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Understanding the NSF/ANSI 53 Water Filtration Performance Standard 

Throughout the United States, multiple reports about elevated lead levels found in drinking water in homes, schools and businesses have emerged.  Consumers can protect themselves from drinking water with lead levels above EPA’s action level by purchasing a filtration system that has been tested and certified to the NSF/ANSI 53 standard for lead reduction by an accredited product certification body.  This standard contains rigorous testing protocols that have been developed to ensure the product is not adding contaminants to the drinking water; it is structurally sound; and it reduces specific water contaminants such as lead. All products tested and certified to NSF/ANSI 53 standard are clearly marked and can be traced back to the certifying agency’s web site listing.  This document outlines many of the critical requirements of the NSF/ANSI 53 certification. 

Material Safety 

The purpose for the Material Safety test is to ensure that the filtration system will not leach harmful levels of chemicals into the drinking water.  Consumers purchase these products to improve their drinking water, and this testing verifies that the product does not contaminate the water instead. 

Structural Integrity 

The purpose for the structural integrity test is to evaluate the design and fabrication of the filtration system.  The structural integrity test ensures that the product will not break, leak or cause flooding in the home when connected to the plumbing and subject to water hammer events or elevated water pressures.

Performance Claims 

Performance testing evaluates the filter’s ability to reduce specific contaminants linked to health effects.  Health effects are those substances that when ingested could affect your health in a negative way.  The standard contains test protocols for a variety of claims, such as lead.  To comply with the lead reduction test protocol, the filter must reduce elevated levels of lead below the US EPA action level. The filter must reduce lead at two pH levels to ensure that regardless of the area in which you live, the lead in the water will be reduced by the filtration system.  The standard includes test protocols for several other water contaminants, for example arsenic.  Each contaminant certified will be specified in the manufacturers product literature and listed on the certifying agency’s website. 

Instruction and Information

The manufacturer must make available a performance data sheet and installation, operation and maintenance instructions. The performance data sheet provides details regarding the elective performance claims so that consumers are aware of the filter’s capabilities. The performance data sheet is unique in that it must be made available to prospective buyers which allows consumers to see which claims have been tested and certified before purchasing the product.  The performance data sheet is therefore often displayed on the outside of the packaging or on the manufacturer’s website, but if not, prospective buyers can obtain a copy by contacting the manufacturer. The filter will also include a permanent label that may provide guidance on the performance claims that have been certified.  

Product Certification 

Accredited organizations that certify products use the NSF/ANSI 53 standard to test and verify the safety and performance of water filtration systems.  Each certification body will allow the use of their certification mark on systems that comply with the standard and their listing policies. Additionally, to maintain certification, annual factory inspections of each manufacturing location are required to ensure integrity in the manufacturing process.  Certified filtration systems have been used in areas with known lead contamination to provide water compliant with the Safe Drinking Water Act.