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As water coolers evolve to include more complex point-of-use filtration systems, certification becomes increasingly important. Dave Bentley, technical manager for NSF Intl., recently discussed the ins and outs of cooler certification with Water Quality Products Managing Editor Kate Cline.
Kate Cline: Which NSF standards apply to water coolers?
Dave Bentley: Back in the day, when water coolers were first certified, they were certified under Standard 18, which is a food standard. This just related to the 5-gal jugs that you invert to get your water. You did not get involved with the drinking water treatment unit standards until the coolers were redesigned to be hooked up to potable water.
Once that happened, then you had the various nuances with regard to the types of certifications that may be applicable to that type of device. The drinking water treatment unit standards would then come into play. What those standards lack are some of the manufacturing nuances that are applied to the overall coolers that you used to have under Standard 18.
Cline: Are there any types of coolers not currently covered under NSF standards?
Bentley: The majority of coolers can be certified under Standard 18. One of the things we have seen recently is a little bit of a market shift, in which coolers are becoming certified under standard 42 or 53, or perhaps an additional standard based on the technology that may be used in the filtration component. Coolers without filtration components also can be certified to Standard 61, Section 9 as endpoint devices.
Cline: What are the latest trends in coolers?
Bentley: One of the main things that you see right now in water coolers is a shift toward point-of-use technologies. [Manufacturers] are getting away from the 5-gal jugs of water you pour through them. The manufacturers are looking for something a little bit different, something that is going to perhaps differentiate them from their competitors. Also, you are seeing some trends toward the use of disinfection in these devices.
Cline: What challenges are there in certifying water coolers?
Bentley: The marking of the device is what leads to a little bit of confusion, because if a manufacturer is using a certified [filtration] system within a device, that certified system would carry the [NSF] mark. Of course it is the NSF Certification Mark for drinking water treatment units, but now you do not understand necessarily what that mark means—is it for the whole device, or is it just for the filtration system? If a cooler is certified as a complete device, you should see a certification on the outside of the device itself, possibly on the data plate.
Cline: What are the pros and cons of whole device certification versus filter system certification?
Bentley: In regard to [filtration] system certification, you only know exactly what the system itself has been certified for. If you are looking at the whole water cooler as being certified, you know that the system that is included with the water cooler has been reviewed for compliance [and] has been tested and certified, and any of the additional nuances of the product have been looked at as well—the water hookup has been tested for structural integrity, the valves that are used in dispensing the water have been evaluated for material extraction. If you have complete cooler certification, as opposed to system certification, you have the full scope of the certification, as opposed to just [being] somebody who is using a certified product.
Cline: Why is certification important for coolers?
Bentley: There are two different routes there: the retail and the rental. The retail is important from the standpoint of you and me as consumers—that then we know that a product has been evaluated according to a specific standard. You may have some issues with your water, you may want some polishing of your water to be done, and if you purchase a certified system or cooler, you know you are going to be getting what you are paying for. The one thing that you have to be concerned about with retail purchasing is the fact that the responsibility falls on the consumer to continue to change out the critical components within that device to make sure it is going to continue to function as certified.
On the flip side, when you have a cooler that is certified from a rental company, it is able to go ahead and enter into contracts with the consumer to provide the type of necessary critical component change-outs that you do need to do on a timely basis to make sure that it continues to function as originally certified