Certifying for Contaminant Reduction

June 1, 2010
Deciding which contaminant reduction claims to certify

About the author: Tina Fischer is product certification supervisor for the Water Quality Assn. Fischer can be reached at 630.505.0160 or by e-mail at [email protected].

Heptachlor epoxide, trichloroethane, aesthetic chlorine, acrylonitrile, TDS, xylenes, lead, arsenic, hexachlorocyclopentadiene … Certainly, some of the chemicals listed above are recognizable not only to you but also to the average consumer. Some of them are recognizable to you, but the average consumer would stumble through their pronunciation. Should you consider certifying the contaminants listed above?

Contaminant Reduction

How should you decide what contaminant reduction testing should be completed for your particular type of product or product line? The question is difficult to answer because there are a multitude of different sub-questions that must be answered prior to making the final decision. Do you really want to make the certified claim? While that seems to be the only question that needs answering, it is not the way to go when making decisions regarding certification.

Chalk one up for the marketing departments. Ultimately, the marketing department has the final say on what types of claims they would like to see put onto the products for sales purposes. But how do they get to the wish list? What types of questions should marketing ask prior to making any demands?

Treatment Technology

Each type of treatment technology is designed for a specific type of contaminant reduction. For example, if you need a product to reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs), you would not expect a reverse osmosis (RO) membrane to perform effectively for that type of contaminant. RO membranes primarily function based on the premise that they effectively reduce charged particles, or ions.

An RO system, however, may be excellent for this type of reduction. Most RO systems are multiple-stage systems that incorporate the use of pre- or post-filters. At least one of these filters is generally an activated carbon filter, which is the preferred method for organic chemical reduction.

Another example is a water softener. Water softeners’ main driving media type is ion exchange resin. While ion exchange resin is fantastic for reducing hardness from the water, it does not effectively reduce chlorine. Some water softeners also include granular activated carbon as a media type. Activated carbon does an excellent job of reducing aesthetic chlorine from drinking water. So it is important to know your complete product and each of the media’s capabilities, not just the media type the system is most prevalently known for.

Region of Sale

Each city, state and province has its own specific water characteristics. It is known that certain regions have specific problems in water that cause consumers to look to point-of-use or point-of-entry products for additional filtration beyond local treatment. The contaminants you choose to test and certify should be directly related to the water needs of the region of sale.


When testing and certification are complete, the products are subjected to tests that are detailed within the industry-approved standard. Each standard is dedicated to a specific product type and explains the specific protocols for each test covered under that standard. These protocols have been written to ensure that each product is tested in a similar manner. If a contaminant is not listed in an industry standard, it cannot be claimed as certified.

While pharmaceutical chemicals seem to be the next hot-button issue, there are currently no standards providing guidance for testing these types of claims. When choosing a standard, it is important to ensure that your product and treatment technology fall within the scope of the standard.  


While it seems beneficial to make as many claims as possible, it is important to remember that each claim will increase the cost of certification. The more claims a product is tested and certified for, the more costly that product becomes for the end user.

Other factors that have a direct affect on the cost of the testing are the flow rate and capacity of the test and whether or not filtration products have a performance indication device. A system with a slow flow rate and a high capacity would take longer to test and therefore use a lab’s bench space for a longer period of time and go through more water and chemicals. So while it seems the more claims put on packaging the better, it would certainly be counterproductive if so much testing was conducted that the cost of the product left it sitting on the shelf because no one was able to afford it.  

System Specs

For filtration-type products, flow rate or daily use pattern and capacity will be significant deciding factors when trying to determine what reduction claims to hold on a certified product. This is primarily true when multiple claims will be certified and those claims encompass more than one standard. The best example of this is filtration systems that are being certified according to NSF/ANSI standard 42 and 53. Both of these standards address the same type of technology but one is for aesthetic effects (42) and the other is for health effects (53). When certification is granted for a single product to both standards, the lowest capacity and flow rate achieved during testing must be used across the board.

Therefore, if a chlorine test was conducted and the carbon block achieved a 1,500-gal capacity and the same carbon block was tested for lead reduction but only achieved a 750-gal capacity, capacity claim in all literature would be 750 gal, regardless of the 1,500-gal claim the chlorine test achieved. While this initially seems unfair, the reality is that consumers already push their filters to the limit. Many do not change the filters at the correct intervals and once they see 1,500 gal, it would be conceivable to believe that a differentiation between claims would not be made and an exhausted filter with respect to lead reduction would continue to be used beyond its approved life.  

Choosing contaminant reduction claims for certification is definitely not easy. But with the right questions, it is certainly manageable.

About the Author

Tina Fischer

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