By Bill McCann

Summary: Recent market research indicates consumers, although mindful that arsenic is harmful, may not be cognizant of its presence in their drinking water. Water professionals should take an active role, building awareness of the local issue to assist customers in choosing an appropriate treatment system.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) new standard for arsenic will lower the acceptable level by 80 percent from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb, affecting an estimated 13 million Americans served by 4,100 public water systems that are now out of compliance. In addition, there are 40 million Americans obtaining their water from private wells, which aren’t regulated by the government and may have high arsenic levels.

According to the USEPA, more than 97 percent of the affected public systems serve less than 10,000 people each. A recent USEPA-commissioned study examined the costs associated with lowering the standard and concluded that such small systems should consider point-of-use (POU) treatment technology as a cost-effective option.

Due to the national publicity of the issue and the size of the market for treatment products, demand for an effective POU solution has increased dramatically. Water treatment professionals nationwide have an opportunity to raise awareness of the new standard and increase sales of POU arsenic treatment systems. Following are a few effective tips to help raise awareness among your sales force as well as consumers.

Raise your awareness
Water treatment professionals, of course, are in business to sell products that make money. In these trying economic times, making a profit is more important than ever; however, selling a product solely to make the most profit is a short-sighted approach, one that doesn’t maximize the potential of building a loyal customer base.

Arsenic contamination is a touchy issue; virtually everyone knows that arsenic is poisonous. When potential customers learn that arsenic may be present in their water supply, they typically become alarmed and want to take action to ensure the health of their families. It’s in your best interest as a water treatment professional to learn all that you can about arsenic—including the potential health effects and the various methods to remove it from water—so that you can more effectively educate your customers and help them to make an informed purchasing decision.

Familiarize yourself with the levels of arsenic present in cities and towns in your area. The state water administrator can provide you with this information. In addition, the U.S. Geological Survey (http://co.water.usgs.gov/trace/arsenic) provides detailed incidence maps of many states. The USEPA’s web-site for arsenic (see http://www.epa.gov/safewater/arsenic.html) and Safe Drinking Water Hotline—(800) 426-4791—can also provide additional information.

Research the issue
Make an effort to learn about the health effects associated with exposure to arsenic. Some short-term effects include stomach pain, skin lesions and low blood pressure. Long-term health effects include multiple forms of cancer, cardiovascular disease, developmental and reproductive disorders, and diabetes. It shouldn’t be your intention to scare your potential customers into buying a product, but to provide them with information that they want and need. You can access the USEPA-commissioned National Research Council report on health effects at www.nap.edu/books/0309076293/html/

Make note of the various treatment solutions on the market. Some of the most effective treatment solutions are relatively new technologies using adsorptive media. Traditional treatment methods, such as activated alumina and reverse osmosis (RO), have limited capability to remove the more soluble As III from drinking water. As III, found almost exclusively in private wells, is more health threatening and more difficult to remove than the more common precipitate As V.

Sources with a chlorine residual will generally contain very little or no As III, since chlorine is among disinfectants that oxidize As III to As V, which is more easily removed by advanced filtration processes. There are some incidences currently being documented in field studies that suggest some municipal systems that chlorinate their water supplies still are showing elevated levels of As III in their treated water. A future article in WC&P will highlight this topic.

To remove As III effectively, you need to become familiar with more cutting-edge technologies like newer adsorptive media such as Apyron’s Aqua Bind, iron-based medias and specialized activated aluminas, which remove both forms of the contaminant. By using these types of media, whether in POU cartridges or as otherwise recommended, you eliminate the need to speciate the arsenic or to pre-treat the water to convert As III to As V.

The profit opportunity in selling POU adsorptive media systems is large. Benefits of this technology include:

  • It is an easily applied technology; there is no need for speciation or pre-treatment.
  • POU adsorptive media cartridges offer a more cost-effective and focused option for your customers than RO.
  • Arsenic cartridges need to be replaced regularly, ensuring recurring revenue.
  • Multiple options are available to suit customer preference, including under-the-sink cartridges and counter-top filtration systems.
  • POU adsorptive media cartridges allow for continuous flow and less time-consuming maintenance.

