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An ABC News story claiming that four popular VGB-approved drain covers were unsafe caused some to suspect that competing forces improperly leaked preliminary information.

“We are very disappointed, and call this highly irresponsible to the public and to businesses,” said Reza Afshar, president of AFRAS Industries, one of the manufacturers mentioned in the report.

Written by Asa Eslocker and posted on ABC’s Website, the article quoted a “confidential industry study” calling into question drain covers by three manufacturers: AFRAS in Westlake Village, Calif.; AquaStar Pool Products in San Diego; and Paramount Pool and Spa Systems in Chandler, Ariz.

None of the three manufacturers have been allowed access to the documents cited by ABC.

According to ABC, the report stated that three of the four drain covers do not perform at the levels recorded in previous tests.

The fourth cover, Paramount’s SDX, did meet its original performance parameters, though the network did not mention that until the final paragraph of the article.

“If [the results] were to change, we would be very proactive, but they haven’t changed,” said Paramount President Buzz Ghiz. “Our drain [cover] is still approved today.”

To become VGB-approved, drain covers must undergo testing by one of three independent laboratories — International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO), NSF International or Underwriters Laboratories (UL). The facilities use procedures outlined in the drain-cover standard ASME/ANSI A112.19.8-2007.

Development of the standard and its implementation are overseen by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). When one lab takes issue with another’s methods, it files a complaint with ANSI.

Just such a situation led to the confidential report cited by ABC. Earlier this year, NSF questioned the methods of IAPMO, which tested all of the drain covers named in the ABC story. NSF said that IAPMO’s testing showed lower performance parameters on certain drains.

“We filed a complaint to ANSI because we believe the most conservative testing method has not been used, and public health is at risk,” said Dave Purkiss, general manager of water treatment and distribution systems for NSF, based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

New testing was conducted in response to that complaint, to double-check the original performance ratings, according to Russ Chaney, CEO of IAPMO,IAPMO and the three drain-cover manufacturers stand by the original performance ratings and say that the new test results should not have been divulged.

For one thing, Chaney said, though ABC claimed to be citing a definitive report, the results actually were preliminary. “As I understand it… the report was far from complete and should have remained confidential,” he said. “I’ve since seen the [leaked] document, and it’s inconsistent with what ultimately has been provided through the audit process.”

Because the report is confidential, Chaney is barred from saying whether the four drains fared better in the final version.

One manufacturer also questioned the methods used for the newest round of tests. “It wasn’t an accurate report,” said Wade Arens, head of research, testing and support at AquaStar. “It wasn’t tested per the standard or manufacturing installation instructions. The results were totally false.”

But another concern weighs at least as heavily on people’s minds: For ABC to obtain the study, it would have had to be leaked. Manufacturers and others in the industry wonder how and why.

When one lab questions the methods of another, ANSI supervises the testing on the premises of the lab in question, in this case IAPMO’s Ontario, Calif., facility. As part of this process, certain individuals attend as witnesses, including staff members from ANSI and the testing lab, as well as industry experts.

Often, Chaney said, such experts can include manufacturers whose products compete with the ones being rechecked. In this case, Chaney believes competitors were present. “I’m relatively confident there were representatives or observers who were competitors to some of the products that were being audited or tested,” he said.

Industry observers said certain firms whose interests conflict with those of AFRAS, AquaStar and Paramount sit on the committee charged with writing and refining ASME/ANSI A112.19.8-2007. Some worry that such persons may have attended the tests, become privy to the results and divulged them.

“The problem is, there’s an interest group behind this, the people who are trying to promote certain products,” Afshar said.

Those with access to the testing and report would have signed a legally binding confidentiality agreement. This means a breach of contract took place.

ANSI would not comment on how the leak could have occurred, who had access to the information or what is being done to prevent such breaches in the future.

But the ABC story also brought up concerns about the drain standard itself. Some believe it doesn’t do a thorough enough job describing the testing methods, thereby leaving too much room for interpretation by the labs.

The ASME/APSP committee in charge of the standard has been working to tighten the testing methodology. “The issues that were brought up were already under consideration,” said Leif Zars, committee chairman. “Action has been taken and is being taken to correct the oversight.”

NSF officials agree that the language needs some tightening, but say this doesn’t explain the kind of performance variances claimed in the ABC report.

“The current test procedures … are explained clearly, and different labs should obtain similar results if the procedures are followed properly,” NSF’s Purkiss said. “If there are areas that are open to interpretation, laboratories should choose the conservative approach .”