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April 2003: Volume 45, Number 4

Another View -- Public Water system Compliance Using POU/POE
by Henry Nowicki and Mick Greenbank, Ph.Ds.

In a couple of days, Feb. 13-14, the NSF International staff arranged many experts to cover the issues and facets of point-of-use and point-of-entry (POU/POE) opportunities.

OPINION

Federal and state regulators provided pros and cons.

Regulators have a major role if they can demonstrate their willingness to drive POU/POE forward. The importance of product certifications to facilitate customer acceptance and credibility was well covered. Small and large utility speakers presented their experiences. Case studies sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the American Water Works Association Research Foundation (AWWARF) were presented. Vendor and consultant presentations and attendees provided much professional awareness. Carrying this awareness to the public remains the next challenge.

This article is intended to provide our opinions and a broad overview of the conference. A list of speakers and titles of their presentation is provided with email for you to directly contact them at our web site: www.pacslabs.com

Pros and cons
Historical and current POU/POE developments were summarized. It was pointed out that similar case studies on the applicability of in-home water treatment technologies for meeting federal water standards were conducted in the early 1990s and these earlier benefits of POU/POE did not significantly advance the marketplace. Several speakers tied the new maximum contaminant level (MCL) for arsenic in drinking water as the driver to increase the public use of POU/POE technologies. The USEPA has mandated utility compliance with the new arsenic 10 parts per billion (ppb) MCL by January 2006, if the agency doesn't grant extensions to the rule. Historically, right or wrong, utilities have been granted extensions for compliance. Some POU/POE industry leaders believe their equipment can help utilities, large and small, meet this stricter requirement as well as others such as the new radium rule. Granted there are hurdles, primarily ensuring that these units can be properly maintained in the home.

Thinking outside the box
Several state regulators at the conference—speakers and attendees—expressed a change of mind from earlier positions. Previously, they weren't in favor of POU/POE treatment technologies. Today, though, momentum appears to lean towards more use of POU/POE. Major reasons for this change of heart are due to: 1) the economic reality of small water suppliers, 2) improvements in POU/POE devices, and 3) customer acceptance. Many spoke of utilities service changes and more attention to the customer as part of the trend.

The Los Angeles Department of Power and Water (LADPW) with about 670,000 water hook-ups is surveying and advising its customers about use of POU/POE equipment. A prior LADPW survey revealed that about 70 percent of the utility's customers use some drinking water enhancement inside their home, roughly 35 percent POU and 35 percent bottled water. LADPW plans future customer surveys and educational programs. Education is a slow process but as more utilities—of all sizes—think outside of the box, they'll have tangible benefits. Utility customers are getting smarter about drinking water quality and health effects. Utilities may need to think about risk assessment from lawsuits and liability reduction through new services and improved water quality.

Activated carbon role
Many of the speakers pointed out that "customer acceptance" of the POU/POE contaminants removal technologies was most important. Improving customers' drinking water taste and odor was the most powerful way to get customers to use POU/POE technologies. Activated carbon adsorption has long been recognized as the best available technology to improve tap water aesthetics cost effectively. Thus, it's logical that POU/POE vendors are using carbon in their devices.

The NSF conference had two approved vendors present using reverse osmosis (RO) and distillation technologies. Both vendors had carbon in their units. Carbon benefits for removal of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and protection against membrane fouling as well as a final water polishing step was cited by these vendors. Both were enthusiastic about their technologies and indicated significant price reductions were possible… if the number of units sold increase.

Future opportunities
The POU/POE industry needs to be patient and not expect unbelievable growth. Growth will come, but the industry will need to work smarter to develop these future opportunities—at utilities and in homes.

Large retailers selling home units presently are weak on service and education. Many of these retailers provide in-store "how-to-fix" free workshops. POU/POE manufacturers need to work with these retailers to assure the correct messages are getting to the customers. Many customers think filters last forever or revert back to not filtering their drinking water. POU/POE suppliers also need to "think outside the box" to grow their business. One filter media or water treatment technology does not solve all water quality problems.

About the authors
Dr. Henry Nowicki is chairman of the 11th International Activated Carbon Conference (IACC-11) Sept. 25-26 in Pittsburgh, Pa. He has published 100 articles, presents nine one- to three-day courses on a variety of water treatment subjects and is an expert witness for water and air health cases.

Dr. Mick Greenbank teaches a two-day short course "Selecting the Best Activated Carbon for Specific Applications," speaks at the IACC and provides consulting services to the activated carbon industry.

Both authors can be contacted at PACS Inc., of Coraopolis Pa.—(800) 367-2587, (724) 457-6576, (724) 457-1214 (fax), or hnpacs@aol.com or mickpacs@aol.com

EXTRA: POU/POE for Utilities

For more on this topic, see the following web pages:
• NSF International: www.nsf.org/cphe/pou/ or www.nsf.org/cphe/pou/program.html
• ASDWA, "Opportunities and Barriers for POU and Other 'Unconventional' Approaches for Municipal Water Supply": www.asdwa.org/ann%20conf%2002/website/presentations/Bob%20Raucher%20-%20Wed.ppt
• AWWARF, "Comparison of Conventional and Unconventional Approaches for the Provision of Water": www.awwarf.com/et-x/us/us16.pdf
• McGuire Environmental Consultants, White Paper, "Arsenic: Considerations for Compliance": www.safedrinkingwater.com/community/arsenic_white_paper.pdf
• USEPA, "Guidance for Implementing a POU or POE Treatment Strategy for Compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act-Revised Final Draft," March 2002: www.epa.gov/safewater/standard/pou.pdf
• USEPA, "Implementation Guidance for the Arsenic Rule," March 2002: www.epa.gov/safewater/ars/dimpappx.pdf
• USEPA, "Arsenic and Clarifications to Compliance and New Source Contaminant Monitoring; Final Rule (66 FR 6976)," August 2002: www.epa.gov/safewater/ars/pdfs/regguide/ars_final_app_b.pdf