Of course, RO is an effective treatment option for many other contaminants, and you may currently be selling such systems to many of your customers (See Figure 1). In this case, consider the value of supplemental sales. Adsorptive media arsenic cartridges can be sold as a “polisher” in conjunction with an RO system. By suggesting this option to your customers, you can assure them that all forms of arsenic will be removed from their water.

Refocusing attention locally
Although the debate leading up to the new arsenic law received a significant amount of national media coverage, most Americans in more heavily contaminated regions, such as Western states, the Midwest and New England, aren’t aware their particular community or household may have a problem. Most media coverage in mainstream newspapers and broadcast outlets to date has focused on the general issue, not on particular communities or options available to consumers who don’t want to wait until 2006, the compliance date.

In fact, a recent focus group study held in New England found that 95 percent of participants weren’t aware that arsenic contamination in the region is comparatively high or that the arsenic limit had recently been reduced. Once educated on the potential for arsenic in their area and the associated health effects, participant concern increased. Most participants stated that if they knew their household water had levels of arsenic higher than the new standard of 10 ppb, they would seek treatment.

An initial step in leveraging the new standard is to increase the awareness that arsenic contamination exists locally. Use your self-education as a springboard to raise awareness among your customer base and take an active role in the community. This effort will provide the greatest rate of return in marketing POU arsenic treatment systems.

Getting the word out
Consider being an information resource for your community about arsenic contamination and available POU treatment technologies through written material. Advertising in local media is an excellent tactic; however, there are other, less costly ways to publicize your company’s name. In today’s cyberspace society, many consumers look to the Internet for information regarding purchase options. If you don’t have a website, you may want to create one. If you already have one, update it to include non-technical information about local arsenic contamination and various treatment options. You can even link it to your local water utilities website where water quality report data is listed. Make sure to include information on the affordability of POU systems. These solutions can be much less expensive than whole house systems, RO systems or bottled water—up to 50 percent.

Another written tactic is the development of an information brochure. By outlining the basics of arsenic occurrence, health effects and treatment options on paper, you multiply the number of people who will learn about the issue. This information should mirror the data on your website and can be easily mailed to existing customers you suspect may have a problem, as well as to potential customers at community events. In addition, consider using the brochure as a direct mail piece, sending it to households and businesses in areas where arsenic contamination is high, and offering testing and information. Consider using the information to write letters to local newspapers to increase awareness of any local problem with arsenic contamination, as well as how local citizens can test and treat their water.

Inform your existing customers you would like to test their water for arsenic. In many states, this can be offered free of charge. Should an existing customer’s water test high for arsenic, you have an opportunity to discuss contamination and recommend a POU treatment system as a cost-effective option. In addition, offer arsenic test kits to local organizations, schools and businesses to educate potential customers on the actual risk level. Contact your state government to determine if there are regulations against providing tests free of charge. Find out the costs of arsenic testing at local water testing labs so you can make a recommendation to any customer that might like to have independent validation after the initial in-home tests.

Conclusion
Resolve to become more active in your community to raise awareness of arsenic contamination and POU treatment options. Look into opportunities to speak out about the issue locally. Potential venues include town council meetings, parent/teacher groups, homeowner and builder associations, and local social/service organizations. Act as a consumer advocate and get involved in town policy on in-home water treatment. Also, offer to assist local governments who are investigating the most appropriate treatment option. Work with your state’s environmental agency to publicize recommended technologies. Find out who the local “movers and shakers” are and schedule meetings with them to discuss how local consumers can combat arsenic contamination in their homes. These influential people may include environmental and health/medical reporters at local newspapers and broadcast outlets as well as local consumer advocates.

About the author
William H. McCann, CWS-II, is president of Shrewsbury, Mass.-based Clean Water Systems Inc., a consulting and water treatment company. It was founded in 1978. The company has been involved with eliminating arsenic in drinking water since 1980. McCann has more than 24 years of experience in the industry. He can be reached at (508) 792-0933 or email: [email protected]

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