By Peter Censky

If you’re like me, you can’t escape the deluge of information about the war on terrorism. And you also can’t escape the nagging thought that a lot of what we used to consider normal has changed, perhaps forever. Change was sweeping over our industry long before Sept. 11. A number of trends have been working in tandem to propel our industry forward and the leadership of Water Quality Association (WQA) is busy focusing your association’s activities on programs that will meet your needs in the coming months.

Terrorism
Terrorism is something that our customers will be troubled by for a long time to come. WQA is aware of discussions by some cities about the possibility of stockpiling POU treatment equipment in case of a future terrorist incident. This is just the start. Although the initial boost in consumer interest in our industry’s equipment has slowed a little since Sept. 11, it’s clear our industry has a role to play in the future.

WQA has taken a leadership position in working closely with NSF International, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to determine what our members can legitimately say about the capabilities of our products to reduce or eliminate some or many of the chemical or biological substances that could be used in a terrorist attack. This isn’t an easy job. Products are tested by challenging them with the actual chemical or bug they are meant to reduce. Otherwise, we would have to find a surrogate material. Since it’s illegal (and extremely dangerous) to possess biological warfare or chemical warfare agents, we cannot do that kind of testing—so no standards exist and none are likely to be written anytime soon. We’re working closely with NSF and a number of experts and scientists with knowledge about these chemical or biological agents to help us determine what claims our members can ethically make regarding our industry’s capabilities. WQA members should stay tuned for faxes and newsletters on this subject. In the meantime, log on to our website (www.wqa.org) for the most current version of our statement concerning this subject.

A great deal of information on this and other topics will be presented at our annual convention and exposition during the first week in March in New Orleans. We’ve scheduled a major education session to focus on the issues related to terrorism and how they’ll impact our industry. We’ve lined up some very interesting and very connected speakers to address the subject. There has never been a more important WQA convention to attend.

There are a lot of other issues and developments our industry will be facing this year. Let’s cover a few:
    
Plumbing codes
Of the many plumbing code issues in recent years, one that keeps surfacing is fixture flow rates. A number of plumbing codes use a formula for computing pipe size requirements based on the number of fixtures in the home. We’ve demonstrated that this formula is outdated and a study is under way in Wisconsin to verify this to plumbing code bodies. This will help overcome some code restrictions that call for larger (and less salt efficient) equipment than necessary.

Septic field discharge is a related issue troubling some members. The septic field industry is intent on ignoring information we developed years ago that showed softener discharge isn’t harmful to these systems. We’re leery of spending a couple hundred thousand dollars on research just to have it ignored again by the septic industry and health officials. This year, WQA staff is exploring different options to try to resolve the issue but experience has shown it won’t be soon.

Educating plumbing and health officials is perhaps one of our best tools for resolving plumbing code-related matters. WQA will be providing education to them at their state meetings whenever possible. This kind of outreach goes far in improving relations with these key people.

Public relations
Increasing public awareness of our industry’s benefits is a big mission of WQA. This coming year, we’ll continue our successful public awareness program featuring Bob Greene, Oprah Winfrey’s fitness trainer. This program will provide each of our member companies with opportunities to expand sales. Remember to watch the WQA website for updates.

It’s important for each WQA member to know that every day about 1,000 consumers, reporters and business people log onto our website where they have access to hundreds of documents about the industry—and to our entire membership list, another very valuable membership benefit.

Government relations
Government relations and standards work is one of the core functions of WQA. As the industry’s spokesman to government agencies and legislative bodies, we maintain close contact with the USEPA, CDC, U.S. Department of Commerce, Congress, and numerous state government officials. We track legislation in all 50 states on the lookout for threatening issues. This can be tricky because bills sometimes move very rapidly through a legislative body. That’s why we supplement our computer searches with input from members throughout the country who alert us when they foresee important legislation.

Typically, in any given year, a number of states are active legislatively; but California seems intent on taking the grand prize for most legislative initiatives. This past year alone we dealt with issues involving chromium, health claims for chlorine, Proposition 65 and, of course, the brine discharge issue. This is the year that softener companies operating in California must prepare for another wave of difficulties from communities trying to control the content of their waste discharge. We’ve won important battles in the past that require cities to undertake comprehensive studies of the brine makeup in their discharge with the intent that all sources must be regulated, not just our equipment. Getting cities to follow the law, however, may prove difficult. These problems may start again in January 2003.
    
European issues
In Europe, the softener standard is stalled because of the contentious debate over heterotrophic (HPC) bacteria. The issue isn’t just European; it could affect the entire industry worldwide. That’s why we, and a number of our member companies, are helping to fund the World Health Organization (WHO) Conference on HPC, which is being organized with the help of NSF. We have to get to the facts on this issue and all of us, here and in Europe, must be willing to live with what the scientists tell us. The conference takes place in April and I only hope we can make progress on the European standard after that meeting is over.

China        
Our manufacturers who are looking to export into Asia will be happy to know that we had a very positive conference with the Health Ministry of the Peoples Republic of China in November. The conference in Beijing was attended by WQA, NSF, the USEPA and WHO. It was sponsored by WQA member Access Business Group (formerly Amway) and the Chinese Health Ministry. During the conference, it became apparent the Chinese officials were very willing to work with the industry to develop test standards similar to NSF standards.

Trade shows & conferences
Trade shows and education conferences are a big part of WQA’s value proposition to its members. We’re looking closely at options for improving that value for manufacturers, dealers and other buyers. Our education offerings at the convention have become enormously successful, serving hundreds of individuals each year. Education is key to the future of the industry. To survive and prosper in the future, employees have to be trained not just in the products offered but in all aspects of the industry. Your competitor’s employees will have that training and it will set them apart.

To make it easier for you to get the training needed, WQA is launching a new program to deliver high-value education programs to locations that will be close to large clusters of our members. Log on to our website to get the information as we develop the target locations. In the past, it hasn’t been necessarily easy at times to attend many of the seminars. They were often held at resort locations or remote vacation spots. These would attract the family vacationers and golfers but they weren’t “user friendly” for the bulk of our members. So, we hope to change that beginning this year.

Conclusion
There’s a lot more going on at WQA that I wish I could tell you, but space and time prevent me. In closing, let me remind everyone, “No man is an island.” No business survives without information. WQA is your best source. Stay plugged in.
 
About the author
Peter Censky has been executive director of the Water Quality Association since 1987. Censky is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science. The WQA can be reached at (630) 505-0160, (630) 505-9637 (fax), email: info@mail.wqa.org or website: www.wqa.org

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