NSF International survey finds consumers don’t consider specific contaminants when it comes to treating tap water

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — According to NSF International’s 2013 Water Quality Survey, U.S. consumers are not doing their due diligence before buying a water treatment system. The survey of 942 American adults who use water filtration products found that less than one-fifth (17 percent) research the contaminants in their local water supply and purchase a water filter that has been tested and certified to reduce those contaminants.

NSF International’s survey revealed that more than half of Americans (55 percent) who have a home water filter purchased the water treatment system for reasons unrelated to the quality of their tap water, citing the following as influencing their decision: the system came with the home (35 percent), was recommended by family or friends (11 percent), or received positive online reviews (8 percent).

“It’s common for consumers to believe that any water filter they choose will improve the quality of their tap water,” says Cheryl Luptowski, NSF International Consumer Affairs Expert. “Different water filtration products address different water quality issues and no single filtration product can eliminate all potential contaminants. The best action consumers can take is to research the contaminants in their water supply and buy a water filtration system certified to reduce those contaminants.”

One of the easiest ways for consumers to understand the contaminants found in their water is through Consumer Confidence Reports (CCRs), also referred to as Water Quality Reports. These reports provide a snapshot of water quality in a specific city or area and detailed data regarding which contaminants have been detected in the water, the levels (amounts) at which they were detected, and how these levels compare to those outlined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water regulations.

The U.S. EPA requires most community water systems to provide customers with an annual water quality report or CCR. Most homeowners will receive a copy of the report in the mail each year typically around July 1st. People living in apartments or condominiums may not receive a copy directly but can access this information on their community's website or by calling their local water department.

Although these free reports contain useful information, NSF International’s survey results found that many consumers are not utilizing them when buying a water filter. Only one-third (30 percent) of consumers surveyed who have a water filtration system read and understand the information in the water quality reports. The others do not review their reports (26 percent), do not know what the report is (18 percent) or review the report but don’t understand the implications of what they are reading (9 percent).

“While contaminant levels in most U.S. public water supplies do not exceed EPA’s public health limits and are not present at levels that are known to cause health issues, it is still useful to know what contaminants are in your tap water before buying a filter,” Luptowski said. “The information in your Water Quality/Consumer Confidence Report provides important information about your water and gives you a good base to identify what you may want to improve in your water.”

There are some emerging contaminants which could be in water at trace levels but not show up on a community’s water quality report, including some prescription drugs, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, flame retardants, detergents and new types of herbicides and pesticides. Although the health risks associated with trace levels of these emerging contaminants are not yet well understood, their presence in drinking water at even low levels has many consumers concerned. This led to the development of NSF/ANSI 401 – Emerging Compounds/Incidental Contaminants, a new American National Standard that evaluates the ability of water treatment devices to reduce up to 15 emerging contaminants in drinking water.

Based on another independent survey conducted on behalf of NSF International, 48 percent of the U.S. population revealed that they are concerned about the safety and quality of water filters. Consumers who are concerned about a particular water quality issue or contaminant, and who are considering the use of a home water treatment product to treat this issue, can use the NSF Contaminant Guide to locate a list of products certified to address that issue.

Additional information about Consumer Confidence Reports can be found on NSF International’s consumer website.

Media Contact: To schedule an interview with an NSF International drinking water expert, contact Greta Houlahan at media@nsf.org or 734-913-5723.

This telephone survey (combined landline and cell phone) was conducted by ORC International on behalf of NSF International among a sample of 2,025 adults, 1,105 men and 1,010 women, 18 years of age and older, living in the continental United States.  Calibration weighting was used to weight the sample and to reduce the potential for sample bias, ensuring that the results reflect the population.  The survey was fielded over two consecutive weekends (June 20th – 23rd and June 27th – 30th, 2013) in order to attain a sample of 942 adults with water filters.  Results have a margin of error of +/- 3 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

About NSF International
NSF International is an independent global organization that writes standards, and tests and certifies products for the food, water, health sciences and consumer goods industries to minimize adverse health effects and protect the environment (nsf.org). Founded in 1944, NSF is committed to protecting human health and safety worldwide. NSF International has been collaborating with the World Health Organization since 1997 in water quality and safety, food safety and indoor environments.

NSF led the development of the American National Standards for all materials and products that treat or come in contact with drinking water. In 1990, the U.S. EPA replaced its drinking water product advisory program with these NSF standards. Today, all major plumbing codes require certification to NSF standards for pipes and plumbing components in commercial and residential buildings. NSF International is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Additional NSF services include sustainability standards development, claims and product verification through NSF Sustainability; food safety and quality programs through the NSF Global Food Safety Division; and testing and certification programs for the bottled water and beverages, dietary supplements and consumer product industries.