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August 2003: Volume 45, Number 8

ANSI/NSF or NSF/ANSI? Semantics Maybe, But Sometimes the Order Does Count
by Carlos David Mogollón, WC&P Executive Editor

Recent talks with WQA and NSF International on drinking water treatment unit (DWTU) standards and how they’re promoted prompted this column. The issue started simply. WQA international director Andrew Warnes sent out the latest WQA InterNews, an e-newsletter for international members. In the July issue, it refers to confusion over codes that require “NSF/ANSI Standards” certification. NSF/ANSI? I thought, well, that doesn’t look right.

We’d seen it before at WC&P. A few years ago, NSF--the primary author of our Water Matters column that focuses on product standards, testing and certification issues--made the change in that column. After researching the matter and finding all other standards approved as national standards by the American National Standards Institute use its acronym first, we politely suggested, if NSF wanted to formalize the change by sending us an official news release to that effect, we’d be happy to consider it.

When queried recently, NSF’s Tom Bruursema, DWTU program general manager, said the rationale was to clarify that ANSI doesn’t write or maintain standards: “They’re simply an accreditation body that ensures the standards have been developed according to an accredited, consensus process.”

Still, I replied to Warnes: “These are consensus standards arrived at by a painstaking process that involves input from NSF, industry, associations and other stakeholders. Allowing a surreptitious marketing change such as this into the vernacular without clarification from some authoritative body simply undermines the authority of the standard. What happens when you have plumbing code bodies or other governmental authorities asking what they’re supposed to use or, as a result, questioning it altogether? That doesn’t necessarily bode well for the standards or the industry.”

It should be pointed out NSF’s isn’t the only lab that’s ANSI accredited to test to these standards--UL’s, WQA’s and CSA International’s labs are also--and the WQA Gold Seal Product Certification Program just joined the others’ programs as ANSI-accredited as well.

WQA technical director Joe Harrison added: “No code or regulation requires NSF--per se--certifications. They may require ANSI-accredited certifications such as can be provided equivalently by UL, WQA, IAPMO and NSF, but no rule would ever regulate a business monopoly to one sole proprietor. The marketing change to more prominently list ‘NSF’ first in the name of the standards, in my mind, exacerbates this misleading problem.”

Likewise, Warnes responded: “It will take quite some time to clear up the confusion and educate the industry. We do not want to deny NSF the credit they are due for the work done to date. The job at hand is to educate interested parties that options do exist.”

But NSF gets plenty of credit simply by having its acronym included in the name of the standards. As such, they’re promoted, often simply as “NSF Standards,” indirectly by every company that’s tested to them (and required to state the standard in their product literature) regardless of whether NSF did the testing, as well as by all the plumbing and building codes that cite them in almost every city, county and state in the nation.

As I understand it, the standards--with respect to POU/POE or DWTUs--were extrapolated and fine-tuned from those initiated by a WQA predecessor in 1959 (see Background). NSF has put a lot of work into them in the interim (with substantial input from the joint committees). Bear in mind, though, NSF began switching the order of ANSI/NSF only after competition began to emerge from the WQA, UL, etc., to relieve what was perceived as a bottleneck that was an impediment to universal certification. Thus, it’s simply a marketing tool for NSF to now call them “NSF/ANSI” standards and not a matter of technical merit--the focus of the standards themselves.

Don’t get me wrong. I do support the work NSF has done and continues to do as to the changing tides involved in maintenance and upgrades to the standards as required by new scientific information, understanding and innovation. It has definitely carried the ball above and beyond where others may have dropped it. For that, it’s definitely due credit--which is reflected in the respect to date the standards have earned both domestically and abroad. NSF continues to reap the benefits--and rightly so. There’s no need to underscore it further.

“It’s true that today it is very much a competitive environment,” Bruursema said in response. “ANSI accreditation, however, doesn’t mean equivalency of services. We feel the work we’ve put into the DWTU standards and our services speaks for itself.”

Click here to view a followup article:
  Background on DWTU Standards