Distinguishing Between Certified & Non-Certified Water Filters

Dec. 28, 2000
The NSF Certification claims for a water filtration system are null and void when a component is placed in another housing

About the author: Nancy Culotta is general manager of the Drinking Water Treatment Unit Certification Program at NSF International, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

One of the main purposes of the NSF International Drinking Water Treatment Unit Certification Program is to assure that a drinking water treatment system performs in the marketplace as tested and certified by NSF. Our certification represents that the contaminant reduction claims certified are true and accurate, the materials of construction do not add anything to the water, that the system is structurally sound and that advertising claims are true and accurate. This certification provides assurance to the user and the regulatory community that the system has been independently evaluated to assure reliable performance. In the past year, manufacturers have begun advising consumers that the replacement elements they produce fit other manufacturers housings or pitchers and infer that the hybrid system will perform as well as the original system. This, in our opinion, is not truthful information to the consumer.

When a drinking water treatment system is being designed, several factors are carefully reviewed and fine tuned to assure that the product to be launched in the marketplace will perform as intended by the manufacturer. These specific parameter include sealing mechanisms (o-rings, gaskets, spacers) and flow restrictors and tubing to limit flow to a specific rate to assure maximum performance. Following the engineering of a complete system, an increasing number of manufacturers submit products to the certification program to receive third-party certification of their system and its performance. When the testing and evaluation are complete, NSF officially lists the product including the model number, the replacement element, the systems capacity and flow rate along with the claims that have been certified for the product. The certification of the systems' performance is tied directly to the exact product submitted for testing. That is the backbone of the certification program and is the assurance behind the NSF mark on products on the market.

So what happens when a manufacturer states on its packaging and advertisements of the product that their product "fits", "can be used", "can replace" another manufacturer's element in the field? These statements infer that the hybrid product will perform as the replacement element cartridge indicates. This is not the case, nor is it necessarily helping the consumer to purchase water filters which will meet their water treatment needs. If a replacement element "fits" another manufacturers housing or pitcher, how can the consumer be assured that the product will perform? Without testing and certification to assure that the element fits properly to effect the right flow rate, to assure no bypass, etc., how can a manufacturer make these statements?

This situation is now out of control in the retail market segment. NSF has been deluged with calls on this subject from all segments-manufacturers, regulatory officials and consumers-asking if there is any way to prevent these statements on product packaging. In response, policies are being developed to prohibit statements such as these on drinking water treatment systems certified by NSF. Additionally, a separate policy will be developed to require on systems a disclaimer statement warning the user that the NSF certification is null and void if the components of the product are not the same as the product originally certified. The manufacturers and regulators with whom NSF has discussed this matter are all in favor of these steps to assure truthful, accurate advertising in the market.

The drinking water treatment industry is gaining credibility among the regulatory and consumer segment, and has recently been cited as Best Available Technology for certain water contamination problems. With this growing credibility the industry cannot afford to have incidents of consumers purchasing a product on the marketplace that is not performing as stated. A prime example would be a highly immuno-compromised person purchasing an NSF certified system to remove Cryptosporidium and then purchasing another manufacturers replacement element solely on the basis that the packaging states it will "fit" the housing of the original system. The result of this action may be a life and death situation which could result in the demise of this industry providing alternatives to drinking water.

For over fifty years, our mission has been to protect the public's health. Recognition of the NSF certification mark on drinking water systems is steadily growing as a symbol of assurance and protection to the consuming public. This is an assurance which needs to be protected and safeguarded by manufacturers and NSF. ·

About the Author

Nancy Culotta

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