By Thomas P. Palkon, CWS-VI

History – What a difference 50 years can make
The Water Quality Association (WQA) has only been in existence since 1973, when it was established as the result of the merger of two predecessor organizations, Water Conditioning Association International (WCAI) and Water Conditioning Foundation (WCF) but WQA’s laboratory began testing the industry’s products in 1959 and certifying those products with WQA’s Gold Seal Mark in 1960.

WCAI was founded in 1945 for retailers and dealers as a brainchild of 25 – 30 water pioneers who felt the need for action at a level higher than the individual franchise. Initially, membership was for Culligan dealers only but it was opened up to all competing brands in 1949. Its initial purposes were to disseminate information to solve corrosion problems, oppose master plumber installation requirements, promote the benefits of point of entry softening rather than municipal softening, and to develop standardized accounting methods.

WCF was established in 1948 as the National Association of Water Equipment Manufacturers. The association was established to represent water conditioning equipment manufacturers and suppliers for the residential, commercial and small system water conditioning industry. Serving as an advisor and coordinator of Industry efforts, WCF operated largely through member participation in matters affecting manufacturers and suppliers.

The question of effecting some type of coalition between WCAI and WCF was first raised in 1967 when WCF proposed the establishment of a new nonprofit association that would assume all the functions of WCF and WCAI. For various reasons, a merger was rejected at that time, but reconsidered again in 1973, the year WQA was formed. The decision to merge orchestrated because both organizations recognized the need for a single industry voice to cope with rapidly growing industry challenges and opportunities. The challenges resulted from the wave of environmentalism and consumerism evident in the early 1970s and manifested in significant government actions which held the potential for severe negative impacts for the industry. The opportunities, to a certain extent, grew out of these same factors. The increased awareness of environmental degradation also increased consumer appreciation for quality water both at the residential level and the industry.

Product testing laboratory needed
WCF recognized that the industry needed a third party testing laboratory to evaluate residential water treatment products. The question then became how should an industry laboratory be established? The WCF Board of Directors considered various plans for putting a product performance test program into operation.

  • Build their own lab
  • Contract with an existing environmental lab
  • Find other performance testing laboratories that may want to add testing water softeners to their scope

After careful consideration of the pros and cons of each option the Board felt the best decision would be for WCF to set up its own test lab. WCF’s Board approved the construction of a product testing laboratory in the summer of 1959 (50 years ago). Construction began immediately and the industries first product testing laboratory was complete October 15, 1959.

Initial location, capabilities and confidentiality
The new WCF laboratory was a two story brick building with 2400 ft2 of laboratory space; adjacent to the headquarters office at 1201 Waukegan Road, Glenview, Illinois (Joe Harrison’s current home town). The lab building had adequate entry and unloading facilities and Lake Michigan water was brought into the building at an average pressure of 50 psi from the city main. The laboratory’s size is not very big compared to today’s standards but it’s establishment was an progressive step towards self regulation for the late 1950s.

The laboratory plans called for the setting up a three test stations with the opportunity to add an additional 3 stations if the demand warranted. The Board projected that 100 water softener models would be sent to the laboratory for testing by various manufactures during the first year of operation. Three to four units would be sent by each manufacture and several other units would be evaluated by interpolation (Validation by Calculation). Pricing and staffing was established so that all 100 models could be tested during the first year of operation. Pricing was developed for the laboratory to break even; the laboratory was not set up to be a profit center for the foundation it was established to provide credibility to the industry’s products. The laboratory’s would charge $250.00 per unit to run tests required to determine whether or not the unit meets with industry standards and $25.00 for units validated by interpolation (I’m sure the industry would like to go back to this fee structure today).

In order for the laboratory to be widely used by industry, manufacturers requested that all testing be kept confidential. The Board understood that data generated in the laboratory needed to kept confidential between the laboratory and the client so that test results would not be used in a negative manner by competing companies, this was especially critical when the laboratory was used for R&D testing. Because of the confidential nature of product performance test results, all records and reports were kept in the headquarters office of the Foundation and were available to no one except the manufacturer whose models were the subject of the test; not even the active Board members had access to the data, only the Technical Director direct had access to the test reports.

Finding the first Technical Director
The Board decided that they would hire a Technical Director who would be responsible for setting up the lab. After the lab set up is complete and staff has been hired and trained the Technical Director would devote a portion of his time to the reviewing of all technical bulletins published thus far by the Foundation. In addition he would prepare for review by the Engineering Committee new technical papers; develop recommended revisions in existing standards; propose new standards; and send out abstracts of general interest together with technical bulletins to the members. In general, he will manage all laboratory activities and will do much of the detail work that in the past has been assigned to members of the Engineering Committee….work that was painstakingly accomplished through committee meetings.

While essential to the functioning of the new lab, the valves, tanks, pipes, flow meters and other items of equipment are merely tools with which to do the job. The job itself calls for a knowing, alert, eager and impartial individual to run the tests. The Board of Directors considered these and other qualifications necessary in the personal make-up of the man they wanted for the post of Technical Director of the Foundation. After careful consideration of the requirements, they have selected an individual with just the background and blend of qualities. Their choice for the laboratory’s first Technical Director was Richard Weickart, a young man with broad experience in the water conditioning industry and the know how in setting up a new lab.

Dick Weickart reported to work on September 15, 1959 and immediately began supervising the lab construction and test bench installations. The new WCF lab was the fourth wherein Weickart played a major role in development. His career was devoted exclusively to research and technical work in the water conditioning field. During more than ten years devoted to the technical phases of the industry, he has worked for Culligan, Inc., Hills McCanna, and the Whirlpool Corporation. Now that a competent Technical Director was in place it was time for the lab to begin work.

