22 March: World Water Day

Testing quality - from the source to the tap

Tap
Credit: AS prm / stern

Austria is one of just a few EU countries having a standard that ensures that materials getting in contact with drinking water are absolutely safe. On World Water Day celebrated on 22 March, Austrian Standards draws attention to this document that contributes to the sustainable protection of drinking water quality and provides an example for Europe.

Drinking water is our most important nutrient. In contrast to many other countries, Austria is fortunate enough to cover its demand for high-quality drinking water almost entirely from protected groundwater resources. It is supplied in its natural state and in excellent quality to the consumers.

ÖNORM B 5014 "Sensory and chemical requirements and testing of materials in contact with drinking water" was developed to maintain the high quality of drinking water on the way from the source to the thirsty. "This three-part national standard defines the requirements to be met by materials coming in contact with our drinking water in detail," explains Dipl. Ing. Jörg Nachbaur, the manager of the competent Committee 140 "Water quality" at Austrian Standards.

Why a national standard on materials?

Plastic pipes
Credit: AS prm / stern

The path of our drinking water from the source to the tap is many kilometres long. It travels through concrete, metal or plastic pipes, is retained in reservoirs, stored in tanks and finally supplied to buildings and homes where it pours from the tap and is completely safe to drink.

"Before we consume it, drinking water is in contact with all sorts of materials that should affect water quality as little as possible and should not be harmful to health," stresses Ing. Helmut Richter who works in the Department of Plastics Technology and Environmental Engineering of the Federal Testing Centre TGM in Vienna. "The longer water stays in plastic or metal pipes, tanks and fittings, the more likely it is that undesirable materials are introduced into the water that reduce water quality and may have a negative effect on health," warns the chemist.

"Not only lead pipes but also other metal and plastic pipes release substances to water that are definitely not welcome in drinking water," cautions Richter. "Especially fittings with complex components inside may involve alloys containing lead and other undesirable metals. Metals that end up in drinking water in this way may already harm health in minor quantities. Therefore, the Drinking Water Regulation defines very low limit values for their concentrations."

Water is perishable

"It is therefore all the more important to let water run before you drink it in order to drain stale water from the pipe because - like any foodstuff - water is highly perishable. Only when the water pouring from the tap is cold, it is fresh and can be consumed safely," Richter pleads.

The drinking water expert has focused on the topic of material influences on water quality for more than 20 years and also advocates the development of harmonized approval procedures for materials suitable for drinking water at the European level.

When it became clear in 2008 that it would still take some time to reach agreement in European bodies, however, an expert committee chaired by Ing. Richter was established at Austrian Standards in which representatives of industry, business as well as research and testing institutes developed a national standard.

Richter's main motivation: "The uniquely high quality of Austrian drinking water needs immediate, stringent protection. Until a harmonized European solution will be achieved, much water will flow down the mountains and our throats. We must not wait such a long time. ÖNORM B 5014 allows us to protect our high-quality, natural drinking water against negative impacts resulting from unsuitable materials already during water transport and storage," states Richter.

Austrian drinking water is already subject to very strict hygiene requirements that are, among others, laid down in the Austrian Drinking Water Regulation. "These provisions, however, only apply to water poured from the tap," explains the expert. To date, there are no binding rules protecting water quality on the water's path to the tap as the suitability of construction products for drinking water, for example, is NOT dealt with in the Austrian Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act.

Recommendations of the Federal Ministry of Health

In 2013, ÖNORM B 5014, which like any other standard, only has the status of a recommendation, was upgraded to a more mandatory level. The Codex Commission of the Federal Ministry of Health adopted a recommendation on the implementation and compliance with ÖNORM B 5014 and laid it down in the Austrian Codex Alimentarius. For ao. Univ. Prof. Dipl. Ing. Dr. Regina Sommer, chairwoman of the Codex Commission "Drinking Water" at the Ministry of Health and president of the Austrian Society for Hygiene, Microbiology and Preventive Medicine, this constitutes an important step towards the sustainable protection of Austrian drinking water: "Without standardized rules, there is a risk that the Austrian market is flooded by unsatisfactory products. ÖNORM B 5014 also promotes safety for private home builders who buy bargain products in DIY markets, install them and realize too late that the water they pour from their taps is of poor quality or even undrinkable. Then, it is complicated and very expensive to replace the installations." The hygiene expert who has presided over the standardization work of Committee 140 "Water quality" at Austrian Standards for ten years believes that ÖNORM B 5014 plays an enormously important role in prevention: "It protects our drinking water already on its way to and within the tap."

Responsible water suppliers

Water meter
Credit: AS prm / stern

Domestic water suppliers are happy with the standard "because, after all, we are responsible for delivering drinking water of stable quality to the consumers," emphasizes Wolfgang Zerobin, director of Vienna Water (Municipal Department 31). "ÖNORM B 5014 helps water suppliers eliminate uncertainty about materials and prevent any deterioration of quality. We perform our work in a very responsible way and very strictly follow the recommendations made in the standard with regard to materials in contact with drinking water," states Zerobin. However, the responsibility of water suppliers ends at the water meters. After that point, the building or home owner decides on the materials used. "And precisely for this section, mandatory legal rules would be necessary to protect water quality so that products made of materials that could reduce water quality cannot be offered in the market," demands Zerobin.

What does the ÖNORM standard describe?

In practical terms, the three-part ÖNORM B 5014 describes requirements and test methods for organic, cementitious and metallic materials in contact with drinking water, warm water and hot water. Hence, the standard applies to pipelines, fittings, installations and water tanks. Relevant tests have to be performed by appropriately accredited test and inspection institutes (conformity assessment bodies). The methods specified include olfactory inspection and tasting as well as tests related to migrations, chlorine loss, microbiological behaviour of materials as well as assessments of the raw and auxiliary materials used.

Tested materials

Moreover, ÖNORM B 5014 allows manufacturers to have their products tested, certified and registered for suitability for drinking water on their own initiative. They receive a certificate documenting the product's safety and quality assurance and serving as a "quality label" for customers. This proof of compliance with the standard also ensures that the materials used protect drinking water quality during the entire life of the products that may be up to 100 years.

Registration is performed by Austrian Standards. Based on the relevant test reports, manufacturers can apply for the "TW" (suitability for drinking water) labelling of their products. Consumers interested can retrieve information on all the products suitable for drinking water in the Certificate Database on the online platform of Austrian Standards.

Author: Astrid Kasparek

Bibliography

ÖNORM B 5014 Sensory and chemical requirements and testing of materials in contact with drinking water;
Part 1: Organic materials
Part 2: Cementitious materials
Part 3: Metallic materials

ONR 25014-3  List of hygienically suitable metallic materials for pipes in contact with drinking water – Complementary provisions to ÖNORM B 5014-3

Recommendations of the Federal Ministry of Health on requirements for materials in contact with drinking water (in German only)

PR ID: 0711-2014-03-20 / world_water_day_drinking_water

Contact

Jörg Nachbaur

Do you have any further questions?

We look forward to hearing from you.

Jörg Nachbaur

Committee Manager
+43 1 213 00-524 +43 1 213 00-722