|Standards for magnetic devices still seem a long way off|
|From Volume 21, Issue 4 - April 1998|
For the second time in three years NSF International will ask manufacturers of magnetic water treatment devices to underwrite development of testing procedures to prove the effectiveness of their products.
If this project gets off the ground it may prompt magnetics proponents - or their critics - to "put up or shut up" in the sometimes-contentious debate over the effectiveness of magnetic water treatment.
Don't hold your breath waiting though.
Some magnetics manufacturers show interest in submitting their products for testing but are skeptical about NSF's proposed project.
That's partly because the magnetics community is very fragmented - manufacturers range from those who have been in business more than 20 years to those who recently opened shop.
Some of the more established manufacturers lob numerous complaints at newer competitors. They dissociate their companies from so-called "fly-by-nighters" and claim that newcomers to the industry give magnetics a bad name by making outlandish claims and selling equipment not based on any technical expertise.
In fact, those contacted by Water Technology agree that only a handful of the 30 or so American producers have products that would pass muster if tested by NSF.
"I think testing could and should be applied," says Peter Kulish, founder of the Magnetizer Group, Gardensville, PA. "But if testing parameters were set up and applied, 95 percent of them (manufacturers) would fail."
Critics charge that the reluctance of magnetics producers to submit their products for testing is a smokescreen to hide their underlying fear that the devices won't work as they claim.
However, manufacturers say they are wary of the following:
( They will not be fairly represented on the oversight panel.
( NSF will appoint an oversight committee dominated by makers of conventional water treatment equipment and supporters of the Water Quality Association (WQA), which does not recognize magnetics as a viable treatment technology.
( Not all their counterparts are qualified to participate in the task group.
( Participation in this project would give competitors the opportunity to obtain proprietary information.
In addition to the Magnetizer Group, at least four other magnetics manufacturers contacted by Water Technology say they would be willing to participate in the NSF project this year - Dime Water Inc., Escondido, CA; SoPhTec International, Costa Mesa, CA; ABB Instrumentation, Rochester, NY; and Descal-a-Matic Corp., Norfolk, VA. Several others say they are interested, but can't definitely commit until receiving more information from NSF.
"I would want some screening process to keep the gadgeteers out and to eliminate testing of clamp-on (residential) units. They should seek some credentials and recommendations from end-users," says Ernie Florestano, president of Descal-a-Matic.
"We don't want a repeat of the previous (1995) NSF committee, which had many WQA members, and even WQA staff members," says Charles Sanderson, president of Superior Water Conditioners (Kemtune), Fort Wayne, IN. "WQA highly influences NSF, and we all know where WQA stands on magnetics."
Sanderson also believes the fears of losing proprietary information are overblown. "I'd like to review the protocol first, but if it's acceptable, it wouldn't bother me if the competition was watching."
Roland Carpenter, president of Aqua Magnetics International Inc., Safety Harbor, FL, says he may be willing to participate, but doesn't feel he should have to help finance the project. "NSF should pay me for my expertise on magnetic water treatment," he says.
One manufacturer, Alden Coke, president of AQUA-FLO, Inc., Baltimore, MD, is adamantly opposed to participating in NSF's project.
"I'm totally in agreement that testing protocols should be developed," he says. "But why should I pay them and give them my expertise to develop test standards so that they could saddle us with more requirements. When I wanted a device tested to gain NSF certification, I would have to pay them more money.
"That doesn't make any sense to this good ol' boy," Coke says.
NSF details proposal
NSF decided to embark on this latest project after requests for developing standards were received from at least one magnetics manufacturer and from state water treatment product regulators in Wisconsin and California.
NSF is hoping to avoid a repeat performance of a 1995 initiative when the organization wrote to 31 magnetics manufacturers, asking them to participate in a similar project. The response was tepid: half the manufacturers agreed to participate, but only two offered to fund the $10,000 plus project.
Nancy Culotta, general manager of the drinking water treatment unit at NSF, Ann Arbor, MI, says the organization hopes to hear in the next few months whether magnetics manufacturers will participate in their planned testing protocol. The request for participation and financing was sent in March.
Culotta would not release the names of the manufacturers who will be asked to participate.
Culotta says NSF would assemble a task group comprised of magnetics manufacturers who wish to participate and two state regulators: Glen Schlueter of Wisconsin and Robert Burns of California. This group would devise the protocols and conduct the tests with NSF staff.
