Industry Forecast: Heading Towards 2020

Jan. 2, 2020

This article originally appeared in Water Quality Products January 2019 as "Industry Forecast: Heading Towards 2020"

About the author:

Pauli Undesser, MWS, Executive Director, Water Quality Association, [email protected], 630.505.0160

Rick Andrew, Director of Global Business, Development–Water Systems, NSF International, [email protected], 800.673.6275

Steve Ver Strat, Water Quality Association President, Regulatory Policy Advisor for Amway Corp., [email protected], [email protected]

Frank A. Brigano, PH.D., Vice President, Senior Research Fellow, Marmon Water Inc., [email protected], 203.764.2506

Marianne Metzger, Executive Director, Easter Water Quality Association, [email protected]

James Peterson, Product Manager, Crystal IS, [email protected], 518.271.7375


As we enter a new decade, industry experts analyze trends & expectations for the coming year.

Vision 20/20

By Pauli Undesser, MWS

Executive Director, Water Quality Association

[email protected] | 630.505.0160

What better year to talk about vision than 2020? Taking a clear look at what lies ahead, the Water Quality Association (WQA) supports a strong water treatment industry benefitting both our member companies and consumers.

We are starting 2020 with a revised Code of Ethics, one designed to help consumers understand the technologies our industry promotes. Specifically, we are concerned about how technologies and their performance capabilities are clearly explained and accurately marketed to consumers.

Starting Jan. 1, 2020, the WQA Glossary terms and definitions are added to the Code of Ethics, setting the expectation for member companies to use the term “water softener” in ways consistent with how the industry has defined it. We want to avoid confusing or misleading consumers, which hurts both customers and our industry as a whole. 

We will also be talking a lot this year about how WQA members can discuss legitimate water quality concerns without wading into the murky waters of scare tactics and violating the Code of Ethics Marketing Guidelines. When people use scare tactics to sell services or products, it puts our industry’s reputation at stake. We want our members to be reputable ambassadors for our industry.

Meanwhile, WQA will continue to speak quickly and authoritatively on behalf of members and the industry, particularly when issues like lead, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or other water contaminants are in the news. This fall we traveled to Newark, New Jersey, to help the city (and WQA member PUR) educate the public on the use of certified products to protect against lead in drinking water. We stand ready to respond quickly to similar public confidence emergencies with data such as the results of a Water Quality Research Foundation-funded study showing the economic benefits of using point-of-use devices to reduce health risks in drinking water. 

We chose “Vision 20/20” as the theme for the 2020 WQA Convention & Exposition because we are setting the vision for the next decade and dreaming bigger than ever before. Join us April 1 to 3, 2020, in Orlando, Florida, for exhibits of the latest water treatment products; insightful education sessions on emerging contaminants, water issues and treatment solutions; and a chance to connect with others in this great industry. Our third annual WQA Business Boot Camp will be March 31.

A bonus this year is a Commercial/Industrial Reverse Osmosis (RO) Sizing Workshop on the afternoon of April 3; we also plan to offer a day-and-a-half-long session going more in depth on RO and softener sizing later this spring.

We are all dedicated to the same goal: the betterment of water quality around the world. WQA and the industry are ready to dream bigger than ever before, and I am ready to make those dreams happen. 

Lead & Emerging Contaminants

Rick Andrew

Director of Global Business, Development–Water Systems, NSF International

[email protected] | 800.673.6275

As we head into the next decade, there are two issues that I think will continue to influence the water industry.

Lead in drinking water has been a hot topic for most of the current decade, and I think this trend is going to continue into the next. We have seen recently a trend for more sophisticated sampling procedures when testing for lead and copper in public water supplies. There have been efforts to sample homes known or suspected to have lead service lines, and in more and more of these situations the samplers have targeted sampling the water that dwelled in the lead service line for a period of time. This approach is more likely to lead to higher concentrations of lead in these samples compared to a random sampling, or a sampling of first water out of the tap, or both. 

We have already seen increased detections of lead resulting from these initiatives in multiple communities. Recommendations for those impacted by lead in their drinking almost always include use of water filters certified to reduce lead. Additionally, communities are focusing on replacement of lead service lines as what they consider to be a long-term solution to these issues.

Emerging contaminants, especially PFAS, have been another hot topic for the last several years, with no signs of slowing down. PFAS is being detected in more and more areas as efforts to find PFAS contamination have ramped up. Several states are developing or considering regulation of multiple PFAS compounds in drinking water, beyond perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). This has the potential to be a convoluted regulatory scheme due to the different approaches by different states and large number of specific PFAS compounds, so efforts to track it are important. 

