November 2001: Volume 43, Number 11
At the Center of It All: Testing New Water Technologies
by Carol Becker, Angela Smith and Kristie Wilhelm
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Where does one turn to get objective, credible information on the performance of new and innovative drinking water technologies? One answer came when NSF International partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to verify the performance of drinking water technologies. Established by the USEPA, the Environmental Technology Verification (ETV) program is designed to accelerate the introduction and use of environmentally beneficial technologies by collecting and disseminating quality assured data on the performance, operation and maintenance, and cost factors of environmental technologies. The ETV Drinking Water Systems (DWS) Center is one of three ETV water projects. The other two, Source Water Protection and Wet Weather Flows, are also NSF/USEPA partnerships.
Trust, but verify
The ETV program is designed to characterize the performance of commercial-ready technologies through the collection and reporting of performance data. There are no pass/fail criteria associated with the ETV process and testing results become public information. Technologies involved in the verification process are issued a "Verification Report" and a "Verification Statement" that fully describe the product and its performance under a predetermined set of test conditions. The report and statement can be valuable tools for manufacturers in support of their performance claims and in achieving regulatory and marketplace acceptance for their product. Participation on the part of the vendors is strictly voluntary.
Prior to this, water treatment device manufacturers, assemblers and distributors were required to pursue a state-by-state approach through state drinking water administrators for each product they sought approval for in whatever states their marketing plans included. Such a piecemeal approach offered no guarantees that what would be accepted in one state would be acceptable in another, often forcing duplication of testing and validation along with additional expenses. The goal of the ETV program was to streamline the process, reduce the cost burden and improve the chances that valuable technology could be employed to help reduce the number of small drinking water systems that were in violation of national drinking water standards.
Fulfilling a need
On Oct. 1, 2000, NSF entered into an agreement with the USEPA to form an ETV Center dedicated to providing independent performance evaluations of drinking water technologies with the goal of raising awareness for new treatment technologies. The DWS Center represents the next phase of the ETV Program's Drinking Water Treatment Systems Pilot—which began in 1995 as a combined effort with the USEPA Office of Research and Development—and laid the groundwork for the new center. The USEPA Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water also has been a significant partner in this effort.
The DWS Center has nine contaminant-specific verification protocols and 23 technology-specific test plans that specify procedures for testing drinking water treatment technologies. The contaminant-specific protocols include testing procedures for technologies that inactivate or reduce microbiological contaminants, arsenic, nitrate, precursors to disinfection by-products (DBPs), inorganic and organic chemicals, and radionuclides. The comprehensive test plans were developed during the pilot phase with the assistance of leading drinking water experts from the USEPA, NSF, Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA), universities, private engineering consulting firms, and industry participants. All state drinking water agencies and other interested stakeholders were given the opportunity to review and comment on the protocols.
Inviting a third party
The DWS Center oversees all performance verification tests to ensure impartiality, quality and data integrity through third party testing. Most tests are performed by NSF pre-qualified field testing organizations (FTOs). Final verification reports have been issued for 23 tested products. The completed verification reports involve the following technology types—one ultraviolet (UV) radiation system; one microfiltration, seven ultrafiltration, and one nanofiltration membrane systems; two on-site sodium hypochlorite generation systems; one on-site halogen generation system; two reverse osmosis systems; one backwashable depth filtration system; four coagulation and filtration systems; one modular treatment train with pentaiodide resin; one bag filter; and one cartridge filter. Table 1 contains a list of the vendors and products for the verification reports that have been published.
Four additional performance verification tests have been completed. Their verification reports are under preparation and will be completed this calendar year. These tests involve microfiltration, diatomaceous earth filters and ozone disinfection. In addition, two verification tests are in progress involving UV radiation for the inactivation of MS2 bacteriophage.
For a full list of equipment manufacturers and products, the ETV DWS Protocols and Test Plans, or for complete copies of the final reports, please refer to the DWS Center’s website at www.nsf.org/etv/dws or the USEPA’s website at www.epa.gov/etv
About the authors
Carol Becker and Kristie Wilhelm are environmental engineers and Angela Smith is a project coordinator at NSF International in the Federal Programs Department. Becker holds a bachelor's degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Michigan. Wilhelm has a bachelor’s degree in the same plus a master's degree in environmental engineering from the University of Michigan. Smith has a bachelor's degree in environmental geology from the University of Michigan. They can be contacted at (800) 673-6275.