A Talk with WQA Lab Director, Zac Gleason
By Denise M. Roberts
The Water Quality Association welcomed Zac Gleason to its team as Lab Director in March. As the industry gears up for the WQA Annual Convention in Las Vegas, NV, we engaged Gleason for a short conversation about his new role and what he hopes for the future of equipment certification.
WC&P: Welcome aboard, Zac! An integral part of WQA’s core values include ethics and integrity, science-based decision making and performance-based standards. As better testing is finding ever more emerging contaminants of concern, especially PFAS, do you see an uptick in requests for testing and certification?
Thanks! I am excited to be here. Yes. Often in anticipation of new regulation and release of new standards, WQA will see companies reaching out for more information to evaluate costs, timelines and testing specifics as part of their effort to respond. Both PFAS and manganese as a health claim have been driving new requests in 2019 thus far.
WC&P: WQA is positioned front and center in the battle for upgrading the nation’s infrastructure. It’s also becoming an important go-to source for information when crises occur. Is there any new program stressing this and the credibility of certified systems so consumers know they can protect themselves?
Water infrastructure is critical to everyone’s quality of life and WQA supports policies assuring access to clean drinking water for everyone with common-sense solutions. Infrastructure repairs to help decrease the pollutants in the water is expensive and takes time. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card for the nation estimated $1 trillion is needed over 25 years to maintain and upgrade drinking-water infrastructure. POU and POE water treatment and filtration products provide a reliable option for communities that cannot immediately afford infrastructure updates.
WQA has developed several education tools to talk to consumers about water treatment and filtration options. These include contaminant fact sheets, information on how to test water using a US EPA-certified laboratory, tools to find a certified professional in their area and a database to find/verify product certification. The WQA State & Regional Government Affairs Committee and the Federal Government Affairs Committee, comprised of volunteer members, continue to review legislation and proactively educate legislators and regulators on the industry, including credibility through professional and product certification. WQA also has the support of our regulatory and government affairs staff, as well as representation from Gephardt Government Affairs.
WC&P: How would you classify your personal mission within the confines of your new position? Do you believe it gives you an edge, an inside track on how to proceed? In what ways can you more positively use this to increase product testing and certification?
WQA remains focused on the betterment of water quality around the world and that ties directly into my own mission and role here. That means listening to our members and clients in a certification program and leveraging improvements in testing to deliver what is important to them in a certification. As an association, WQA also is a voice for the industry in new standards development, advising regulators on water science and potential effects of proposed changes in legislation, and just generally keeping honest data-driven discussion going between all the parties involved. For me personally, this means constant efforts to improve testing timelines, maintain and improve the quality of the information being delivered, as well as providing clarity and detail on testing for our clients so that they can make the best decisions they can. As a representative of the industry through the association, my mission is also to continue to work toward refining and pushing standards development to enable timelier introduction of new technologies and swift means for providing consumer confidence in dealing with emerging contaminants as they arise.
These encourage additional testing and certification in a very positive way because it emphasizes the creation of a certification path with the best value for our clients based on what is important to them. The same is true on the association side, where I get to help push for adoption of new technologies into standards, science-based decision-making around contaminants and providing a meaningful indication of performance for the public in the testing supporting the Gold Seal Program.
WC&P: The tangible resources now at your disposal give you a ready platform to present the science and technology to put worried consumers at ease. Even though the organization is focused on its membership, the public are well aware of WQA and what it does. How can you leverage that to broaden the outreach, especially when things like Flint, MI happen?
As the recognized resource and advocate for the betterment of water quality, we develop public resources on science-based research and technologies to empower consumers to make the best decision for their water resource. We encourage anyone concerned about their drinking water to contact water treatment professionals and we offer a user-friendly platform to find certified products. In a water crisis scenario, WQA’s crisis blog, for example, is a one-stop shop for members and the public to access consumer resources and broaden our outreach. The blog is one part of our crisis management plan, which enables the industry to be the first to respond.
WC&P: You may well be here for the next big crisis, when the mad scramble to get equipment and resources in place becomes a lifeline. In that window of opportunity before abject panic starts, what do you see is the best way Gold Seal can be used to bring member dealers to the footsteps of the consumers’ homes?
When I think about my family and confronting a horrific situation like the recent lead crisis or emerging contaminants like PFAS, I believe we need to do all we can to help people get quality drinking water. The WQA Gold Seal certification program has been certifying products for the past 60 years. Consumers recognize it as an indication of a quality product that does what it says it does and dealers that sell certified products can bring peace of mind to the consumer. We also do everything we can to further that assurance by helping to test to the conditions of the actual event. For example, this meant performing testing for lead reduction with water containing greater than 150 ppb as was seen in the Flint water crisis because our manufacturers wanted that extra level of assurance that they were going to meet the need.
WC&P: As WQA has grown and expanded over the years, we see a difference in how people perceive their world. For dealers we talk to, it’s not just about installing a water treatment system anymore. For them, it’s bringing a healthier aspect to their way of life. Manufacturers tell us they need to produce the best products to help people live a healthier life. There’s less emphasis on the selling of a system and more on helping customers get the best quality of life through their water source. That should translate into companies becoming even more innovative in their equipment designs. Are you seeing that kind of innovation in the testing and certification spaces?
Technologies continue to advance and industry members are pushing each other to strive for innovation. Standard development is driven to keep up with the emerging contaminants and products. This includes newer certifications like our Sustainability Certification Program, which allows manufacturers to show their customers they are committed to best practices in environmental sustainability and corporate responsibility. Trade shows have always been an exciting time to see what’s new to the game. I am looking forward to having the same experience at upcoming WQA conventions as well as our Mid-Year Leadership Conference, September 9-11 in San Antonio, TX.