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NSF Certification
(and padding the list)

One of the main things to consider when purchasing a drinking water filtration system is the contaminants it will remove.  There are literally thousands of water filters (some with fairly elaborate claims) on the market today made by hundreds of companies.  A company can say anything in its literature or on its web site, and how can you evaluate the claims to determine if they are true - do you believe the company's lab reports, the glowing testimonials on their web site, the celebrity endorsements?  The information may be accurate, but HOW CAN YOU KNOW?

Certification by an independent third party like NSF International is the best way of identifying those water filters that some group (besides the manufacturer) has reviewed and determined to perform as advertised.  There are two ANSI/NSF standards that pertain to drinking water filtration systems: Standard 42 for Aesthetics Effects (cosmetic factors like taste, odor, chlorine, and particulate reduction) and Standard 53 for Health Effects (the contaminants that are harmful to health).

There are, unfortunately, a few pitfalls to interpreting the certification reports - one of the things to be aware of is what I call 'padding the list'.

For example, below are three contaminant reduction lists from NSF International.  They are 3 of the 12 companies listed when ‘MTBE reduction’ was checked on the search engine at the NSF International site under the category Reduction Claims for Drinking Water Treatment Units - Health Effects”
http://www.nsf.org/Certified/DWTU/

This list illustrates the way some companies “play the certification game” by 'padding the list' to make their contaminant list appear longer than other companies.  They pay separately to have individual Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) tested, certified and listed.  However, if the filter is certified for VOC Reduction, all of the individual VOCs on the NSF table below are already significantly reduced and do not need to be re-certified and re-listed - except to try and impress their potential customers.

In the lists below:

Contaminants listed under ANSI/NSF Standard 53 for Health Effects on the NSF International web site:

Company P

8 different contaminants
+ some individual VOCs


Asbestos Reduction

Chlordane Reduction
Cyst Reduction
Lead Reduction
Mercury Reduction
MTBE Reduction

Toxaphene Reduction
Turbidity Reduction
  VOC- 2,4-D Reduction
  VOC- 2,4,5-TP Reduction
  VOC- Alachlor Reduction
  VOC- Atrazine Reduction
  VOC- Benzene Reduction
  VOC- Carbofuran Reduction
  VOC- Carbon Tetrachloride Reduction
  VOC- Chlorobenzene Reduction
  VOC- Endrin Reduction
  VOC- Ethylbenzene Reduction
  VOC- Heptachlor Epoxide Reduction
  VOC- Lindane Reduction
  VOC- Methoxychlor Reduction
  VOC- O-Dichlorobenzene Reduction
  VOC- Simazine Reduction
  VOC- Styrene Reduction
  VOC- Tetrachloroethylene Reduction
  VOC- Toluene Reduction
  VOC- TTHM Reduction
  VOC- Trichloroethylene Reduction 

Company A

9 different contaminants
+ VOC Reduction


Asbestos Reduction
Chlordane Reduction
Cyst Reduction

Lead Reduction
Mercury Reduction
MTBE Reduction
PCB Reduction
Toxaphene Reduction
Turbidity Reduction

VOC Reduction
  VOC- 2,4-D Reduction
  VOC- 2,4,5-TP Reduction
  VOC- Alachlor Reduction
  VOC- Atrazine Reduction
  VOC- Ethylene Dibromide Reduction
  VOC- Dibromochloropropane Reduction
  VOC- Heptachlor Epoxide Reduction
  VOC- Lindane Reduction
  VOC- Methoxychlor Reduction
  VOC- TTHM Reduction
  VOC- Xylenes Reduction
 

 

Multi-Pure 880 series

10 different contaminants
+ VOC Reduction

Arsenic Reduction
Asbestos Reduction
Chlordane Reduction
Cyst Reduction
Lead Reduction
Mercury Reduction
MTBE Reduction
PCB Reduction
Toxaphene Reduction
Turbidity Reduction

VOC Reduction

 

 

 

NSF International Volatile Organic Chemicals (VOC) list:

The specific VOCs that have been separately certified in the lists above have been highlighted. 

alachlor                    
atrazine
                    
benzene
                     
carbofuran
                  
carbon tetrachloride
        
chlorobenzene
               
chloropicrin              
 
2,4-D
                        

dibromochloropropane (DBCP)
 
o-dichlorobenzene
           
p-dichlorobenzene          
 
1,2-dichloroethane        
 
1,1-dichloroethylene      
 
cis-1,2-dichloroethylene  
 

trans-1,2-dichloroethylene

1,2-dichloropropane        
cis-1,3-dichloropropylene
 
dinoseb                  
 
endrin
                     
ethylbenzene
               
ethylene dibromide (EDB)
   
haloacetonitriles        
 
haloketones              
 
heptachlor               
 
heptachlor epoxide
         
hexachlorobutadiene      
 
hexachlorocyclopentadiene
 
lindane
                    
methoxychlor
                

pentachlorophenol

simazine   
styrene
 
1,1,2,2-tetrachloroethane
 
tetrachloroethylene
 
toluene
 
2,4,5-TP
(silvex)  
tribromoacetic acid
 
1,2,4-trichlorobenzene
 
1,1,1-trichloroethane
 
1,1,2-trichloroethane
 
trichloroethylene
 
trihalomethanes (TTHM)
 

xylenes

 

Other important considerations when evaluating and selecting a water filtration system that you plan to use for many years include:

Pore size of the filter media - smaller is better.  Smaller particulates are removed, and water comes into contact with more of the filter media (the activated carbon).
Solid Block Activated Carbon (SBAC) or Granular Activated Carbon (GAC).  SBAC is more effective for a given size of filter cartridge and at a given flow rate than a GAC filter.  GAC filters also have large pores that let more contaminants pass through, because all of the water may not contact the filter media.
Physical size and capacity.  All other things being equal, a larger filter will be more effective removing contaminants at a given flow rate than a smaller filter.  Filter effectiveness depends on the water's contact time with the filter media - a larger filter allows the water to have more contact time.  Smaller filters must also be changed more frequently than large filters, and they do not do as good a job during their rated life.
Long term cost of replacing the filter cartridges.  Some of the smaller filters may be less expensive initially than a large filter, but when several years of filter replacement are considered, the larger filtration system may be more economical.
Construction materials of the filter housing.  Some filters are light weight plastic that will need to be replaced every few years.  Other filters are heavy gauge stainless steel and will last a life-time.
Warranty and the length of time the company has been in the water filter business.  If you do invest in a more expensive, high-end filtration system, you want some assurance that when you want to replace the filter cartridge over the next 20 -  40 years the company will still be in business.  There are no absolute guarantees, of course, but a company that has already been in business for many years at least has a track record for reliability.

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