NSF International, which develops public health standards and certification programs to protect food, water, consumer products and the environment, is currently developing a new draft standard on emerging contaminants. NSF 401: Drinking Water Treatment Units — Emerging Compounds/Incidental Contaminants, will establish requirements designed to reduce emerging compounds, including pharmaceuticals, personal care products, chemicals and endocrine disrupting compounds in water.

The standard will focus on claims being made for the reduction of 15 individual compounds including BPA, Meprobamate, Phenytoin, Atenolol, Carbamazepine, TCEP, TCPP, DEET, Metolachlor, Trimethoprim, Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Estrone, Linuron and Nonyl phenol.

Water Technology caught up with NSF International’s Rick Andrew, director of global business development, water systems to find out why these contaminants were of immediate concern, what goes into creating a new NSF standard and how this standard will evolve as new contaminants of concern emerge.

WT: Which emerging contaminants do NSF standards currently in development cover?

RA: NSF standards currently in development actually cover 15 different, individual compounds which were selected based on having been detected in a source water or a drinking water supply somewhere. They were selected based on manufacturers having interest in testing their products to see if they can treat these compounds effectively. And, they were also selected based on the capability of laboratories to analyze for those compounds.

WT: What harm do these contaminants pose?

RA: That is a fascinating question actually because no one is really sure. They are present or they are being detected in source water and drinking water at very low concentrations — parts per trillion levels. But, nonetheless, people are potentially being exposed to them every day as they drink their water and so the jury is still out on whether there are any types of health concerns associated with these compounds.

This is part of the reason why, for NSF purposes, this is a new standard because it isn’t addressing health effects and aesthetic effects either, it is really based on a consumer preference. Consumers would prefer to not have these compounds in their water if they can treat the water in many cases. So, very interesting and kind of new ground in terms of NSF and standards development.  

WT: What goes into creating a regulation for an emerging contaminant, for which there may not be much research into its effects?

RA: It has been a very lengthy process with a lot of almost soul searching on the part of the group that developed the standard in such a way as to present it correctly. No one wanted to get into implying that there are health concerns when there really aren’t, that is not the right thing to do. But yet, it was clear that consumers would prefer to not have these compounds in their drinking water. So it took a lot of discussion and a lot of consulting with experts in the field of water quality and toxicology. A lot of research was done in terms of existing literature and articles that have been written on the subject both in terms of what is being detected out there and what the potential impacts of these compounds being present in the water actually are. It has definitely been an interesting process that took about six years to work itself through.

WT: Are there technologies out there to address all of these contaminants? How does NSF go about regulating contaminants for which there are not readily available treatment technologies?

RA: One of the things that the working group really focused on was looking at any data that was out there in terms of studies done on treatment technologies and their effectiveness. And, what it really looked like was that there were two possibilities, at least as a starting point, that could be used to form the basis of a standard around. The first one was active media treatment, typically activated carbon, is likely to be effective. The second one is reverse osmosis. This is good for a standards development process because there are already existing standards for these technologies at the point-of-use that deal with different types of contaminant reduction performance, but nonetheless have the structure there in terms of evaluating material safety for contact with drinking water and then also addressing the types of consumer literature that is needed to help the end users understand the technologies and the products better. There are other technologies that may be effective in treating these emerging compounds and incidental contaminants. Typically, they are a little more complex like ozone treatment and so forth and not quite as amenable to development of a standard at least in the short term because right now there are no standards for point-of-use ozone treatment or similar technologies. That could be something coming in the future is to get more into additional technologies for this type of treatment.

WT: Where are you currently in the process of creating these new regulations? When can we expect the roll out of these new standards?

RA: The standard has actually been completely drafted and it has already been approved by the Joint Committee with one caveat. That caveat is that we need to make sure the standard is workable. Can a laboratory use the standard as written to test with a reasonable degree of accuracy and repeatability? We have a couple of different laboratories right now working on testing products to the standard. And, the issue really isn’t whether the products pass or fail, but it is related to the workability of the test method and whether or not this method can be implemented accurately and repeatedly with reproducibility in multiple laboratories. With that in mind, this effort should wrap up in the next couple of months and the standard is very likely to roll out around mid-year 2014.   

WT: As new technologies and research come out addressing these emerging contaminants, will there be a framework in place for adding to the standard?

RA: Yes. Although the standard includes right now 15 different compounds there are actually thousands of these compounds that have been detected in source water or drinking water. Rather than trying to tackle a very large number of compounds initially, the working group decided that 15 was a good number to start with. That said, the standard itself provides a definite framework for the addition of more compounds in the future as there is interest on the consumer side or the manufacturer side in terms of doing that.

This interview is also available in audio form on www.WaterTechOnline.com/podcasts.