What about certification?
Laboratory testing is great but the industry wants to educate regulators and consumers about the benefits of residential water treatment products and test data stored confidentiality in the Foundations laboratory would not get the beneficial aspects of water softeners information out to the public. The industry needed to finalize the testing standards and begin a product certification program.

Standards developed
The industry’s first product testing standard was developed for water softeners and many of us are still familiar with it’s name (S-100) “Industry Standard for Household Water Softeners”. Before the standard was approved by the Board the S-100 draft that was approved in May 1959 needed to be amended to provide for the bypass of hard water during the regeneration cycle of automatic and fully automatic softeners. This was a very important compromise made by the industry because without the bypass provision, the standard would be unacceptable to the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The FHA’s acceptance of these standards would be an important factor in their ultimate acceptance by the American Standards Association and the Commodity Standards Division of the Department of Commerce. Only two foundation members voted against the hard water bypass addition so the Board unanimously agreed to include the provision.

Additional standards were then developed for other industry’s water treatment products. The Foundation developed a standard for water point of use and point of entry filters in 1966. In 1980 WQA (after the merger of WCIA and WCF) developed the S-101 standard for efficiency rated DIR softeners. In the mid 1980’s WQA developed the Reverse Osmosis Standard – WQA S-300, and in 1986 WQA established its final standard which covered distillation systems – WQA S-400, before they decided to turn over the standard development and maintenance process to NSF International.

First product certification
The WCF lab was in full operation by November 1, 1959. Contracts were coming into the lab at a steady pace and the lab was fully booked through January 1960, some tests were even booked through March. The Technical Director reported that all laboratory equipment was performing as expected and the testing was progressing well. “It was a big thrill,”states Dick Weickart, “to move right into testing of units without a hitch.”

The Gold Seal made its first appearance at the Spring WCF conference in 1960. Shortly it would be seen on thousands of water softeners throughout the country. The Gold and Blue seal won the immediate respect of the industry when it was released. The Board set the price of 12 cents per seal and the funds collected would be used to promote various aspects of the Certification program. In addition to trade magazines and consumer publication publicity about the Gold Seal Program, additional efforts were aimed at lending institutions. The foundation prepared a three-color brochure which was mailed to 12,500 banks. The piece was designed to tell the homemaker the Water Conditioning story – that FHA financing was available for those wishing to buy certified softeners. To underline the close relationship of the financing of units and their sales the marketing piece urged the potential buyer to seek the advice of the banker. These brochures were meant for use on counters or as mailing pieces with monthly statements. While the Board did not know what the full success of this program would be, within the next 12 months several million booklets were distributed to help the softener business boom.

The Foundation also promoted the program by developing display aids to promote Gold Seal Certified Products. A flasher display, a door or window decal and a car plaque were made available to dealers for use in stores and offices. These merchandising aids provided the message that “Your Home Needs A Water Softener – Demand This Seal.” The promotional program was a great success and helped urge all softener manufacturers to participate in the Gold Seal testing and certification program.

Certification  program is stronger than ever
Many things have changed over the past fifty years. WQA was established as WCIA and WFC merged. WQA moved to Lombard, IL., and moved again to its current location in Lisle, IL. Excecutive Directors, Technical Directors and staff have come and gone but the associations dedication to the lab and Gold Seal program has remained. Joseph Harrison (WQA’s Current Technical Director) began working for WQA in 1990. Joe understood that WQA’s Gold Seal Program needed to take another step to demonstrate its third party independence and regulatory acceptance to the water treatment industry. Thomas Palkon was hired in 1997 to make Joe’s aspirations a reality.

Through the efforts of Joe Harrison’s direction WQA’s Gold Seal Program has reached several milestones. WQA began testing and certifying products to the NSF/ANSI International standards in 1998. In 2003 the Gold Seal Program became accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI); shortly after the Gold Seal Program was accredited by the Standards Council of Canada (SCC). These accreditations assured manufacturers that WQA’s test data and product certifications would be accepted by regulators throughout North America. Most recently, in a similar manner to the difficult Board decision in 1959 to build an industry laboratory, WQA’s current Board approved the build out construction of WQA’s new product testing laboratory that was recently completed in January of 2009.

WQA’s new laboratory has tripped its testing capacity. The lab now covers all 7000 ft2 of WQA’s headquarters lower level. Also, WQA’s Gold Seal Certification department comprises the entire second floor of WQA headquarters, an additional 7000 ft2. The additional space for the laboratory and certification departments was a direct result of industry demand for additional laboratory and product certification capacity. Increased regulations, sensational media stories, and increased consumer awareness about their water quality has all contributed to the additional demand for third party product testing and certification.

No one knows what is going to happen over the next fifty years but WQA’s lab and certification expansion will provide the industry that additional testing capacity needed to handle today’s increased testing and certification requests. Also, WQA’s Board, as it did fifty years ago, understands that this industry needs third party testing laboratories that validate product performance and safety to help self regulate, provide consumers third party testing assurance, and to demonstrate to the media the benefits of point of use and point of entry water treatment.


  1. Remarks by Douglas R. Oberhamer, CAE, Executive Director, Water Quality Association, April 30, 1982
  2. The Water Conditioning Reporter, Volume 1—Number 5, August 1959
  3. The Water Conditioning Reporter, Volume 1—Number 6, October 1959
  4. The Water Conditioning Reporter, Volume 1—Number 7, November 1959
  5. The Water Conditioning Reporter, Volume II—Number 5, August 1960

 About the author
Thomas P. Palkon is the Director of Product Certification for the Water Quality Association. He has managed and operated WQA’s Laboratory, Facility Assessment and Certification departments the past nine years. Palkon holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) and a Master of Business Administration with Distinction from Keller Graduate School of Management. He can be contacted at (630) 505-0160 ext. 523 or email: tpalkon@


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