The test results would then be reviewed and voted on by the following bodies in this sequence:
( NSF's Joint Committee of Public Health Officials, Industry Representatives and Product Users. This includes representatives from conventional equipment manufacturers.
( NSF's Council of Public Health Consultants, which includes no manufacturers or user groups.
( NSF board of directors
( American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for final approval.
Why the need for a replicable test?
Why is scientific performance testing a key issue in the magnetics debate?
Partly because some regulators are making it an issue and partly because there is so much debate within the magnetics community itself over the validity of product claims.
According to proponents, magnetic devices don't chemically change the properties of water - instead, they change the physical (molecular) structure of calcium carbonate to make it less likely to form hard scale.
Physical changes, they say, can't be measured like chemical changes in traditional treatment technologies.
Some regulators feel the need for performance testing in order to protect homeowners less knowledgeable about water treatment applications than industrial customers, who may have technical staff.
Wisconsin regulates home magnetic devices, but not industrial applications. Currently, no home devices are approved for sale in Wisconsin because manufacturers lacked test data to support performance claims, Schlueter says.
In six states law enforcement/consumer protection agencies have periodically issued consumer alerts about buying magnetic water treatment devices or issued injunctions against specific companies and their agents for exaggerating product performance.
Is a replicable test a reality?
Can a replicable, scientific test be designed to prove or disprove the devices work?
Magnetic manufacturers say they have already done so in their own laboratories and even opponents say it can be done.
However, some producers say their devices are affected by so many environmental variables - temperature, flow rates, conductivity, strength of magnetic field, the presence of iron or silica - that it will be difficult, though not impossible, to devise replicable testing standards. They say they need to set up their devices to assure they operate correctly in the testing process.
Baylor University chemist Kenneth Busch believes a basic test can be devised, using magnets on a test group and a control group of stills and conducting statistical analysis of the scale deposited on each set.
Schlueter suggests taking two sets of residential-type hot water heaters - one a test group, the other a control group - and running magnetically treated water through the test group and untreated water through the control group.
Then remove the pipe section leading into each hot water heater (after the point of magnetic treatment), dry it and weigh it. Compare the weights for any statistically significant difference. If the magnetic devices work, presumably the pipe section that channeled the treated water would have less scale buildup and would weigh less.
"Comparatively, they're not up against a real tough technical test," says Schlueter. "Either the devices are removing and preventing scale or they're not."
Testimonials have value
Scores of foreign research studies and magnetics applications abroad also are ignored by the American water treatment community.
Given the relative lack of peer-reviewed research, magnetics producers point to numerous testimonials from industrial customers - such as steel mills and breweries - as proof the devices work. Manufacturers say the testimonials, however unscientific, often come from technical staff of their industrial clients who are making reasoned judgments.
During the 1980s, Betz-Dearborn Co., Lake Zurich, IL, a chemical treatment company, conducted scale reduction tests using magnetic devices, but found little effect, says Gary Geiger, cooling engineer manager.
"We know of some applications where there's no really high scaling potential in the water and the device might produce good results," Geiger explains. "But then it's removed and there's no scale disaster, and usually the client goes back to chemical treatment."
Magnetic devices represent "more of an irritation than a threat" to chemical treatment companies, Geiger says. "If there was something there, the large chemical companies would've found it within the last 30 years."
Representatives from other large chemical companies agree.
"We haven't conducted (magnetics) research within the company," says Gary Ganzi, vice president, research and development for U.S. Filter Corp., Lowell, MA. "But we have been following the technical literature, and we're starting to see some studies that appear to be sound scientific evaluations."
However, he adds, the studies to date haven't convinced him or other U.S. Filter officials that the devices have a significant scale reduction effect.
Nalco Chemical Co., Naperville, IL, loosely tracks developments in magnetic water treatment, "but if there were any significant effect in scale reduction, we would research it more thoroughly," says Michael Groshans, the company's market development manager for cooling water systems.
WQA won't assume brokering role
If NSF International can't convince magnetics manufacturers to develop testing protocols, it appears the Water Quality Association (WQA) will not try to fill a similar brokering role.
"We won't walk away from this situation, but it's not our responsibility to scientifically prove or disprove any technology," says Peter Censky, WQA's executive director.
