By David H. Martin
A funny thing happened on the way to the Water Quality Association Convention (WQA), held March 27-31 in Orlando, Fla. A good chunk of the WQA educational program had been planned around the long-anticipated new, lower U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) arsenic standard to replace the previous 50 parts per billion (ppb) standard. Seminar speakers as well as water testing, resin and equipment manufacturers on the trade show floor were all poised to deal with the new standard, which promised to solidify the point-of-use/point-of-entry (POU/POE) industry’s place and resulting requisite partnering with municipal water treatment.
But, while the stage was set to air current arsenic issues, the new standard showed up dead on arrival. New USEPA director Christine Todd Whitman announced a week before the convention that implementation of the 10 ppb level set by the outgoing Clinton Administration was halted and sent surrogate Jeffrey Kempic to Orlando to explain that the decision was delayed “to allow agency officials the opportunity to further review and consider a revised rule.”
But for health concerned anti-arsenic troopers, the show went on anyway! Dennis Clifford of the University of Houston told the WQA gathering, the U.S. government has already spent $1 billion on studying the health effects of the shiny metallic-looking natural poison, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled a known carcinogen. (The WHO’s arsenic guideline, by the way, is 10 ppb.)
The decision to delay was delivered in the wake of intense lobbying by the municipal water industry, led by the American Water Works Association (AWWA), which successfully argued “unacceptable total water treatment costs, versus questionable benefits” as an excuse to do nothing. On March 20, Whitman said a decision to lower the current standard “might take several years.”
No matter that current POU technologies could more economically handle the problem on a house to house basis! Politics is politics. (As we say back in Chicago, even in this era of campaign finance reform, mighty political action committee funds still carry clout with public officials.)
The potential danger
The potential health costs of elevated arsenic levels found in Wisconsin and a number of western states, include higher incidence of melanoma, sarcomas, carcinomas, lung, liver, bladder, colon and kidney cancers are astronomical. Not to mention environmental arsenic’s known contribution to kertatosis, peripheral vascular diseases, conjunctivitis, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Not to worry!
After Clifford’s presentation, Timothy Badger, Ph.D., Aquatic Water Technologies, and James Sabzali of Purolite, gave separate technical presentations on arsenic remediation. Next, Thomas Sorg, P.E., of USEPA’s Risk Reduction Engineering Lab, spoke on POU/POE treatment of arsenic in groundwater, caused by an environmental waste incident in Lewisburg, Ohio. Paul Friot, a water treatment dealer from Ayer, Mass., then shared “practical experiences in arsenic treatment.” Rob Herman of NSF International spoke on “Arsenic reduction: development of a standard.” And finally, Gregory Gilles of Apyron Technologies Inc., Atlanta, spoke on “POU and POE arsenic reduction case studies.”
We know from the classic ’40s film, “Arsenic and Old Lace,” that sweet-tasting stuff can be deadly. Let’s hope somebody eventually remediates the federal government’s casual attitude toward toxic health hazards in drinking water.
Old issues, new solutions
While the “arsenic delay” might have taken steam out of their fervor to promote arsenic reduction, WQA dealers in Orlando heard of some new solutions for old problems. Dealer survival tactics and new niche markets are two familiar issues for which the Orlando convocation offered some new opportunities.
The WQA Retail/Dealer Section Meeting, chaired by Jack Lorenzen of Quality Water in Lincoln, Neb., announced an agreement had been reached with the Manufacturers’ Section of WQA, to permit dealers to service “orphan” equipment when customer problems arise with the original installing dealer or they’ve gone out of business.
In an interview before the meeting, Lorenzen spoke of his service staff’s valuable versatility in being able to service virtually any softeners, even equipment they don’t sell. This so-called cross-brand capability can position a dealer to perform service and installation work for big-box retailers in their marketing area, says Lorenzen, whose dealership has a contract to service GE customers who buy from Home Depot.
WQA dealers also seek formal WQA approval of their proposal to offer formal business training on the delivered bottled water business. This would fill a gap in the American Bottled Water Association’s program, which focuses on the needs of giant bottlers and retail brands. Incoming WQA President C.R. Hall noted that 50 percent of his dealerships’ sales are in delivered water and incoming consumer leads favored bottled water over reverse osmosis (RO) by a 5:1 ratio at his six Culligan locations in Kansas and Ohio. A show of hands among dealers attending the meeting revealed that nearly half were already selling bottled water and two more were interested in entering the route business.
Carlyn Meyer, WQA public affairs director, encouraged dealers to tie in closely with the association’s spokesman, Bob Greene, during National Drinking Water Week—May 6-12. The famous fitness trainer and best-selling author will appear on dozens of local TV and radio stations, via a live satellite media tour with provisions for local dealer participation. It’s all part of WQA’s attempt to leverage local dealer coverage as part of its own national public relations program.
