The NSF Joint Committee on Drinking Water Treatment Units Tackles Forever Chemicals

Aug. 26, 2022
The NSF Joint Committee on Drinking Water Treatment Units (DWTU) is looking to update water treatment standards NSF/ANSI 53 & NSF/ANSI 58 to include updated values for PFOA and PFOS

Tackling the presence of harmful emerging contaminants such as PFOA and PFOS (PFAS), or forever chemicals, as they are known, has been the focus of a lot of research across various US states due to the serious health issues linked to these chemicals. Found in products from non-stick pans to cosmetics and food wrappers, they are called forever chemicals as they not only do not break down easily in nature but also because their levels build up in the human body with prolonged exposure. Forever chemicals such as PFAS have been linked to several cancers, immune system issues and decreased birth weights, amongst other serious health implications. Because of this, the NSF Joint Committee on Drinking Water Treatment Units (DWTU), which is made up of industry representatives, public health and regulatory officials, and user representatives, is looking to update water treatment standards NSF/ANSI 53 and NSF/ANSI 58 to include updated values for PFOA and PFOS, plus new reduction claims for total PFAS as well as new individual claims for PFNA, PFHxS, and PFHpA. The proposed changes have undergone a few revisions to best match current knowledge and innovation used throughout the industry as well as lab testing capabilities.

The Evolution of NSF/ANSI 53 and NSF/ANSI 58

NSF/ANSI 53 and NSF/ANSI 58 currently set requirements for health effects for absorption and filtration filters, with NSF/ANSI covering many technologies including carbon filters and anion exchange systems and NSF/ANSI 58 focusing on reverse osmosis (RO) systems. Both standards are on a continual maintenance cycle through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), meaning each published standard edition includes multiple balloted revisions. Work on adding reduction claims for PFOA and PFOS began in 2017. Both claims were balloted into the standards in 2019, and work on including the current additional PFAS contaminant reduction claims began that same year. With the additional industry research and discovery of PFAS contaminants, the DWTU PFAS task group (a smaller group of PFAS experts) is already working on adding requirements for even more contaminant reduction claims.

The standard revisions have gone through several careful considerations during different revision votes, with the current revision providing two test methods for PFAS contaminant reduction claims: total PFAS (which includes PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFNA, PFHpA, PFBS, and PFDA) and individual reduction claims for PFOA, PFOS, PFHxS, PFNA and PFHpA. Standard revisions are not taken lightly and are taken into careful consideration by the Joint Committee and the NSF Council of Public Health Consultants (CPHC). The updates included in the third ballot revision for NSF/ANSI 53 and NSF/ANSI 58 are in the voting process to decide if they will pass. The ballot has passed the DWTU Joint Committee with 100% affirmative votes and the CPHC with 94% affirmative votes and is now in the adjudication process to review and address the negative vote and ballot comments. If successfully adjudicated, the new PFAS requirements will be included in the 2022 editions of these standards, which would publish by the end of this year. As with all balloted revisions, manufacturers with currently certified products are notified of the updated requirements and given a timeframe for meeting these requirements for re-certification.

Standard Revision Process

Standards provide credibility for products used within the industry. Standard updates related to testing requirements are vetted through round-robin validation testing at multiple labs to ensure repeatability. Standards are regularly reviewed and updated to ensure they continue to meet the needs of NSF Confidential communities and stakeholders. Innovation and advancements in technologies may also require standard development bodies, like NSF, and the joint committee and task groups to reevaluate standard requirements to better match health and performance with new research or technology. Members of the public can also provide suggestions for standards updates at any time and comment on ballots. NSF’s ANSI accredited process for a standard revision like this is unique compared to other standard developers because in addition to the typical accredited consensus process used in development, all standards are also reviewed and voted on by the CPHC (a group of public health experts) to assure the

utmost focus on protecting and improving public health. All revisions require a two thirds majority rule vote to pass the relevant joint committee, and then a 90% majority vote to pass the CPHC. Any negative votes and comments at both voting stages must be addressed and adjudicated. The general public can also comment on ballots during the joint committee voting period. The final CPHC public health ratification step helps us ensure our mission of improving and protecting public health.

Standards Development

Industry standards like NSF/ANSI 53: Drinking Water Treatment Units – Health Effects and NSF/ANSI 58: Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Treatment Systems play an influential role in helping us fulfill our mission as an industry to deliver products that can enhance the quality of drinking water. While these standards are widely accepted and respected, there are many groups involved in developing standards that are not as widely known. Standards are developed through a public process that includes input from industry experts including standard development bodies like NSF, the Joint Committee and task groups comprised of representatives of groups affected by the scope of the standard. The Joint Committee also consists of task groups (smaller consensus bodies of experts responsible for developing the balloted revisions and ensuring the standards are consistent with scientific approaches to product evaluation). Joint Committee members then vote on the proposed revisions, ensuring standards properly address public health, safety, and environmental issues, and responding to requests for interpretations of standards.

Aligning as an Industry

As you can see throughout the standards development and revision process, standard development bodies like NSF facilitate the process. There are many qualified individuals and stakeholders who participate in both processes to help ensure standards encompass the current technology and research we have in the water industry. This careful consideration of what the standards include helps our industry provide safe drinking water solutions to communities worldwide. Standards development and revisions coincide with the water industry’s responsibility to provide drinking water despite the challenges we face. This is particularly imperative as our water resources are diminishing, and we are experiencing extreme weather events like droughts and flooding. Climate events like these can decrease the quality of our freshwater resources. Additionally, chemicals like perand polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contaminating our groundwater and other freshwater resources are also a large concern when evaluating our drinking water filtration options. Our industry and communities rely heavily on industry standards to ensure that we have agreed upon levels of product safety and performance in treating drinking water to help tackle these concerns.

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