That's a change in tune from the '80s and early '90s, when the WQA took a more assertive role in questioning magnetics technology. During the 1980s the organization financed two studies - at the South Dakota School of Mines in 1981 and at Purdue University in 1985.
The Purdue study concluded that none of the six permanent magnetic water conditioners tested "appeared capable of conditioning the employed groundwater in a fashion which would uniformly yield beneficial changes in its chemical, physical, and scaling characteristics."
And in 1995, WQA backed off an attempt to deny magnetics manufacturers booth space at its annual trade exhibition when the manufacturers threatened litigation.
Why is WQA more reluctant now to question the efficacy of magnetic devices?
"The issue is that, today, the WQA won't get involved in any more studies (of magnetics)," says Censky. "We're not out to prove them wrong. They don't have to prove it to us - prove it to the regulators. That's the change in our approach. Frankly, it isn't even up to NSF to prove or disprove the technology. It's up to enforcement agencies."
Despite its financial challenges, Censky says WQA's board of directors might be willing to fund an NSF project, but only if a significant number of magnetics producers participate and also help fund the effort.
"Magnetics producers may not want to have anything to do with WQA, but my guess is that our board would be willing to support an NSF project," he says.
|From Volume 30, Issue 11 - November 2007|
|Having water treatment equipment that is “certified” by an authoritative, unbiased third party is reassuring for manufacturers, dealers and consumers alike. Also, many governments now require installation of certified components or systems in water treatment applications. A dealer/installer’s failure or inability to provide certified products can mean loss of jobs, contracts and bids.|
Still, as important as product certification is, many may not understand or be confused about how it is achieved, who does it and how.
Why it happened
A century ago, American manufacturers decided that minimum standards for safety, product compatibility, and performance would help ensure consumer confidence in products and promote industrial efficiency — and forestall unwanted governmental regulation.
The result was the voluntary system in place today in which manufacturers, regulators and others sit down and establish, by consensus, minimum standards for product materials and performance.
“In the water treatment industry, one of the early concerns was that the products were difficult for the average consumer to evaluate,” says Rick Andrew, operations manager for the Drinking Water Treatment Units division of NSF International (sidebar). Through certification, the industry’s manufacturers and dealers could let the public know products performed as advertised.
Most standards relating specifically to drinking water treatment were originally written by the Water Quality Association (WQA) starting in the 1960s and eventually handed off to NSF, says Tom Palkon, CWS-VI, WQA’s director of product certification.
How it works
In very simplified form, the product certification process goes like this:
A manufacturer applies to a certifying organization (like NSF or the WQA Gold Seal program) to prove certain types of product performance claims (such as reducing lead to a certain level) under one or more standards (say, NSF/ANSI Standard 58: Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Treatment Systems). The manufacturer pays a fee to the testing organization, and that organization then puts the product through testing in its laboratory and inspects the manufacturer’s plant.
The scientific parameters for these tests are written by industry groups in concert with manufacturers; are later reviewed by an NSF-chaired, 33-member drinking water treatment committee comprised of manufacturers, regulators and a diverse group of “users”; and are finally let out for public comment before being approved. The 33-member committee includes certifying groups like WQA.
If a product passes, it is certified, and the manufacturer, among other things, puts the certifying organization’s mark or seal on the product. A certification lasts for five years and a product must be re-tested for the certification to be renewed.
Confusion can arise about which organizations do testing and certifying and how they relate to each other.
One common misconception is that NSF does all testing and product certification of drinking water treatment products. In fact, NSF is only one of about a half-dozen such organizations who provide those services.
WQA’s Palkon says another misconception is that NSF “is a government agency.” In fact, NSF, WQA and many of the other certifiers are private, not-for-profit.
The “NSF/ANSI” drinking water standards are so named because NSF has been designated by the national certification coordinator, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), as the coordinator of the drinking water committee. The standards are not the property of, or used solely by NSF. They are in the “public domain” and any ANSI-accredited organization, such as NSF or WQA, can use them for testing and certification.
Interestingly enough, each of the testing/certifying organizations views the others as competitors.
But the bottom line for dealers and consumers is that a product tested and certified by WQA, for instance, under NSF/ANSI drinking water standards, is just as validly certified as one certified by NSF, the CSA or other ANSI-accredited groups.
Does a product work?
Product certification is one way of answering a very basic question: “Does it work?” For the technologies for which standards have been established (ion exchange, reverse osmosis, etc.), that question equates to: “Is it certified?”
