March 2001: Volume 43, Number 3
POU/POE Water Treatment Devices -- Increasing Awareness Among the Masses
by Shannon Murphy
Now more than ever, society is becoming aware of water quality and other
water-related issues. People are regularly exposed to news articles regarding water
quality. In addition to this media exposure, the U.S. Congress mandated issuance of
Consumer Confidence Reports for municipal water supplies. This direct mailing has
enabled many homeowners to become more directly involved and knowledgeable about
their water quality. Further, many local governments are now issuing notices to water
customers regarding the possible presence of certain contaminants, such as
Cryptosporidium and lead.
The combination of media exposure and increased awareness has led to a more educated
consumer looking for the right product for their home.
The word is out
Educated people are spending more time than ever researching the quality of their water
and the best product for their homes. As this trend continues, the knowledge of the six
ANSI/NSF drinking water treatment unit (DWTU) standards and related product
certification continues to grow. Many popular magazines, such as Prevention and Good
Housekeeping, have published articles addressing the issue of safe of drinking water.
Even the best-selling book, 8 Weeks to Optimum Health by Dr. Andrew Weil includes
information on drinking water quality and use of home treatment devices to help reduce
the presence of contaminants.
Last year, a monthly average of four million subscribers to magazines and newspapers
read about water quality concerns and the value of certification to the ANSI/NSF
Standards. Articles regarding water quality have appeared in newspapers like The
New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and The Toronto Star, to
name just a few. Additionally, a number of articles found in Home Magazine,
Consumer Reports, Sports Illustrated, Parenting Magazine,
Woman’s World and Family Circle have brought the issue to the kitchen
table. All of these made reference to standards and NSF certification, which lead to many
people contacting the organization for further information.
Educating the public
NSF International established a hotline several years ago to help assist consumers with
questions regarding issues such as the use of water treatment devices in the home. Since
1996, the NSF Consumer Affairs Office has received over 50,000 inquiries on its toll-free
hotline. In addition, over 3,700 individuals contact NSF via electronic mail annually with
questions related to water quality. The NSF website -- www.nsf.org -- continues to be a
popular place to find additional information regarding water quality and water treatment
devices, with visitors growing nearly 220 percent from 1998 to 1999 and over 160
percent from 1999 to 2000.
The nature of each inquiry varies greatly. Some questions are simple, such as confirming
the efficiency of a specific water treatment unit, if a particular product has been tested
and certified to one of the ANSI/NSF Standards, or what it means for a product that’s
been “certified” to one of the standards. Many people are novices to the home water
treatment market and have no idea what type of products are available and how to go
about selecting a home water treatment device. Although the NSF Consumer Hotline
cannot recommend specific products, we do educate consumers about their water quality
and explain the differences between product styles and technology on the market so that
people develop an understanding of what options are available. Many people are also
confused about the information contained in their community’s Consumer Confidence
Report, so we're frequently called upon to explain terminology, such as what a maximum
contaminant level (MCL) represents.
People generally have direct questions relating to individual contaminants that may be
found in their drinking water. Our data show that Cryptosporidium, bacteria, lead and
chlorine round out the top concerns of consumers and their tap water. Other topics peak
with related media coverage. The gasoline additive MTBE, for example, drew a lot of
attention for a relatively short-lived period approximately a year ago.
Probably the most popular question that NSF receives from consumers is: “What is the
best water treatment system on the market?” Because water quality problems vary from
community to community, there's no one right answer to this question. Rather than
focusing on the popularity of a given system, we encourage everyone to learn more about
the quality of their own drinking water before they select a home water treatment system.
By taking the time to investigate the quality of their water and to learn what problems
currently exist, people will be able to make an educated decision as to what type of water
treatment device would be best for their homes.
The people’s choice
Our internal survey data show the two most popular treatment systems currently being
used by homeowners are reverse osmosis (RO) and carbon filtration. For some
individuals, RO is the only system they will consider purchasing since it’s combined with
carbon filtration and, therefore can reduce more contaminants than either one alone.
However, for large families or those individuals living in communities where water
resources are scarce, the limited capacity and amount of wastewater produced during
processing make RO systems a more precarious choice.
Carbon/charcoal filters still appear to be the product of choice for most consumers. This
is due to many reasons, including their ease of use and improved performance
capabilities. Due to the concern about Cryptosporidium, many select groups,
including senior citizens, immunocompromised and young parental groups have become
concerned about drinking their tap water. To meet this concern, certain faucet filters are
becoming increasingly popular as a result of their relatively low cost and ability to
remove the contaminant.
As new contaminants are discovered in our drinking water and public concern grows
regarding the safety of this supply, there will continue to be a need and a demand for
home water treatment devices. More people are traveling globally, both for business and
pleasure, and these individuals are very concerned about the microbiological quality of
the water in other countries, especially where disinfecting products aren’t widely used.
It’s felt that as water quality shines in the media limelight, and people become more
aware of options they have to directly impact their health and water quality, the industry
will continue to grow and support this need. NSF International is in a very rewarding
position by being able to provide solutions to the public’s health needs.
About the author
Shannon Murphy is operations manager of the Drinking Water Treatment Unit program
at NSF International in Ann Arbor, Mich. His bachelor's degree from Concordia
University in Montreal, Canada, is in biology. His master's degree from Wayne State
University in Detroit is in biology with an emphasis on limnology. Murphy can be
contacted at (800) 673-6275, (734) 769-0109 (fax) or email: firstname.lastname@example.org