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|What water tests are necessary to evaluate the need for treatment?
It is essential that before initiating treatment, the contaminants, their quantities and reasons for
removing them be known. Knowledge of which contaminants may be present in the water should
guide the testing, since it is not economically feasible to test for all possible contaminants. The
consumer must decide whether a contaminant is of concern and pursue appropriate tests. For
private water supplies, an annual test for bacteria and nitrate is the minimum advised.
Consideration also should be given to potential contaminants used in the vicinity of the supply or
others suspected to be present in the water.
What should treatment equipment remove from water?
There is no one system that will remove everything or solve every water quality problem. Each
treatment system has limitations. In addition, it is not generally feasible or even necessary to try
to remove everything. Triple distilled or deionized water, which is about as pure as is commonly
possible, tends to be corrosive to metal pipes and containers, and has a flat, flavorless taste.
The characteristics of people in the household (e.g., age, health, size) and the contaminant (i.e.,
whether it poses a health risk or is just a nuisance) should guide decisions on which
contaminants to strive to remove or reduce. Knowledge of which contaminants are targeted will
help determine the most efficient system to use. In some cases, a combination of treatment
devices may provide the best removal.
Does my water problem require whole house or single-tap treatment?
Devices classified as Point-of-Entry (POE) treat water as it enters the household so all water
used is treated. Devices classified as Point-of-Use (POU) treat water at the point it is used, such
as at a single tap, and therefore treat a smaller volume of water. Most nuisance problems such
as iron, manganese, hardness, or odor suggest whole-house POE treatments. Some
contaminants such as bacteria and some organic compounds require POE treatment to prevent
consumption and to prevent exposure during bathing or other water uses. Other contaminants
that may affect health, such as nitrate, are only a concern if consumed, so POU equipment that
treats drinking and cooking water is an option.
Is a second opinion on treatment procedures and equipment necessary?
It is advisable to get a second opinion on appropriate water treatment equipment. Check with at
least one additional dealer to compare recommendations on treatments, appropriate equipment,
costs, warranties and service.
What about ratings and certification of manufacturers and equipment?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not test nor approve drinking water treatment
devices. An EPA registration number may appear on certain types of equipment. This does not
indicate EPA approval of the system. Registration is required of products containing active,
controlled ingredients. An EPA registration means that the device has been registered and the
ingredient added to the system meets regulations. An example of this case is when silver, an
active, controlled ingredient, is used in activated carbon filtration systems.
Some third party organizations, such as Consumer Reports, provide independent analysis of
drinking water treatment equipment. The NSF (formerly known as the National Sanitation
Foundation) is a third-party non-profit organization that has established standards affecting
drinking water treatment equipment and tests equipment that is voluntarily submitted by the
manufacturer. Manufacturers pay thousands of dollars for this testing, the exact amount
depending on the type of equipment tested. Products that meet NSF standards are entitled to
display the NSF certification mark on the product or in literature. NSF then continues to monitor
the manufacture and performance of the device and retests if changes are made or problems
arise. Current NSF listings of manufacturers and devices can be obtained by contacting NSF at
The Water Quality Association is the trade organization of the water treatment industry. The
WQA program uses the same NSF standards and provides equivalent American National
Standards Institute (ANSI) accredited product certifications. WQA certified products carry the
Water Quality Association Gold Seal. WQA encourages its members to abide by the WQA Code
of Ethics. Compliance with the code and membership are both voluntary. A directory of validated
product models and companies can be obtained by contacting WQA at 4151 Naperville Road,
Lisle, IL 60532. WQA's Web site is www.wqa.org.
When comparing brands of equipment and evaluating claims or test results, be sure that the
device has been tested for the specific contaminant targeted in the water, over the expected life
of the system, with an adequate volume of water, and under household conditions (tap water,
actual flow rates and water pressures). Typical pressures from a well are around 40 pounds per
square inch (psi) and flow rates are typically 5-30 gallons per minute. Ask sales representatives
which standards the product meets and for test results showing removal of the specific
contaminant(s) you want to remove.
What other considerations are there regarding the manufacturer or dealer?
A reputable company will be able to provide service, repair, or replacement parts. A company
that expects to be around will not mind a customer taking time to decide on proper treatment
equipment and will avoid the high-pressure tactics of "today's special." Also, consider
manufacturers who are willing to provide retesting of equipment at no extra cost after several
months of operation.