Beyond PFAS, there are other emerging contaminants. One of them is a contaminant many of us are familiar with as an aesthetic contaminant famous for staining laundry when present in water, but it is now emerging in terms of health effects. Manganese is now being regulated by Health Canada, with some U.S. states also taking action based on the potential health effects of manganese in drinking water. 

Another one to watch is Legionella. Detections of Legionella is on the rise, not only in drinking water, but also in process water used in applications such as cooling towers and in other types of building water such as decorative fountains. Facilities, especially healthcare facilities, are putting increased emphasis on developing water management plans and water safety plans to help them reduce their risks of exposure to Legionella

Solution Providers

Steve Ver Strat

Water Quality Association President

Regulatory Policy Advisor for Amway Corp.

[email protected][email protected]

The outlook for the water treatment industry remains strong. Growth rates remain positive globally and are particularly strong for Asia. There are several drivers for this increase in demand, but in the end, it distills to a fundamental shift in consumer attitudes related to the quality of their drinking water supply. 

Consumer concerns are not limited to municipal supply but to private groundwater supplies as well. With ongoing lead issues following the Flint, Michigan, water crisis and with the prevalence of reports on the PFAS “forever” chemicals, consumer awareness has never been higher. 

Centralized drinking water purveyors continue to do an incredible job treating and distributing drinking water that meets existing standards, which is particularly notable given the challenges associated with source water quality, infrastructure and cost constraints. However, with this expanding universe of new and emerging contaminants consumers remain concerned and are increasingly looking to the products of our industry to bring peace of mind. 

Additionally, consumers want to become better informed and are conducting research on drinking water issues and products as part of their purchase decision. This was evidenced in the recent Water Quality Association Consumer Opinion Survey which revealed significant increases in this area. Of course, the source and quality of the information remains critical, as misinformation related to prevalence of contaminants, associated risks and unsubstantiated performance claims can create anxiety and drive poor buying decisions. 

This need for credible information only reinforces the need for representatives of our industry to be well-informed, trained and certified as water specialists to be certain consumers are making a well-informed buying decision. With this, we should maintain a focus on the importance of certified products to close the loop. 

This view of our industry as solution providers is not limited to consumers, it is also being recognized more broadly in the regulatory community. Regulators are increasingly looking to the products of our industry as a mitigation strategy and view them as cost-effective, short-term and long-term solutions for addressing drinking water issues. Advocacy efforts by the WQA at the state and federal level, as well as grassroot efforts at the state and local level remain critical to building on this acceptance.

As an industry, we need to continue to lean forward and continuously evaluate our future needs. There remains a pool of young, diverse talent that we need to be able to attract, and their inclusion will bring fresh ideas, strategies and viewpoints that will be essential to maintain relevance. The WQA’s establishment of Young Professionals and Women in Industry task forces are important steps that need to be supported at all levels across the industry.

In total, the fundamentals for a strong industry remain in place. Water and water quality concerns remain in the forefront and with that lies the ongoing opportunities. Embracing these opportunities in a responsible, science-based manner will remain critical to expanding our credibility and ensuring our role as a solution provider. 

It’s Past Time

Frank A. Brigano, PH.D.

Vice President, Senior Research Fellow, Marmon Water Inc.

[email protected] | 203.764.2506

It is past time for federal and state regulatory bodies to embrace point-of-use (POU) and point-of-entry (POE) systems as final barriers to resolve water system contaminant issues. It is past time for our industry to fully embrace sustainability. 

In the early 1990’s, the U.S. federal government reauthorized the Safe Drinking Water Act. A provision was added to the reauthorization to allow for the use of POU/POE as solutions to solve drinking water contaminant issues. However, as the years have passed, there has been little, if any, movement to accept POU/POE as a final barrier for water supply contaminant reduction. The major stated reasons for this have been the operation and maintenance (O&M) of the equipment, accessibility to all homes and businesses and performance monitoring. 

In recent years, POU has been deployed as a stop gap for lead contamination, such as in Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey. However, the list of contaminants in municipal water supplies has accelerated such that it is becoming more and more impractical for municipal water treatment facilities to address and remove all these substances. The Water Quality Research Foundation in 2017 funded a study that showed “POU device use in the U.S. is cost beneficial given the wide range of contaminants potentially present in drinking water.” 

Our industry has made great strides developing and deploying POU and POE systems with monitoring devices, end-of-life indicators and IoT capabilities that should knock down the regulatory barriers for deploying our technologies and products as final barriers to remove contaminants and protect public health. However, we need to continue thinking about how to limit O&M issues, how to expand accessibility across the U.S. and how to better monitor the performance of our systems. 

