500 psi burst tests will be applied to line fittings
  • softeners will undergo safety float evaluation
  • requirements have been added for hose and threaded connections, electrical circuits and solenoid valves
  • even refrigerator filters may be covered!

The regulators’ stance
Another arm of the Technical Committee consists of regulators. Their desire is to ensure public safety and make it easy to identify and approve product that is being sold and installed in this country. Regulators in Canada are under a lot of pressure, especially when it comes to water issues. The tragic circumstances that led to water-related deaths in both Walkerton, Ontario and North Battleford, Saskatchewan have raised both public awareness and fear with respect to one of the nation’s most trusted resources. Although those instances had nothing to do with POU/POE devices, there has been an onus added to regulators across this country to find solutions to any potential future problems that may stem from water—and to do so quickly. It has gone so far that the province of Quebec is considering making it illegal to sell any water treatment device that isn’t certified to an existing standard.

Work to be done
Reality check: the pressures regulators face will not go away. Nor will this draft standard.

The Canadian Water Quality Association recognizes this fact and has been working to do what it realistically can: make its members aware of the draft standard’s contents and issues and then educate everyone involved on how the standard—if it is not altered—will change the face of our industry. Our goal is to minimize the damage that could happen to the industry.

The degree of change is the unknown factor in the equation. Until it is cast in stone, no one knows what the final cost of having a product meet the standard will honestly be. The estimates are in the range of $4,000 to $10,000 in testing per product. Given the limited market of some of these devices, one has to wonder how much product will be pulled from the market if such tests become obligatory? Is the standard actually going to put consumers in a position of not being able to afford water treatment products? If traditionally affordable treatment devices become luxury items, does that increase the potential risk of illness among people who cannot afford them?

It seems that a well-intended standard has gone sour somewhere.

But there is hope. CWQA held a Technical Forum in Toronto on April 27 and 28. Invited to the session were some of the best technical minds in the business. They hammered out many of the key issues that each and every one of us touched by this industry should be writing about in our letters to CSA. The support of the industry will have to prove itself via the written word by manufacturers, dealers and allied friends. On May 21st, CSA will close the door to public comment and the Technical Committee will go back into a room where our responses will be reviewed. If they are convincing enough, the draft will change. If we are not convincing enough, the North American water treatment industry will look much different about a year from now when the standard has finished its internal editing process and is released to the public.

Potential effect on U.S. products
Should Americans be worried about this Canadian standard? You bet! If it goes through unaltered, it sets a disturbing precedent. As I walked the aisles at this year’s Aquatech show in Chicago, I came to the realization that the vast majority of product on the market is not currently certified by NSF, UL, WQA or any other Standards Council of Canada-accredited certifier. CSA B483 currently affects a limited range of product. But who is to say it won’t lay the ground work for chemical feed systems, pH neutralizers, tannin filters, anion exchange units for arsenic, etc., to have their own standards developed? After all, it appears that the ultimate goal is to have anything that touches drinking water certified. That was, as you may remember if you were following the events of the late 90s, the essence of bill C-14.

Lessons learned
CSA reminds us that the standard, once developed, is only a voluntary one. This statement is true, until a regulator decides to adopt it as part of their provincial/territorial plumbing code. Regulatory authorities need a solution to their problem and CSA B483 is the closest they are going to see in the next few years. The chances of it not being adopted are slim to none. (Remember, regulators are the ones who asked for it in the first place!)

CSA also reminds us that the standard is a living document that can be amended and altered with time. In theory this is reassuring; but in reality, the only reasons to change the standard, once published, would be if there were major problems with its interpretation and use in the industry—and by then the damage to us would likely be irreversible.

For the product that remains in the market post-regulatory adoption, manufacturers will likely be spreading the cost of testing across all product lines, across all markets. That means water treatment product in the U.S. market may well rise in price. By how much, no one knows. But as a dealer, how much extra do you think the market will absorb? And who wants to be the dealer that finds out the threshold was $2 less than what your product was priced at?

Conclusion
The industry must keep the standard reasonable and appropriate for the intended use of the product. The only way to do that is through public comment before May 21st. If you would like the full report from the Technical Forum CWQA hosted so that you may base your comments on it, you can get one by contacting the association’s offices at (416) 695-3068. The monster is just outside the door. Unless you enjoy horror sequels it might be a good idea to put down the popcorn and pick up a pen.

About the author
Jason Bourque is the Manager of the Canadian Water Quality Association. His non-profit management career has helped produce visibility and growth for leading organizations such as the Atlantic Division of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and Habitat for Humanity. Serving CWQA members across Canada from his base office in Toronto, he can be reached at CWQA, 295 The West Mall, Suite 330, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M9C 4Z4, telephone (416) 695-3068 or via email at jbourque@cwqa.com.

 

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