But what about technologies for which there are no established standards? Unproven or newer technologies may fall into this category.
One who has experienced this is Scott Sanderson Sr., vice president of the Superior Manufacturing division of Magnatech Corp., a Fort Wayne, IN-based manufacturer of “permanent magnetic” scale-control technology. A WQA member for many years, Superior has also been among those battling certifiers, so far unsuccessfully, for validation of magnetic technologies.
That controversy aside, Sanderson says he and his company are more than willing to work with anyone to help write standards and testing parameters for magnetic technology. In the past decade, NSF and WQA each took some initial steps toward addressing the magnetics issue. However, for various reasons, no standards for it have been developed yet.
One reason is technical, NSF’s Andrew says: “Scaling is such a complex phenomenon — you have flow dynamics, electrostatic properties, the question of where the scale is going to form in a pipe. And there’s the fact that, with magnetics, the product water is chemically unchanged.”
To help any company get its foot in a technological door, Andrew says there is a “standards lite” program, in which a “protocol” for a technology can be established under less-rigorous review. After more work, it could be upgraded to a full-blown standard.
Palkon notes that a task force of the International Association of Plumbing Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) has now been working for about a year to develop some magnetic-treatment standards.
How much to certify?
Another potential impediment, especially for a very small manufacturer, could be the cost of certification. NSF charges an applicant from about $15,000 for testing and certifying a single product claim to about $50,000 for multiple claims, according to Andrew. Palkon cited similar figures for WQA.
Andrew notes there are considerable laboratory and other start-up costs associated with testing for an entirely new standard. While NSF (and most of the others) are not-for-profit entities, those costs have to be justified by the number of companies that might take advantage of a new standard, he explains.
In any case, the standards environment is not static, and new standards or changes are being proposed all the time. For example, standards are now being developed for claims of treatment of microbiological contaminants in drinking water.
|Magnetics continues to attract|
|From Volume 23, Issue 3 - March 2000|
Although it seemed to be picking up momentum early last year, the movement toward eventual certification of magnetic water treatment devices has stalled. But that doesn't mean there hasn't been activity taking place behind the scenes.In 1998, NSF International had appealed to magnetics manufacturers for funding to develop testing protocols to prove the effectiveness of their products, based on a German standard used in Europe. The plans ground to a halt in the spring of 1999, with the departure of Nancy Culotta, general manager of NSF International's drinking water treatment unit program. "There was a question raised about the appropriateness of this," says Culotta's successor, Thomas J. Bruursema. "We needed to be sure we could develop [a protocol] that was based on sound science." The Ann Arbor, MI, testing organization now says it is waiting for the results of a literature review on magnetic water treatment by the Water Quality Association (WQA), Lisle, IL. Last March, the association set up an independent panel of representatives from industry and academia. Three subgroups were assigned a total of some 50 scientific papers on the effectiveness of magnetic treatment. "We aren't going to come to a conclusion on the effectiveness of magnetics," cautions panel head Daniel T. Carty, of the Brita Products Co. in Oakland, CA. "We're just reviewing these for their appropriateness for inclusion in what we want to do - to make sure they're based on sound science." Admitting the panel has been moving more slowly than he had anticipated, Carty nevertheless hopes to have its report ready for the WQA annual convention starting March 25. Mike Colburn of Dime Water, Inc. in Escondido, CA, sells both conventional water softeners and magnetic equipment. He had made a commitment to help fund the NSF test protocol project, and he's willing to pick up where they left off. "The offer is still on the table," says Colburn. Court and sparks
In the meantime, a member of the bench for the US District Court in the Northern District of Indiana has been performing his own review of a magnetics company's claims.In January, Chief Judge William C. Lee dismissed charges filed by Charles H. Sanderson Jr., co-owner of Kemtune, inc. in Fort Wayne, IN. Sanderson had sued three parties, the WQA, Spectrum Labs Inc. in St. Paul, MN, and Houston dealership Bob J. Johnson and Associates, Inc. Sanderson and his wife, Gloria, have long had a contentious relationship with the WQA and its past president, Duane D. Nowlin of Spectrum Labs. At a meeting of the Science Advisory Committee meeting at the association's 1999 convention, Gloria Sanderson accused the WQA under Nowlin's leadership of being responsible for the loss of millions of dollars in sales by her company.