Plumbing Code Stresses Prevention for Commercial Drinking Water Risks

About the author:

Tom Palkon is executive vice president-water systems for IAPMO R&T. Palkon can be reached at [email protected].

Updated 3/9/20

The International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) model plumbing codes are updated every three years. With each three-year cycle, water quality continues to become a bigger focus for consumer health and safety in homes and businesses. 

Drinking water contamination is a global problem. People who travel quickly notice the varying water quality aspects throughout the U.S. and abroad. Most travelers would never consider drinking tap water in emerging countries or even in many developed countries. Even in the U.S., where tap water is considered safe, we continue to hear about tap water contaminated with lead, disinfection byproducts, perfluochemicals, arsenic and more. Drinking water contamination notices and related publicity have increased the need and demand for residential and commercial water treatment products. How do plumbing codes ensure all water treatment products installed to improve tap water are safe or that they do not negatively affect the plumbing design? 

Several existing standards are referenced in the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) and the International Residential Code (IRC). These standards include NSF/ANSI Standard 44 for residential cation exchange water softeners, NSF/ANSI Standard 58 for point-of-use (POU) reverse osmosis (RO), and NSF/ANSI Standards 42 and 53 for residential water filtration equipment. One of the major gaps that exists in the plumbing codes today is a set of requirements for commercial water treatment equipment. The primary reason for this gap is that a standard to evaluate the health and safety of commercial water treatment equipment did not exist. The ASSE 1087 standard has been developed and published to fill this gap. 

Commercial & Food Service

In October 2018, ASSE Intl. published ASSE 1087, a comprehensive health and safety standard to cover commercial and food service water treatment equipment. Regulators and inspectors in the U.S., throughout Canada, and where adopted internationally will no longer need to rely on manufacturers’ performance data when approving the use of commercial water treatment equipment in buildings, restaurants, hospitals, hotels and schools. This article discusses the key sections of the 1087 standard and the products included in its scope. 

The 1087 standard includes plumbed-in water treatment devices and components, point-of-entry (POE) and POU, that are used in buildings to improve the quality of the water. The standard covers all water treatment products that are connected to the building’s plumbing system for potable water. The standard is not intended to cover products used for process water, wastewater applications or residential water treatment equipment. 

Requirements & Testing

Service flow and pressure drop testing is required on complete systems. Service flow rate and pressure drop information is critical when sizing the plumbing system of new buildings or for determining the proper size for treatment equipment in existing buildings. This testing includes requirements for specified service flow rates and maximum flow rates with corresponding pressure drop data. This data can be used by plumbing engineers for proper sizing of systems to comply with the plumbing code. 

Backsiphonage during system regeneration testing is required on products such as cation exchange water softeners that use brine to regenerate the system. Areas of the U.S. are beginning to require regenerating water treatment equipment to be installed with an additional backflow prevention device. This test has been designed to confirm that the system will not allow fluid in the brine tank to enter the potable water system. Systems meeting this design will not need an additional backflow prevention device because this safety mechanism is designed into the water treatment system. It is important to note this test is designed to evaluate backflow of the brine tank. Proper air gaps also are required on systems that include a drain connection. 

Bypass flow capacity during system regeneration testing is required on products such as cation exchange water softeners. Flow rate and pressure drop testing will be conducted on the water treatment equipment while the automatic bypass is engaged. This test is designed to ensure the building will not be restricted of water if there is a demand when the system is regenerating. 

The 1087 standard also includes four structural integrity tests to verify the integrity of the system or component. A 24-hour pressure loss test is required on complete systems and pressure bearing components. This test has been designed to demonstrate the system or component will not leak under pressure during a 24-hour period. The pressure shock (water hammer) test checks the system’s ability to withstand water hammer up to twice the maximum rated working pressure of the device. The hydrostatic test is performed to ensure the system or component will be able to withstand peak pressures experienced in a plumbing system. Finally, cycle testing is performed to ensure the system or component will be able to withstand repeated pressure cycling for a simulated 20 years of life. 

Material safety testing refers to the existing NSF/ANSI Standard 61 that has been used for decades to ensure products are safe to contract drinking water. POU products would reference the corresponding NSF/ANSI standard covering filters, RO and distillers. The 1087 standard also requires systems and components to comply with the requirements of NSF/ANSI Standard 372 to verify compliance with the U.S. EPA’s lead-free requirements under the safe drinking water act.

Contaminant reduction testing to verify marketed claims currently is not required in the standard because most commercial products are specifically designed and constructed for the commercial building’s water treatment needs. Creating contaminant reduction test protocols for uniquely designed products of varying sizes can be challenging. However, industry manufacturers already have initiated proposed revisions to the standard to include voluntary contaminant reduction testing to verify the system’s marketed claims.

As these protocols are finalized and validated through laboratory testing, the standard will be opened for revision. The ASSE 1087 standard will provide regulators, inspectors and code developers an opportunity to improve health and safety requirements for commercial water treatment products that connect to the building drinking water supply. Creating the ASSE 1087 standard to cover all commercial drinking water treatment equipment is an important step to improve the safety of drinking water. The standard follows ASSE’s motto, “Prevention Rather than Cure,” by allowing companies, inspectors and regulators to verify the safety and performance of commercial water treatment equipment before it is installed in a building.

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