Product sustainability is an area in which our industry is lagging behind others. Innovative and disruptive approaches need to be developed and deployed around construction materials, recycling, repurposing and reuse and product packaging. For example, we need to rethink our disposal of plastic housings which contain filter elements. Understanding that replacement filer elements are essential to product certification and business profitability, new methods need to be deployed to prevent these plastic housings from entering the waste stream. Currently, printer cartridge/toner companies recycle their disposable elements. Our industry also needs to rethink how we can “take back,” repurpose or reuse spent materials. Yes, this is a challenge, but it is challenge that we urgently must address. 

Lastly, the development of water efficient systems needs to continue and improve. Water starved countries like India and China are focusing on reverse osmosis systems for water recovery. We must continue to improve the efficiency of these and all water using/wasting products. 

Our industry is positioned to make huge strides in 2020, and it is exciting to be a part those strides. But we must keep in the forefront of our innovation POU/POE systems, sustainability and water efficiency. 

Consumer Concerns

Marianne Metzger

Executive Director, Easter Water Quality Association

[email protected]

It is a great time to be in the water treatment business. The awareness about water quality has driven public interest in home water treatment and business is up. The two biggest topics in terms of water quality are lead and perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). Since 2014, when the Flint, Michigan, story came to light, lead has been a hot topic and the subject of new legislation. Lead in drinking water stories are happening every day, keeping this in the minds of people who are concerned for their health and the health of family members, especially those with young children. Secondly, the emergence of PFC contaminants, there is even greater concern given the unknown long-term effects of exposure to these compounds. The U.S. EPA uncovered how widespread PFC contamination is based upon the results of the UCMR and additional testing in areas that were vulnerable to PFC contamination, such as military bases. Many cities and towns have come forward with PFC contaminated water supplies, and without any clear federal levels, have been forced to establish their own levels for the safety of their residents. 

These two topics have been highly publicized in the news and people are listening and taking action to ensure their family has access to clean drinking water. According to the Water Quality Association’s (WQA) 2019 Consumer Opinion Study, more than 50% of people were concerned with 25% being concerned about their water quality, indicating a high level of public awareness. Additionally, the study shows that 63% of participants purchased some type of water treatment equipment, when they moved into their home. At the recent Eastern WQA Fall Trade Show and Conference, many dealers acknowledged that business was good and they had stayed busy with some companies expanding by hiring additional employees.

Increasing Demands

James Peterson

Product Manager, Crystal IS

[email protected] | 518.271.7375

The opportunity for POU treatment to address growing water quality issues after centralized treatment is continuing to grow into 2020, but there are also now end user demands of those systems. Increased testing at the tap is leading to needs for higher claims reliability and proactive protection against cartridge or stored water fouling. 

U.S. consumer behavior has continued to have a significant preference for selecting pitcher or faucet mount devices to provide a belief of water quality, but increased contamination events in the news are growing awareness around more detailed reduction claims. This year, we saw news reports of one of the nation’s most recognizable pitcher and faucet filter brands in some testing after being supplied to residents in Newark, New Jersey, and the municipality quickly revert back to supplying bottled water. 

Beyond contaminant reduction claims, end users are becoming more aware of the inevitable fouling of filter cartridges and dispenser appliances. Microbial testing is getting faster and cheaper from Legionella outbreaks in building plumbing being increasingly prevalent to the current draft of the new European Union Drinking Water Directive, which is moving microbial testing to the tap. This is helping monitor public exposure to microorganisms, but it is also increasing occurrences where end users are identifying their point-of-use (POU) cartridges as the source of increased microbial contamination in their water.

On top of years of prior research showing cartridge contamination, this year’s study by the Water Quality Research Foundation again found more than 70% of serviced residential filters contaminated with coliform, leading to healthy debate on whether or not positive microbial test results are of concern. However, with the growing availability of affordable testing, dealers and service providers will inevitably face increasing number of questions around the microbial content found in water produced by their systems in the coming year. 

National dealer and service operations are beginning to react to this by implementing disinfection before dispense. This year will hold a large uptick in the number of POU systems using UVC LEDs to provide this treatment, while avoiding the service burden of UV Lamp systems. Some operations will even be quietly adding the treatment at no cost to end users as increased risk management and brand protection. 

This year’s NSF Legionella Conference highlighted that water utilities are taking a unified stance that microbial contamination at the tap has become a water quality issue that can no longer just be addressed with improvements to centralized treatment. Thus, the opportunity for POU and point-of-entry systems will be more than just an optional treatment choice and become a valuable part of how our water infrastructure is designed in the future.