Certification for Coolers and Water Vending Machines

Nothing is constant except change itself. Water coolers and water vending machines are not exempt from this old adage. Think of a water cooler. What comes to mind? Most typically, a picture of the standalone device that has a 5-gal bottle of “purified” water positioned on the top. These types of coolers would serve cold, ambient or hot water.

When the bottle would run low on water, miraculously a stranger would show up and replace the bottle with a fresh, new bottle. A continuous source of tasty water at your desired temperature.

Water coolers started in a much more primitive form. Ice blocks were used to cool containers of water from unfiltered sources. Fortunately, human preservation directed us to improve the original water coolers to the current versions, which vary from the bottle machine described above to a tankless version. Tankless versions are directly plumbed into a water supply and contain their own filtration elements such as carbon filters or reverse osmosis elements. Current water vending machines have evolved from tankless water coolers, but they took one step further to provide higher volume production of filtered water. Innovation has progressed even more, allowing both water coolers and vending machines that were previously restricted to office space to encroach into every type of living and working space.

Certification and Regulatory Requirements

Along with product changes, changes consequently took place with the certification and regulatory requirements of water coolers and water vending machines. The early variations of water coolers did not contain elements for contaminant reduction. Therefore, the certification or evaluations of those devices were restricted to material safety only. This type of testing and certification ensures that the materials of the devices do not impart harmful contaminants into the product water after it has passed through the device. While the materials safety review and testing of the water coolers are contained in the NSF/ANSI 61 standard, the quality of the bottled water would follow other guidelines such as health, sanitation, or environmental regulations. As regulations changed, certifications were forced to change as well. For example, when low lead regulations became stricter, the NSF/ANSI 61 standard consequently had to include review and testing to ensure that low lead regulations were met.

As the drinking water community became more knowledgeable, the necessity for these coolers and vending machines to have the capacity to reduce contamination became prevalent. As a result, contaminant reduction capabilities became integrated in residential point-of-use water coolers. This integration now allowed for the systems to be tested under NSF/ANSI 42 (aesthetics effects) or NSF/ANSI 53 (health effects) for performance, material safety and structural integrity as opposed to NSF/ANSI 61 for materials safety only. This allowed water cooler manufacturers a completely new direction for developing and marketing improved products. Moreover, consumers gained a verifiable means to evaluate the quality of the water coming from the water coolers. The days of putting faith solely in the idea that the bottled water must be better than tap water became a thing of the past. Now, consumers could rely on information from certification bodies to verify that the devices were performing acceptably for specific contaminant reduction according to national standards.

Certification bodies were now able to address the changes in residential point-of-use products and provide contaminant reduction certifications. It is unfortunate, however, that certification bodies are still unable to address contaminant reduction performance testing for small commercial, commercial or industrial water coolers and water vending machines. At this time, NSF/ANSI standards do not cover contaminant reduction performance for water cooler or water vending devices not made specifically for residential applications. Some manufacturers have inquired about a standard being developed to cover certification of these types of products; however, without regulation or manufacturers driving the development of a new standard, it will not move forward.

A Push for Change

New standards, like anything else, are directed by necessity. All NSF/ANSI standards have been developed as a direct push from regulators, industry and/or consumers. In 2009, a standard revision was developed when the low lead regulations in California and Vermont were revised. Another example is a standard for microbiological reduction performance being developed for potable water applications. This initiative was a result of a direct push from consumers and manufacturers who want or need an alternative to the U.S. EPA Microbiological Guide standard that was created solely for unknown water sources.

New standards can be developed or old standards can be revised, but it does take action from regulators, manufacturers, industry members, consumers or other involved parties. Until a new standard is developed or a current standard is revised for commercial or industrial water coolers or water vending machines, certification will continue in accordance with NSF/ANSI 61. Residential products will still have the option of NSF/ANSI 42, 53, 58 and 61.

Pauli Undesser, CWS-VI, is product certification supervisor for the Water Quality Assn. Undesser can be reached at 630.929.2514 or by e-mail at pundesser@wqa.org.

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