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June 2001: Volume 43, Number 6

DC in Springtime, a True Purifier Standard & WWF Smackdown
by Carlos David Mogollon, WC&P Executive Editor

Lotta things going on in the summer heat.

First off, let's take a look at the 3rd NSF International Symposium & Technology Expo for Small Drinking Water and Wastewater Systems held April 22-25 in Washington, D.C. The event drew about 400 attendees and offered an excellent range of seminars on related topics. Among the speakers were the World Bank's Param Eyer on "sustainable" systems; Rip Rice on recent developments in ozone and UV technologies; Peter Cartwright on membrane technologies; Charlotte Grove, of Companie de Agua, on privatization, operator training and certification in Puerto Rico; and a survey of arsenic removal technologies in developing nations by Ontario Centre for Environmental Technology's Roy Boerschke -- just to name a few. Joe Cotruvo, senior NSF advisor and an organizer of the event, was perpetually surrounded by those seeking information -- as was Mauricio Pardon, director of the Pan American Health Organization's Health & Environment Program. PAHO co-sponsored the event with the USEPA and a handful of others. Thus, USEPA Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water director Cynthia Dougherty's absence from the opening session where she was to serve on a panel was disappointing. In her stead was Phil Osheida, deputy acting director, a recent convert from the USEPA Wetlands Division and ill-prepared to answer questions on the agency's then recent pullback on the Clinton Administration rule to lower arsenic in drinking water limits from 50 ppb to 10 ppb. This was the third event WC&P attended in little more than a year where Dougherty was to speak and wound up a no-show (all the more telling here because this was just up the street). We'd really like to meet her.

Second, let's look at an issue presented at the WQA Orlando, Fla., convention and which NSF discusses in this month's "Water Matters" column -- revision of ANSI/NSF Standard 55, Ultraviolet Microbiological Water Treatment Systems. Seems plans for the standard are to make it a general water purification standard, unifying all microbiological, cyst and virus claims here and creating subgroups such as 55-10 (which would be for UV), 55-20, 55-30… Each additional addendum would focus on reduction capabilities of a different technology, according to NSF's Lorna Badman. She admits it's a huge undertaking and one likely to take some time, particularly since there's still a lack of consensus on all contaminants that apply. Question is how this affects Standard 53, Drinking Water Treatment Devices - Health Effects. If this simply charges manufacturers for another layer of testing without much justification, you can bet the ultimate reaction won't be positive. Conversely, if NSF 55 becomes known publicly as the purifier standard, the marketing benefits may outweigh the costs.

Lastly, the spat between the World Wildlife Fund and International Bottled Water Association over a WWF report released in May reminds us of a wrestling smackdown -- not to mention the irony of sharing the World Wrestling Federation acronym. IBWA contends the WWF report is as factually flawed as the NRDC bottled water report released two years ago, misrepresenting scientific data to claim a couple of headlines. It urges people to drink tap water -- "often as good as bottled water, for the benefit of the environment and their wallets" -- questioning whether the quality of bottled water is worth the value, particularly since it sells for up to 1,000 times the price of tap water in some cases. WWF makes points such as on the environmental problem of proper disposal of a multitude of bottles manufactured for the industry (particularly in developing nations where recycling is scare or non-existent), but the group loses authority suggesting bottled water is the same as tap water. Simply look to the American Society of Civil Engineer's recent biannual report card on our aging infrastructure -- i.e., potential recontamination in water distribution pipes -- to refute that. Granted, while the bottled water industry claims to be more highly regulated than tap water, federal oversight has been limited through the FDA and inconsistent through various state agencies. But considering bottled water is often re-treated municipal water treated to federal USEPA standards, one must question the overall report's validity.