Reader Question Of The Week – NSF 61

The reader question of the week comes from a colleague, old friend, electrical engineering genius, and soon to be Doctor Claude Abraham Ph.D. Claude writes:

“Tom, I have seen a product additive made for purifying water out in the wilderness. It says it is NSF 61 certified. Does NSF 61 mean it is safe to drink from?”

In a previous but recent article that you can access here I took some harsh shots at the NSF organization. My antagonism toward NSF centers around what I see is a purposeful misleading of the consumer into believing that the organization is much more important than it is.

  • The NSF is not a regulatory body or government agency, and there is no mandate that water products carry their certification
  • NSF certification does not guarantee that the water coming out of any certified product will be safe to drink

Claude’s question illuminates the justification for my issues with NSF. Let me be absolutely clear: The NSF 61 certification absolutely does not guarantee that the product is safe for drinking water. It is absolutely possible for a person to treat water with NSF 61 certified products and be poisoned. Let me explain why this is.

NSF 61 is designed as a test to see if a product decomposes, dissolves or otherwise destructs over time. The test consists of three individual steps.

  1. A three-hour soak in pure water. After the soak the water is discarded and not tested.
  2. A second three-hour soak in pure water. After the soak the water is discarded and not tested.
  3. A third three-hour soak in pure water. After this soak the water is tested for harmful contaminants.

While the purpose of this test is to determine if the drinking water product will decompose under normal use, the testing does not happen until after 9 hours of use/soaking.

The consumer however, is not going to rinse his product for nine-hours before using it. Instead, he is going to install his product and start using it immediately. If upon initial installation and use, this product gives off any toxic materials such as volatile organics, pesticides, chromium, lead, arsenic or other poisons it can seriously harm the consumer while at the same time not violating the NSF 61 certification. Remember, NSF 61 says absolutely nothing about what comes off the product before the 9-hour rinse.

While the NSF 61 protocol clearly does not make any claims about guaranteeing safe water, and states that this test serves to make sure that products don’t degrade and decompose after use, many people believe NSF 61 is a safe drinking water guarantee. There are also companies, who don’t understand what the NSF 61 certification means who boldly claim that their products are drinking water safe.

My answer to Dr. Abraham is that if this camping water product only offers the NSF 61 certification, even though it may be perfectly safe, without such a guarantee, I would not drink water processed by that product.


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