Announcing a big deal
Neil Berlant, senior vice president of Wells Fargo Van Kasper, addressed the convention on “Utilities and the marketing of POU devices.” Berlant predicted that progressive dealers will capitalize on “the exploding POU market that will soon develop as utilities seek to address growing public concern over water quality.” The doors of opportunity swung open for POU involvement on June 1, 1998, when the USEPA ruled that utilities can use POU to meet federal drinking water standards. However, added Berlant, dealers seeking service contracts will find better success working with for-profit utilities rather than public-owned ones.
Ray Lee, president of American Water Resources, Inc., a large private utility with operations in 23 states, announced an unprecedented program to offer direct sales of water softeners and RO systems to its existing customer base (see “WQA 2001 Review: Pandora’s Box or a Cornucopia of Opportunities,” this issue). Kinetico chairman Bill Prior followed Lee to the podium. Prior, who according to Atlantic Filter President Jamie Wakem, “has a passion for turning adversaries into allies” performed true to form, suggesting that direct competition from water utilities could be a positive development for progressive dealers. “Dealers have so far done a poor job of marketing water softening to utility water consumers, which represent about 80 percent of all homeowners. They should thank Ray Lee’s company for creating new interest in soft water. It might well pave the way for independent dealers to crack the difficult city water market.” Prior added water utilities might do better renting equipment rather than selling it. He also suggested that “free home trials” for people on city water was a sound promotional concept for utilities and for dealers, alike.
Key pilot program
Richard Petrella, P.E, program manager for the Illinois Department of Public Health, spoke of a pilot program that provides training and certification for non-community public water system operators. “Fifty percent of non-community systems are schools on well water,” said Petrella. WQA’s technical director Joe Harrison helped develop the Illinois pilot program and offered to help public health officials replicate it in other states. This is another potential revenue source for independent dealers who receive training and certification.
Two Culligan dealers, David Recker of Minnetonka, Minn., and Bret Tangley of Eau Claire, Wis., shared a presentation on “How to succeed in the DI portable exchange niche for dealerships.”
Independent residential dealers can now benefit from the recently launched WQA Commercial/Industrial training program, developed as an extension of existing certification courses at the convention. The first group of 27 mostly dealers attended the Orlando seminars, according to Osmonics’ Roger Miller, chairman of the WQA C&I Section. It’s hoped tweaking the fee schedule and making the seminars available to purchasers of the general convention package will significantly increase attendance.
While the arsenic standard “change delay” may, for the time being postpone a significant boost in POU/POE equipment sales, the arsenic health issue won’t go away. Dealers are sure to benefit in the long run. They can also benefit from a host of other possible business niches put forth at the recent WQA Convention in Orlando, Fla. The next convention will be in New Orleans. See you in the Big Easy.
About the author
David H. Martin is president of Lenzi Martin Marketing of Oak Park, Ill., a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404, e-mail: [email protected] or website: http://www.lenzimartin.com.
Around the show…
The 27th Annual WQA Trade Show featured nearly 250 exhibitors and an estimated attendance of more than 3,900 from all over the world. Among the independent companies exhibiting were many first-time participants. For example, IMG Corp., of Germantown, Tenn., showed its line of molded tanks for C/I water treatment applications. The line includes no-rust “all poly” mixers, storage tanks and RO “clean and disinfect” tanks from 30-to-500 gallons. “We are an established company in C/I markets, but this is our first WQA trade show,” said company president John Warra.
At the same time, many familiar brands seen in individual booths at previous WQA shows were still seen but are now part of larger water treatment conglomerates including The Marmon Group, Osmonics, USFilter, Hydrotech Inc., Pentair and Sta-Rite Industries.
Sta-Rite Water Treatment Group, a unit of WICOR industries based in Wisconsin, exhibited from a large island booth space, which featured such familiar original equipment manufacturer (OEM) component brands such as Hydro-Flow (in-line/cartridge filters and disposable UV units), Fibredyne (composite carbon/fiber filters) and Park International (fiber-wound pressure vessels with ABS liners). Sta-Rite began acquiring water treatment component brands in the mid-1990s according to Sta-Rite President James Donnelly, and sought to complement its water pump brands, which still represent the lion’s share of company sales. Mark Bertler, vice president of the Water Treatment Group, spoke of its new Aquivision brand as representing “a line of economical standard-size cartridges for OEMs.” Not shown in Orlando was Sta-Rite’s line of Omnifilter retail POU/POE products.