Product Certification

As the Water Quality Association’s Gold Seal Product Certification Program made it through its first Public Health Review Board (PHRB) meeting, we thought it would be appropriate to discuss the ins and outs of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Standards Council of Canada (SCC) accredited product certification program.

The Water Quality Association (WQA) established the PHRB to provide independent oversight of its Gold Seal Product Certification Program policies. The purpose of the PHRB is to ensure that WQA’s Gold Seal program acts impartially; is designed to protect public health; and operates as a third-party, independent certification agency. In order for the PHRB to function, a complete understanding of WQA’s Gold Seal certification policies must be obtained. Just like the PHRB, manufacturers that plan on using the WQA for their product certification needs must understand the Gold Seal Product Certification Program policies.

Program Components

The Gold Seal program comprises three separate departments that work together to facilitate a smooth progression through the certification process. The WQA laboratory is responsible for testing the product(s) in accordance to the applicable industry standard(s). The Gold Seal program tests products to a variety of industry standards. WQA uses the NSF/ANSI 42, 44, 53, 55, 58, 62 and 177 standards to evaluate drinking water treatment units such as water softeners, filters, RO equipment, UV technology, distillers and shower filters. The NSF/ANSI 60 and 61 standards are used to evaluate drinking water additive products such as plumbing products, faucets, media, pipes and chemicals used to treat drinking water. The laboratory uses these and other industry standards to determine the testing battery that will be used to evaluate the product.

The Facility Assessment Department is responsible for conducting plant inspections. WQA’s Gold Seal program audits each manufacturer’s plant at least once per year. WQA also ensures that initial plant inspections are conducted in conjunction with initial certification and prior to official listing. The facility inspections are designed to ensure that each certified manufacturer maintains quality control procedures that are established to ensure products are produced in a consistent manner. The inspections also confirm that the manufacturer is building the product(s) using the same components, materials and manufacturing processes that were used when the initial testing and evaluation took place.

Because the Gold Seal program’s scope is limited to drinking water-related products, many manufacturers have commented that the facility assessments (plant inspections) are the most thorough inspections received each year. Manufacturers have also remarked that WQA’s assessors provide beneficial quality control recommendations that have improved manufacturing processes.

The final component of the Gold Seal program is the Certification Department. This department is responsible for ensuring that the manufacturer complies with all the current Gold Seal certification policies, standard requirements, facility assessment requirements and WQA’s Code of Ethics. The Certification Department assembles the manufacturer’s file and reviews it to make certain that all requirements have been met.

Specifically, before certification can be granted, the certification coordinator ensures that: The manufacturer complies with all Gold Seal general and program-specific policies; all test data generated by the laboratory complies with the appropriate standard; all literature complies with the policies, WQA’s Code of Ethics and the applicable requirements of the standard; and the manufacturer’s plant has passed the facility inspection. Without clear communication between departments and well-trained and educated staff, it is obvious that certification could be delayed by no fault of the manufacturer.

Accreditation and Oversight

In order for the PHRB, ANSI and SCC to conduct their evaluation of WQA’s Gold Seal program, they must obtain a clear understanding of the program’s policies and procedures. ANSI and SCC conduct annual inspections that typically last two to three days. The audits ensure the Gold Seal program’s policies and procedures comply with ANSI’s and SCC’s accreditation requirements, which typically include a thorough review of the program to ensure that it meets the criteria of ISO Guide 65, ISO 17025 and ISO 17020, along with some other requirements specific to ANSI and SCC.

In order to educate the members of the PHRB, WQA held the first meeting at WQA headquarters in Lisle, Ill. WQA was able to provide a tour of the facility, as well as present the program and staff to each of the PHRB members. During the meeting, WQA educated the PHRB members about the certification process and the various Gold Seal policies that affect product certification(s). WQA used a full day to clearly outline the current policies and present proposed revisions to the general and program-specific Gold Seal policies. Each revision will be balloted and voted on by the PHRB so that the change will not affect public health and safety. The PHRB comprises individuals from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Canada, California Department of Health Services, Minnesota Department of Health and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Increased Capacity

WQA has established recognized testing laboratories in the U.S., Canada and throughout the world in order to handle a testing request from any size manufacturer. These agreements provide WQA the ability to certify products from companies that manufacture in North America, Europe, Asia or any place around world. The agreements have also allowed WQA to meet certification timelines manufacturers have requested. Because of these agreements, large and small manufacturers now have confidence that WQA can handle any certification request.

Summary

WQA’s Gold Seal Product Certification Program serves several functions. It has been designed to protect public health and safety; introduce competition; and provide additional capacity to the certification industry. The Gold Seal program has been successful due to quick turnaround times for testing; expert service from the staff; a superior reputation throughout the industry; and fair pricing for certification.

If you were not aware of WQA’s expanded capacity and recognized testing laboratory capabilities, you should take a closer look. You will be pleasantly surprised with the expanded scope, increased capacity and expert service.

Thomas P. Palkon, CWS-VI, is director of product certification for Water Quality Association. He can be reached at 630.505.0160, or by e-mail at tpalkon@mail.wqa.org.

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