By Rick Andrew
Brand protection is a hot topic these days, and for good reasons. There are many aspects to consider in an overall strategy for brand protection, including false claims of brand affiliation, intellectual property issues, false or misinterpreted customer-service complaints posted to social media, as well as accusations of advertising of false claims. A quick Internet search reveals many recent false claims situations for various product types, including balance enhancing bracelets, automotive engine treatment products, sports helmets, skin-care products and even batteries. It turns out that protection of a brand includes not only protection against what others might falsely do or negatively say about your brand, but also protection against accusations of false claims that you yourself might be making about your product.
This idea of protection against accusations of false claims is nothing new. In fact, it was one of the key drivers behind the initial development of the NSF/ANSI DWTU Standards for POU/POE systems. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, there were some products on the market that had questionable claims made about them by the manufacturers or distributors. These claims typically centered on contaminant-reduction performance, especially for activated carbon filters. Questionable claims of impossibly high treatment capacities, or the ability to reduce certain difficult-to-treat contaminants made by unscrupulous manufacturers or sellers, led to concerns by ethical, scientifically oriented organizations who were concerned about damage to industry credibility. And, activated carbon filters and claims of treatment began to catch the attention of those in the regulatory community.
Given these concerns, work began in the early 1970s on development of NSF/ANSI 42 Drinking water treatment units– Aesthetic effects. This standard provides official test methods for verification of claims of treatment of contaminants in drinking water that contribute to aesthetic issues, such as the taste and odor of chlorine and the presence of particulate matter. The standard provides additional tools for brand protection, including requirements for safety of materials in contact with drinking water and requirements for structural integrity. NSF/ANSI 53 Drinking water treatment units–Health effects (1980), a type of sister standard to NSF/ANSI 42, covers safety of materials in contact with drinking water and structural integrity, in addition to detailed test methods for conservatively evaluating effective treatment of contaminants in drinking water that could affect human health. These contaminants include heavy metals, organic contaminants such as industrial solvents and particles such as microbiological cysts and asbestos.
The test methodologies for verification of contaminant-reduction claims fall into two main categories: chemical reduction and mechanical filtration. The reason for this distinction is that robust test methods are designed to challenge any weaknesses in product design and manufacturing. Because there are different design and manufacturing factors that contribute to chemical reduction performance versus mechanical filtration performance, different test methodologies have been developed.
Chemical reduction performance of activated carbon POU/ POE systems is largely based on the principle of adsorption, whereby chemical attraction between the activated carbon or other adsorptive media present in the system causes contaminants to be retained on the media instead of remaining dissolved in the water. Factors contributing to chemical reduction performance include the specific adsorptive properties of the media, effectiveness of contact with the drinking water, length of contact with the drinking water, chemical makeup of the drinking water and others. Activated carbon systems being used for chemical reduction have limitations on treatment capacity based on these factors. At some point, the media has adsorbed enough contaminants so that its treatment performance deteriorates and it must be replaced. With these factors in mind, the test methods for chemical reduction for activated carbon systems specify the following conditions:
- Water characteristics. The water characteristics include the presence of contaminants that are often found in drinking water and could confound the adsorption of targeted contaminants. Examples include the presence of TOC in water used to evaluate reduction of industrial solventtype contaminants and the presence of competing ions, such as sulfate, when testing for treatment of inorganic contaminants, such as arsenic.
- Contaminant concentration. The amount of contaminant used for this testing under NSF/ANSI 53 is based on occurrence data in actual drinking source water, typically set at the 95th percentile of occurrence. This means that 95 percent of water supplies in which the contaminant is found will be at concentrations equal to or lower than the concentration used for testing.
- Flowrate. Flowrate influences contact time with the media. Therefore, testing for chemical reduction under NSF/ANSI 53 is conducted with 60-psi inlet pressure at the highest flowrate that is achievable; i.e., no external flow control. Because of this, many POU systems making health claims include integral flow controllers.
- End of life. Testing for reduction of chemicals with health effects under NSF/ANSI 53 must be conducted to either Brand Protection through Claims Verification on POU Carbon Filters 120 or 200 percent of the manufacturer’s rated treatment capacity of the replacement filter.
- On/off cycling. Because consumer usage patterns involve intermittent flow, it is important that test conditions for POU/POE reflect this. Cycling valves are used to control this aspect of testing.
Mechanical filtration performance of activated carbon filters is based primarily on mechanical sieving of particles from the water, as well as effective sealing of replacement elements and any other locations where bypass could occur. Factors contributing to effective mechanical filtration include the effective pore size of the filtration media, the uniformity of the filtration media (including absence of defects) and the robustness of the sealing mechanisms, particularly as flow cycles on and off and pressure loss builds due to clogging of the filter. With these factors in mind, test methods for mechanical or activated carbon systems specify the following conditions:
- Size of test particles. Utilizing appropriately sized test particles is critical when conducting tests such as these, which partially assess the effective pore size of the filtration media. For example, testing nominal particulate reduction, Class I, with particle size 0.5 to one micron, requires testing with and enumeration of particles in that specific size range.
- Buildup of pressure drop. Because seals can fail as clogging occurs and pressure drop builds, it is important in these test methods to clog the filters and test until clogging is significant. Under NSF/ANSI 53, testing continues at 60-psi inlet pressure until 75-percent reduction in flow occurs due to clogging.
- On/off cycling. The most likely point in these tests for filters to release particles is immediately upon initiation of flow at the beginning of an on cycle. For this reason, cycling is critical to include in the test protocols, as well as a requirement to sample the first filtered water out at the beginning of the on cycle.
Brand protection is not new
It is interesting to consider the scope of business for a testing and certification agency, such as NSF International. On the surface, such agencies provide testing and conformity assessment services. Looking below the surface, this type of service could be considered as one that provides market access. This is especially true when regulations or codes require certification, but it can also be true when buyers demand it. But looking at it from perhaps a more esoteric point of view reveals that this business could be considered to be brand protection. Having reliable and accurate test results from an accredited testing and certification agency can prove to be a great defensive weapon if there is an attack upon the brand based on accusations of false claims. In these cases, having robust third-party data goes beyond simple confidence for oneself and provides hard evidence for those who may be skeptics.
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