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The Standards in Place That Are Protecting Our Drinking Water

Photo: Courtesy of Johnny McClung

Rick Andrew

Director of Global Business Development – Water Systems, NSF International

The United States enjoys some of the safest drinking water in the world thanks to the United States Safe Drinking Water Act established in the 1970s. 

Public health leaders continually work behind the scenes to stay abreast of emerging contaminants, improved testing procedures, new industry technologies, and water treatment methods to maintain the standards that regulate plumbing codes, water treatment chemicals, and filtration devices. 

Whether the concern is lead, microbiological pathogens, or other contaminants, these standards positively impact human health by establishing a set of criteria for manufacturers of any product that comes in contact with drinking water. This includes all types of plumbing fittings, pipes, faucets, and filtration devices that a consumer would typically handle, as well as treatment chemicals that are most commonly used at the municipal level. 

National standards

The two core American and Canadian national standards which today are required by most states and Canadian provinces are NSF/ANSI/CAN 61: Drinking Water System Components – Health Effects and NSF/ANSI/CAN 60: Drinking Water Treatment Chemicals – Health Effects.

Prior to these core standards, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had operated an approval program for products and materials in contact with drinking water. Development of standards 60 and 61 was initiated to shift this approval process into the private sector, in a way that is technically rigorous, is cost effective, and allows for smooth and transparent approval of new products, materials, and technologies.

These living documents are continuously updated due to changes in regulations, technology, and other areas. They are voluntary, consensus standards developed by a joint committee with equal participation representing both United States and Canadian public health officials and regulators (such as United States EPA, Health Canada, and state drinking water officials), users such as water utilities and engineers, and product manufacturers.

Assuring safe water

Rigorous testing criteria is prescribed by the standards using highly sophisticated laboratory techniques that help assure safe drinking water. A review of the formulations of raw materials, ingredients, and the manufacturing process of parts and products is conducted to determine what contaminants might potentially leach into drinking water. This review forms the basis of an analytical summary of contaminants for the laboratory to look for when testing the product.

NSF International also leads development of a number of American National Standards that establish criteria for a variety of filtration systems and drinking water treatment units used by consumers.

These standards are continually maintained to address the safety of the products, as well as their structural integrity, and the ability to reduce contaminants such as lead, arsenic, pesticides, and emerging contaminants. 

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