From Naturally Soft Mississippi Water to Dialysis– Freeman Water Treatment Takes on Multiple Challenges
By Denise M. Roberts
Freeman Water Treatment
4716 JR Lynch St.
Jackson, MS 39209
Tel: (601) 923-0404
Fax: (601) 923-8919
3900 Dave Ward Drive
Conway, AR 92034
Tel: (501) 951-9292 (AR)
Joe Freeman and Joe E. Freeman, W. Pat Freeman’s grandfather and father, both owned Servisoft dealerships, setting a water treatment tradition for Pat. The younger Freeman started his first company at the age of 26, when he launched Freeman Water Treatment, a cooling tower and boiler treatment company. He has kept the same name as he sold or started additional businesses. Although Freeman lives in Arkansas, the business (in its current form) began when he purchased a Continental Water dealership in Jackson, MS. There were only two employees, but Freeman rebuilt the company and, as far as he knows, is the last of the Continental Water dealers still in business. The Mississippi location, an industrial and medical water treatment company, is managed by William ‘Bill’ Jefferis.
Continental Water’s forte was and remains portable DI but Freeman has added many lines. “Because my initial training was in water softening, we sold quite a few water softeners,” he said. “I also started a home water treatment business, but made it separate from the industrial and medical business. It was not smart (and probably not even possible) to run both home and industrial/medical water treatment from the same business with the same employees. Sales and service were much different. I named my home water treatment company Water Fresh. There was no real demand for home softening because Mississippi is in an area with relatively soft water. In Clinton, where I lived for 30 years, there isn’t a single mg/L of hardness detectable in the water! There are, however, many concerns about carcinogens. One day after servicing a dialysis clinic, I had the idea of taking two filter housings and connecting them together with carbon GAC in one and block in the other. With a glass filler as a spigot and using a piercing valve, I made my own POU filter. I didn’t need to work hard at selling it because I made it cheap enough. This was in the 1980s, when $125 was enough to cover everything. I would quote the price over the phone and save all the sales time. If I couldn’t sell over the phone, I didn’t bother. But quite a few people bought the product and I put them on eight months of service time. My service technician would go and change the filters for a reasonable price. I never had anyone not want to have the filters changed. It was a simple little system that worked well. Some people wanted ROs and of course, we sold them as well.
“Early in the 1970s, I realized that RO technology was the wave of the future. I began to sell prepackaged systems, then developed my own. We now build an excellent unit that we think is the best on the market. We use an R&D controller. Bill was really instrumental in their design and building. We steadily improved our ROs and one of our breakthroughs came when we began to use Tricep membranes. We have found them to be excellent and have built our unit around them.
“In the 1980s, I sold my boiler and cooling tower business, not because I didn’t like it (I loved it then and still do), but I realized that RO technology was new, profitable and gave me a market niche. We at Freeman Water then developed relationships with various boiler-chemical treatment companies, which has served us well. We understand just how to tailor equipment to better serve them and the customer. For large softeners and deionizers, we have partnered with Lakeside Water Treatment in Milwaukee, WI. The owner and I have done a lot of work together and have been friends a long time.”
Freeman and Jefferis developed a water treatment business with a high degree of specialty. One area of expertise is water treatment for very high-pressure applications. Jefferis, according to Freeman, probably knows more about how water behaves chemically at 50,000 psi than anyone else on the planet. Because of this specialized knowledge, the company has done jobs for companies in almost every state and several in Canada, as well as exporting equipment to about five other countries. “It has been very exciting to learn about water’s behavior in high pressure because it is so different from normal water chemistry,” said Freeman. “Despite our wide geographical area of specialized systems, most of our everyday customers are in Mississippi, Arkansas, west Tennessee and north Louisiana.”
The biggest challenge any water treatment company will face in the coming years, according to Freeman, is with government rules, oversight and tax issues. “It is a matter of frustration to many of us in the industry that there are so many regulations either already in place, as in the case of the dialysis industry, or about to evolve, which will deeply affect us and our relationship with our customers,” said Freeman. “If the government would just realize that we in the water treatment industry have our customers’ interests at heart and regulators would leave us to develop that relationship, it would be better and certainly cheaper for all of us. Government tends to ‘rubber-stamp’ engineering.
For instance, we once had a job at a plant in Mississippi that has very soft water but an engineer from Washington, DC had specified a large water softener for the project. It was worse than pulling teeth to convince them that water with less than one mg/L of total hardness needed no softener and the money would be better spent on a dealkilizer. Yes, that’s right, not one grain but less than one mg/L or 1/17th of a grain hard. Were we to depend on water softener sales, we would have starved to death long before now.”
A major challenge on the horizon, from Freeman’s viewpoint, is treating water while using less of it in the process; i.e., less backwash or less salt for water softeners. “One area of technology that I am looking forward to developing and seeing developed is in pulse generation, where water softener salt usage can be reduced by a third or more. Another area of development is the EDI technology that will, in some cases, replace the resin chemical cycle. I don’t think mixed-bed technology will go away because there are some unique things that happen in a mixed bed, which other technologies will not match, at least not in the foreseeable future.
“At the age of nine, my father took me to his Servisoft plant after school and made me work at dumping the old 24s, 36s and 54s, regenerating them and refilling them. Since then, I’ve done everything imaginable: boiler and cooling tower chemical treatment, large industrial water softening, helping small municipalities with their water treatment, dialysis water treatment and working with some highly specialized water systems. I have had my own laboratory and done water analysis. All in all it has been one of the most exciting fields in which to work, with many challenges. It has never been dull. There are times when it has scared me to death, but it has never bored me to death. What a thrilling business!”