A Quick Guide to Regulatory Aspects of Natural Polymers in Water Treatment


The use of natural polymers in water treatment is becoming increasingly popular because of their numerous advantages. These advantages include biodegradability, sustainability, and competitive cost. But what are the Regulatory Aspects of Natural Polymers in Water Treatment? The regulatory landscape surrounding the use of natural polymers in water treatment varies considerably by region, country, and even specific application. We’re going to discuss the factors influencing regulations, some key regulatory bodies, testing methodologies, and challenges faced by the industry. So you’ll learn, by the end of this article, the fundamentals surrounding the regulatory aspects of natural polymers in water treatment.

As the global community aims to address sustainable water treatment solutions, there’s a growing need to balance innovation with ensuring safety and responsible use.

Because the regulations on this specific water treatment option are still developing, lets examine the regulatory framework that surrounds natural polymers for water treatment.

Table of Contents:

Regulatory Aspects of Natural Polymers in Water Treatment

When regulatory bodies decide whether to control a substance, several key factors are assessed: human health risks, environmental impacts, and performance in water treatment systems.

Human Health Risks – Drinking Water, Human Health, Natural Polymer

For public use, we must ensure that drinking water is safe. Natural polymers that break down during use in treatment plants could end up in your drinking water. These polymers’ final concentrations, including the polymers formed during breakdown and tests performed, have to be carefully evaluated to ensure they don’t pose a threat to human health.

Agencies focus on long-term exposure studies, but this often leads to regulations not fully protecting communities. The potential interactions with other substances found in treated water (metal ions, inorganic contaminants, disinfection byproducts) should be thoroughly investigated to address the cumulative effect that these contaminants could have on human health.

Environmental Impacts – Environmental Protection, Natural Environment, Degradation Rates

Environmental protection is vital in all technologies because we don’t want to create new problems while fixing existing ones. Natural polymers released into the natural environment, in part through the cellulose paper industry and residues generated, can persist for a while in the soil, rivers, lakes, or groundwater. Understanding the rate of degradation, including through enzymatic hydrolysis, as well as whether by-products form is necessary.

Biodegradability of the natural polymers under varying conditions is an ongoing topic of study. Factors influencing their degradation rates are influenced by the acidic nature, their pH conditions, their specific surface, specific surface area, surface charge, molecular weight, sorption capacity, wide range, or higher density (high mw) as well as how easily they are removed. This lack of understanding sometimes hinders development, so a shift in regulatory perspectives is required.

Performance in Water Treatment Systems – Water Quality, Water Treatment Systems, Natural Polymers

It’s all about improving water quality and finding optimal treatment methods. Regulations take into account if natural polymers used in water treatment systems improve water quality for different water parameters. Are the polymers removing harmful stuff? We’re talking trace metal ions, organic matter, fluoride removal, turbidity removal, pathogens, etc. For those that meet this requirement, they also must show efficiency in performance (high removal) while maintaining manageable operating costs (sustainable operating costs).

Regulatory Bodies and Guidelines for Water & Wastewater Treatment

The regulations surrounding the use of natural polymers are enforced through a web of international, regional, national, and state guidelines, legislation and enforcement. Because water regulations can differ greatly based on region or application, we decided to just go through the most prominent examples here.

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The US EPA is one of the big guns that regulates contaminants, sets standards, and defines approved methods for treating wastewater and drinking water in the USA. The agency often sets strict benchmarks that state and local regulatory frameworks adopt. In the field of natural polymers, guidance on permissible uses, final concentrations, testing methods, and overall assessment criteria are influenced by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Clean Water Act (CWA), Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), all under the purview of the EPA.

European Union (EU) – REACH

Within the EU and encompassing its member countries, guidelines have been developed that specifically regulate polymer uses with an emphasis on REACH. Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals, aka, REACH, ensures that substances, including natural polymers and synthetic polymers, that enter the European market meet environmental and health safety criteria.

World Health Organization (WHO)

For drinking water worldwide, the World Health Organization gives recommendations on different substances based on toxicological, epidemiological, and water quality data to guide water quality regulation. Their publications, including Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality and other documents, impact the implementation and development of guidelines for drinking water safety globally. More often, the WHO considers natural polymers that meet regulations for their role in specific treatment applications and uses (for example: color, taste and odor), their polymer types, sorption capacity, or their suitability for a wide range of conditions.

National Sanitation Foundation (NSF International

NSF International, formerly known as the National Sanitation Foundation, is an independent, global non-profit organization involved in developing standards and tests to certify products for public health, safety, and environmental protection. NSF International’s mission is to improve global human health through standardization and certification services that help protect the world’s food, water, consumer products, and environment.

NSF/ANSI 60 certification specifically applies to water treatment chemicals including natural polymers like Zeoturb. It is widely recognized and often required by regulatory agencies across the USA and around the world providing assurance that the product meets safety, efficacy, and regulatory compliance standards.

However, all of the above is a very basic explanation. You may find, in your jurisdiction or applications, that specific regulations need to be addressed and validated. Because regulations continuously change with time and technologies, it is advisable to get familiar with relevant legislation.

To make sure that the best practices and compliance criteria for each one are achieved, it is vital to communicate with local authorities to determine if the most up-to-date documentation is accessible to address specific system constraints.

Testing for Regulatory Compliance – Sustainable Polymers

To demonstrate the safety, degradation rates, and overall efficiency of natural polymers, certain scientific testing protocols must be adhered to in the field of water and wastewater treatment. These methods, influenced by ISO or ASTM test guidelines and influenced by agencies like the EPA and NSF with their regulatory frameworks, focus on simulating field conditions to address persistence, breakdown mechanisms (including their acidic nature, or degradation rates, their suitability to different pH conditions), effects of the organic molecules as well as byproducts, etc., all within defined testing parameters.

