With an increasing reliance on industrially manufactured products for meeting our basic needs like food, water and other daily consumer products, there is a strong need for safety standards that can be used as a guideline by manufacturers, regulators, and consumers. The National Sanitation Foundation (now rechristened as NSF International) is an independent organization that develops standards, and tests and certifies products. The NSF is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Consumers that choose a NSF certified product can rest assured that the product manufacturer complies with the strict standards imposed by the NSF.
Water Use and the NSF
Let’s consider the relevance of the NSF with respect to the water industry. Water comes to the house through a set of plumbing fixtures, gets stored in a plastic tank, gets treated through a filter (or one might use bottled water) and finally exits as waste water, which may get treated on site through waste water treatment systems. It is crucial that the materials involved in each step of the aforementioned process adhere to certain pre-defined standards. Failure to do so could lead to a potentially adverse impact on public health and safety. In the absence of benchmark standards, examples of resulting safety hazards include:
- high lead content in plumbing fixtures
- tanks which leach chemicals onto the water
- filters that do meet their contaminant reduction claims
- waste water system letting out harmful effluents
In addition to laying down the standards, the NSF also has capabilities to test the products for adherence to their stated standards and certify them. The standard that corresponds to drinking water system components is the NSF/ANSI 61 standard.
NSF Certified versus NSF Approved: There is a Difference
It is important for consumers to be able to differentiate between NSF certified products and products manufactured with NSF approved materials. A NSF certified product passes through a stringent process of:
- annual verification of the chemical formulation of each product material that comes into contact with water – this ensures components do not leach lead, nitrosamines, or other contaminants that can have adverse health effects.
- annual onsite inspections of the production facility and testing of samples of the final product to ensure that it does not leach dangerous contaminants into drinking water.
To maintain certification, manufacturers cannot change their suppliers or product formulation without the validation of the NSF.
All NSF certified products are listed on their website at www.nsf.org/info/listings. The website is updated on a daily basis, so a product not seen in the listing signifies that it is not NSF certified.
Illustration: NSF certified tank
To circumvent the stringent certification process, some manufacturers may claim that their product is made from NSF certified materials. Even if this were true, in the absence of:
- comprehensive testing of the final assembled product
- regular inspection and testing of the production facility, and
- validation of the entire supply chain
which the NSF ensures, there is a gamut of uncertainty and variables that can go wrong to cause a detrimental impact on the standard of the final product.