What about sales scams or misleading promotions?
Many dealers offer free testing of drinking water. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous dealers may
use the test as an opportunity to frighten or pressure consumers into purchasing unnecessary
equipment. These tests are generally for nuisance contaminants such as hardness, pH, iron,
manganese, sulfur or total dissolved solids. Occasionally a dealer may test for nitrate. More
complicated tests such as for pesticides or volatile organic chemicals are rarely provided. It is
important to remember that no single test can determine if water is safe. The free tests may be
adequate for selecting equipment to deal with nuisance problems, but they cannot provide all
information necessary to tell if the water is safe to drink. Even in the case of nuisance problems it
is advisable to get an independent second test from a certified laboratory for verification.
Sometimes sales people conduct demonstrations they may refer to as "tests." These typically
cause precipitates to form in the water, or cause color changes. Though they may be dramatic,
they are generally meaningless in telling how much of a contaminant is present. Such
demonstrations are not adequate to make purchase decisions and confirmation by an
independent source should be obtained. Another inappropriate sales tactic is to offer treatment
equipment as part of a larger prize promotion. A water treatment device must be purchased in
order to obtain the larger prize, neither of which are generally quality merchandise. The
consumer also should be aware that many states do not allow false or exaggerated claims in
advertising water treatment equipment, or the use of graphic representations such as a skull and
crossbones over a glass of water.
Another inappropriate advertising technique is to understate the maintenance requirements of
the equipment and costs of supplies. Most water treatment devices require maintenance such as
replacing filters, adding chemicals, or backwashing. Ignoring these can make the equipment
seem less costly and easier to use than it is. Others may try to sell maintenance contracts for
equipment when the consumer can easily do routine maintenance.
These scenarios can be avoided by using common sense, getting all claims and promises in
writing, and realizing that if it sounds too good to be true, there is a strong possibility it is not true.
Problems with misrepresentations or fraudulent claims can be addressed to the Federal Trade
Commission, 6th and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580, phone (202) 326-
What is involved in operation and maintenance of the treatment equipment?
Most water treatment equipment requires maintenance and service to operate properly. Many
systems require periodic removal and cleaning or replacing components, such as filters. A
consumer must evaluate how much of the maintenance requirements he or she is willing to
undertake. This maintenance is especially important if the device is to be used for removal of a
health hazard. Improper maintenance can result in damage to the equipment and contaminants
in drinking water. Once the equipment is installed and operating, the consumer should have a
means of determining if the targeted contaminant is being removed. It is important to plan to
retest the water periodically after the equipment is in use to see if the equipment is operating
effectively. Sometimes testing or monitoring equipment can be obtained for that purpose.
Is renting a system a viable option?
There are some situations when purchasing equipment is not the best option. If the problem is
caused by a spill near the water supply or other situation where only short-term treatment is
necessary, renting equipment may be a viable option. Renting is a good way to become familiar
with equipment and its operating costs and maintenance requirements. Be certain to ask about
such issues as who is responsible for maintenance, whether rental fees apply toward purchase,
and length of rental agreement.
What about using bottled water?
Again, there are some situations when purchasing equipment is not the best option. Bottled water
may be a preferable option if a temporary source of safe water is needed. It offers the
advantages of having no equipment to buy, operate, and maintain, and no lengthy time
It is important to realize that bottled water is not necessarily safer than tap water. Bottled water
quality is subject to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards, while municipal tap water is
regulated by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. These standards are not always
the same. Also, a large portion of bottled water is simply municipal tap water that has been
processed and packaged.
What is the expected life of the equipment and what does the warranty cover?
Before purchase, consumers should understand the warranty on the treatment system and what
components are covered or excluded. If the household water has contaminants that may shorten
the life of the system, does the warranty still apply? Are there certain conditions that must be met
in order for the warranty to apply?
Will the system provide enough water for the daily needs of the household?
An estimate of daily household needs for drinking water is one half gallon per person per day.
Cooking needs are generally one to three gallons per day per household. An estimate of total
daily water needs including bathing or showering, laundry, and toilets is 60-80 gallons per person
per day. Once an estimate of daily household water needs is determined, it can be compared
with the capacity of the treatment system.
Summary of key factors in selection of water treatment equipment