NSF Conference Addresses Public Water System Compliance Using POU/POE

Special Feature

This article is intended to provide opinions and a broad
conference overview. The opinions of the authors do not necessarily reflect
those of the magazine.

In February, NSF International arranged for many experts to
cover the issues and facets of point-of-use and point-of-entry (POU/POE), how
they can be used for PWS compliance and other opportunities for the
manufacturers and users. Federal and state regulators provided pros and cons.
Regulators have a major role if they can demonstrate their willingness to drive
POU/POE forward. The importance of product certifications to facilitate
customer acceptance and credibility was well covered. Small and large utility
speakers presented their experiences. Case studies sponsored by the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Water Works Association
Research Foundation (AWWARF) were presented. Vendor and consultant
presentations and attendees provided excellent professional awareness. Carrying
this awareness to the public remains the next challenge.

Pros and Cons

Historical and current POU/POE developments were summarized.
It was pointed out that similar case studies on the applicability of in-home
water treatment technologies for meeting federal water standards were conducted
in the early 1990s and these earlier benefits of POU/POE did not significantly
advance the marketplace. Several speakers named the new maximum contaminant
level (MCL) for arsenic in drinking water as the driver to increase the public
use of POU/POE technologies. The EPA has mandated utility compliance with the
new arsenic 10 ppb MCL by January 2006, if the agency doesn't grant extensions
to the rule. Historically, right or wrong, utilities have been granted
extensions for compliance. Some POU/POE industry leaders believe their equipment
can help utilities, large and small, meet this stricter requirement as well as
others such as the new radium rule. Granted, there are hurdles including the
assurance that these units can be properly maintained in the home.

Thinking Outside the Box

Several state regulators, speakers and attendees at the
conference expressed a change of mind from earlier positions. Previously. many
people were not in favor of POU/POE treatment technologies. Today, though, the
momentum appears to be moving toward an increased use of POU/POE technologies.
Major reasons for this change of heart are due to the economic reality of small
water suppliers, improvements in POU/POE devices and customer acceptance. Many
spoke of utilities service changes and paying more attention to the customer as
part of the trend.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) with
about 670,000 water hook-ups, is surveying and advising its customers about use
of POU/POE equipment. A prior LADWP survey revealed that about 70 percent of
the utility's customers use some drinking water enhancement inside their home
(roughly 35 percent POU and 35 percent bottled water). LADWP plans future
customer surveys and educational programs. Education is a slow process, but as
more utilities of all sizes think outside of the box, they will have tangible
benefits. Utility customers are getting smarter about drinking water quality
and health effects. Utilities may need to think about risk assessment from
lawsuits and liability reduction through new services and improved water
quality.

Activated Carbon Role

Many of the speakers pointed out that "customer
acceptance" of the POU/POE contaminants removal technologies was most
important. Improving customers' drinking water taste and odor was the most
powerful way to get customers to use POU/POE technologies. Activated carbon
adsorption has long been recognized as the best available technology to improve
tap water aesthetics cost effectively. Thus, it is logical that POU/POE vendors
are using carbon in their devices.

The NSF conference had two approved vendors that
demonstrated the use of reverse osmosis (RO) and distillation technologies.
Both vendors had carbon in their units. Carbon benefits for removal of volatile
organic compounds and protection against membrane fouling as well as a final
water polishing step was cited by these vendors. Both were enthusiastic about
their technologies and indicated significant price reductions were possible ...
if the number of units sold increased. A market research report by Baytel
Associates also has come to a similar conclusion. (See Market Study Report
sidebar.)

Future Opportunities

The POU/POE industry needs to be patient and not expect
unbelievable growth. Growth will come, but the industry will need to work
smarter to develop these future opportunities at utilities and in homes.

Large retailers selling home units presently are weak on
service and education. Many of these retailers provide in-store "how to
fix" free workshops. POU/POE manufacturers need to work with these
retailers to assure the correct messages are getting to the customers. Many
customers think filters last forever or revert back to not filtering their
drinking water. POU/POE suppliers also need to "think outside the
box" to grow their business. One filter medium or water treatment
technology does not solve all water quality problems.

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