Biodegradability Testing

For many synthetic and natural polymers used in water treatment, we have to consider how quickly they degrade or what will happen to the residual natural polymer solution in the water. They also assess if the polymer is broken down by microbial action into safe byproducts or transformed through chemical processes, whether chemical or enzymatic hydrolysis.

The polymer’s ability to break down into non-toxic components in the environment is assessed. This is crucial for ensuring that the polymer does not contribute to long-term environmental pollution.

Toxicity Testing – Toxicity

To determine if a compound causes harm to organisms, it is tested using a variety of testing methods. Toxicity testing determines safe concentrations that don’t harm living cells (cytotoxicity), human tissues, organisms, or entire ecosystems (ecotoxicity). The polymer type will determine which specific endpoints will be considered. Natural polymers should be analyzed by determining if the initial raw material, as well as any byproducts released will potentially cause negative health impacts.

Performance Evaluation for Treatment Options, and Treatment Plants – Water Treatment

Water utilities use natural polymers for their diverse range of properties. Natural polymers used for different treatment options or in different treatment plants, need rigorous tests to demonstrate efficacy.

This testing usually considers, as a primary metric, the degree of contaminant or pathogen removal in the treated water to ensure it reaches adequate quality goals while also assessing any resulting operational challenges.

We must address factors such as polymer compatibility with the water chemistry of each individual source, operational costs, and optimal dosage requirements.

Challenges and Future Directions – Natural Polymers and Water Treatment

Despite increased recognition of natural polymers as potential options for water & wastewater treatment, numerous challenges persist. These issues include the development of testing methodologies and protection agency guidelines for organic carbon and organic matter, defining consistent quality criteria, and navigating the need for standardized data.

It is only through research, collaboration, and a commitment to sustainability that these materials will continue to have a much brighter future.

To develop the best practices and address existing limitations, continuous research in the field of natural polymers and their various polymer types are needed. Their impact on overall water quality is critical for the successful implementation of these natural flocculants for water and wastewater treatment applications across the US and around the world.

Improving Testing Methods and Assessment Criteria

We discussed above, that the variety of natural polymers make it hard to create unified methods. One big focus of research is developing improved testing methodologies to account for various structural properties (range, molecular weight), the influence of metal ions, their impact on the surface area, etc. These new methodologies should also take into account a holistic, rather than simplistic, evaluation of degradation processes, such as enzymatic hydrolysis or any issues of the precipitates formed, the specific surface or specific properties that they contain as well as the fate and persistence of the compound. This will ultimately promote an understanding of how they polymers degrade in real-world situations and whether degradation can be categorized or not.

Consistent Quality Criteria for Raw Material – Raw Material

Natural polymers that are accepted for use, carry guidelines that specify allowable ranges for physical and chemical characteristics that are critical because they serve to guarantee that quality materials are used for water treatment. This is easier said than done. But what does the criteria consider? Think molecular weight, source materials, degree of purity and contaminant levels as well as other specific properties typically associated with NSF certification processes.

Agencies (EPA and WHO), regulatory frameworks and industry members, must ensure that raw materials meet appropriate, consistent standards with the intended treatment goals and comply with existing regulations and best practice methods. These regulatory efforts focus on both quality of material and minimizing environmental harm, for instance, during sourcing or manufacture.

Managing Natural Variability

Naturally occurring polymers have higher variation in characteristics depending on their origins or treatment methods. How the natural material breaks down (degradation rates) or impacts specific properties in different waters emphasizes a need for robust and adaptable management strategies for processing materials.

Understanding and quantifying specific bio-organic polymer properties through improved analytical methods (how they bind or behave) should aid in their safe and efficient incorporation.

The improvement in these analytical procedures will reduce challenges associated with this variability to improve adoption of sustainable natural flocculant use in water & wastewater treatment systems.

FAQs about Regulatory Aspects of Natural Polymers in Water Treatment


FAQ 1: What are the natural polymers for water treatment?

The list is small but growing as there are new sustainable polymers emerging. The most well known include include, Zeoturb (a marine derived liquid bio organic polymer), alginate (an algae derivative having lots of carboxylic acid functional groups), tannins, as well as cellulose and starches both formed from glucose.

FAQ 2: What is the role of polymer in water treatment?

They’re super useful. You find them employed for a wide range of applications. These applications include, removing color, harmful metals or contaminants such as the iron forms, organic matte, suspended solids and other particular organic molecules. They’re employed as flocculants and coagulants in settling and clarification systems for drinking water, process water, storm water or wastewater treatment applications.

FAQ 3: How safe are bio organic polymers in water treatment?

A valid question, because the key point here is they must not cause new hazards to the environment while eliminating existing problems in water, and regulatory bodies have focused on this. There are several testing methodologies and parameters (for example: they look for higher removal rates and efficiency, toxicity, biodegradability and the final breakdown. NSF certification can validate the safety of these polymers for use in water treatment applications in many countries around the world.


Understanding the regulatory aspects of natural polymers in water treatment is crucial for ensuring safe and sustainable practices. These polymers offer numerous benefits, including biodegradability, sustainability, and overall cost-effectiveness. However, navigating the complex regulatory landscape requires knowledge of the key factors influencing regulations, such as human health risks, environmental impacts, and performance in water treatment systems.

Genesis Water Technologies is committed to providing innovative and compliant water treatment solutions. Our expertise in natural polymers ensures that your water treatment processes meet the highest standards of safety and effectiveness.

Contact the water treatment specialists at Genesis Water Technologies today at +1 877 267 3699 or via email at customersupport@genesiswatertech.com to to explore how we can help you navigate the regulatory aspects of natural polymers in water treatment.

Let’s work together for cleaner water and a healthier environment