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November 2002: Volume 44, Number 11

The Role of ANSI in Drinking Water Product Standards, Testing and Certification
by Tom Bruursema

The American National Standards Institute -- more commonly referred to as ANSI -- is an organization often referred to, but not so well understood. In fact, it plays a very important role in drinking water, as it does in many other fields, both domestically and internationally. A better understanding of ANSI can provide a valuable asset to the drinking water treatment device industry -- also known as the point-of-use/point-of-entry (POU/POE) water treatment industry -- and another important sales tool for many companies.

A structure for harmony
As an introduction, ANSI is a private, non-profit organization founded in 1918. Today, it has 75 employees and more than 1,000 company, organization, government agency, institutional and international members. Its approximate annual budget is $16 million, and it is the official U.S. representative to the International Accreditation Forum (IAF), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and, via the U.S. National Committee, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). ANSI is also the U.S. member of the Pacific Area Standards Congress (PASC) and the Pan American Standards Commission (COPANT).

The organization’s primary responsibility is to administer and coordinate the U.S. voluntary standardization and conformity assessment system. To put it another way, it is the watchdog for those organizations who claim to write consensus product standards (“voluntary standardization”), and those who provide third-party certification services against such standards (“conformity assessment”) such as NSF International.

Voluntary standardization
There are many standards available in the marketplace today that include “ANSI” in their designation. For example, ANSI/NSF Standard 44 Residential Cation Exchange Water Softeners. Standards that carry the “ANSI” designation are referred to as “American National Standards.” There would be no two standards in the U.S. that cover the same scope of products and carry the ANSI designation. There would be only one American National Standard for softeners, as an example. It’s important to note that ANSI does not itself develop American National Standards. Rather, it establishes the requirements other organizations must follow in order to write such standards. These practices and procedures are audited by ANSI for a fee to ensure the requirements are being fulfilled. Only after the organization is considered acceptable, based upon the ANSI audit, can it begin the process of developing American National Standards.

The acceptable process for developing an American National Standard must properly address consensus, due process and openness. In the case of NSF drinking water treatment unit (DWTU) standards, these are accomplished primarily through the committee structure, with the NSF Joint Committee on Drinking Water Treatment Units at the hub. This committee is comprised of equal representation from the industry, public health and user communities. Each has approximately 12 seats on the committee. The process often involves input from many others, as provided through sub-committees or task groups. The ultimate decision and voting rights, however, reside with the joint committee. As a consensus body, there must be general agreement for the standard to move forward. This ensures that no one segment of the stakeholders is able to overly influence the outcome of the standard.

Once a standard is developed by an ANSI accredited standards writing organization, that standard must then be further subjected to a review by ANSI. This review includes a public notice for comment. At the successful conclusion of this process, the standard is able to be identified as an American National Standard and carry the ANSI designation. There are over 15,000 such U.S. standards today, as written by more than 175 accredited organizations.

Conformity assessment
Many organizations test products, including manufacturers, commercial laboratories, industry trade associations, and third-party organizations. What sets these apart is their level of independence in the evaluation, adherence to specified methods and standards of testing, and incorporation of product surveillance programs. Those organizations that are accredited by ANSI for the evaluation of products must do all three; i.e., ensure complete independence, test and evaluate to established standards and have an ongoing product surveillance program. Organizations that provide for such a comprehensive service are by definition a third-party certifier. The criteria that must be met in order to achieve this designation, and to become ANSI accredited, are defined in the international standard ISO/IEC Guide 65 General Requirements for Bodies Operating Product Certification Systems.

Similar to accredited standards writing organizations, accredited third-party certifiers are audited by ANSI for a fee to ensure they’re following the practices and procedures specified under ISO/IEC Guide 65. While ISO/IEC Guide 65 is a general set of requirements, ANSI goes a step further and accredits organizations for specific fields of scope. For example, NSF is accredited by ANSI as a third-party certifier in many fields, including:
* Drinking Water Additives-Health Effects;
* Drinking Water Treatment Units and Related Products, Components and Materials;
* Plastic and Plumbing Systems and Components, and
* Bottled Water and Packaged Ice and others.

Included in this additional step of assessment is evaluation of both the administration process of certification and the supporting laboratory operations. In the case of the laboratories, compliance with yet another international standard must be demonstrated, ISO/IEC 17025 General Requirements for the Competence of Testing and Certification Laboratories.

As with product manufacturers that choose not to have their products certified, not all testing organizations are able or willing to achieve ANSI accreditation. It’s a voluntary process. The benefit to those organizations who do achieve ANSI accreditation, and to the companies whose products they certify, is immediate recognition domestically and internationally for following accepted standards of practice and quality. There’s a growing number of users and public health agencies that rely in total, or give preferential acceptance, to those products that are certified to established standards by an ANSI accredited certifier. Similarly, acceptance of test data and certifications internationally is often dependent upon the certifiers compliance with ISO/IEC Guide 65. Today, there are a total of 32 ANSI accredited certification bodies.

International advocate
A final important role of ANSI is their promotion and advocacy for recognition of U.S. standards and certification bodies worldwide. It does this through participation in a wide array of international committees, including those referenced above, ISO and IEC. Through its networking, certifiers and the companies they represent are better positioned to realize global acceptance of testing and certification investments made locally. Those familiar with the international arena of standards and regulatory criteria know this is a challenging area in which it’s often difficult to achieve broad acceptance and recognition. It is, however, a war that has seen many battles won in recent years, but has a long road of opportunity yet ahead.

Conclusion
ANSI is a highly regarded organization with a long history in the United States for ensuring proper practices and procedures in both standards development and product certification. As with product standards that provide a level playing field and demonstration of quality for manufacturers, ANSI offers the same to third-party certifiers and standards writers. Users, regulators and manufacturers can all find advantages in such programs by utilizing those that have met such a level of accomplishment. In the case of manufacturers, they’ll realize the added benefit of product acceptance both domestically and internationally through certification with an ANSI accredited third-party certifier.

For more information regarding ANSI, including a complete listing of accredited standards writers and certification bodies, visit its website at www.ansi.org

About the author
Tom Bruursema, general manager of the Drinking Water Treatment Unit Program, is a 17-year veteran of NSF International. He’s a graduate of Eastern Michigan University. He can be reached at (800) 673-6275, (734) 769-0109 (fax), email: bruursema@nsf.org or website: www.nsf.org