Aug 27, 2002

Shifts in Analytical Requirements

In-field testing and analysis become responsibility of dealers.

Chemical analyses have been an integral part of the water
treatment industry since its inception. However, as technology and consumer
awareness have changed, so to have the analytical requirements of the industry.
To remain successful, the water treatment professional should take advantage of
advances in in-field testing as well as advances in laboratory analyses. This
article describes the shifts in analytical requirements recommended to satisfy
consumer desires and promote expansion of the POU/POE water treatment industry.

Traditional Analyses

Chemical analyses for the water treatment industry
traditionally have been for chemicals that affect the application of POE
treatment equipment. The tests originally
were performed by a laboratory and typically included information for
?sizing? a residential softener. Often, some measure of corrosivity
was considered and, in some cases, common drinking water contaminants (lead,
nitrate/nitrite) were included.

In addition to sizing the equipment, traditional analysis
was used to demonstrate the need or benefit of a water conditioner. The problem
was that turn-around times were much too long for the interest level of the
consumer and, as a result, laboratory analyses were ineffective in conveying
the benefits of softened water to the homeowner.

An analysis of hardness and iron levels is adequate to effectively
size and program POE softening equipment. Advances in colorimetric titration
and test strips have allowed the need for residential water softeners to be
effectively demonstrated in the home. Given these advances of in-field analysis
and the diminishing ?myth? that soft water causes corrosion,
laboratory testing essentially has been eliminated as a POE requirement.
In-field testing has displaced laboratory analyses, and the POE industry has
grown significantly as a result. In-field analysis provides immediate results,
which is very important for a consumer considering the economic benefits of the
product. The only time laboratory analyses are required today for the
?traditional? parameters is in the case of ?problem water?
or a skeptical consumer.

The negative aspects of the shift to in-field testing are
that ?problem water? is not addressed as well as it used to be and
drinking water barely is addressed at all. As sales of POE equipment by water
treatment professionals begins to level off, the industry must shift its focus
to address the areas of high consumer awareness.

Problem Water Analyses

?Problem water? is any instance where the
consumer has an aesthetic complaint about his water. He knows he has a problem,
but he does not know what is causing it.

Problem water usually falls under the classification of
corrosion, taste/odor or staining (color). In the case of problem water, it is
in the dealer?s best interest to have a laboratory analysis performed
rather than guess at the cause. It is not worth the risk of installing
equipment only to find that the equipment does not address all contaminants
that are leading to the problem or that the equipment is undersized for the
level of contaminant that exists. Problem water varies from site to site. It is
not safe to assume that the level of contaminants in one well is the same as
the neighbor down the road.

Table 1 lists the contaminants that are most often
responsible for the homeowner?s problem water concerns. Once the level of
contaminants causing the problem is adequately identified, a lasting solution
can be proposed. The water treatment dealer should be able to consult with his
equipment manufacturer for proper treatment recommendations.

Drinking Water

Addressing problem water issues always has been part of the
water treatment industry. In the case of problem water, unlike hard water, the
consumer is very aware of the problem. Therefore, there is no rush to get the
equipment installed, because there is no concern of waning consumer interest. In
most cases, he will be willing to wait for analyses to be performed and will
appreciate the professionalism used to solve his problem.

The same can be said about consumer concerns for the safety
of their drinking water.

Consumer awareness of drinking water contaminants is at an
all-time high. Although many customers are aware of the potential for
contamination of their drinking water, they are not aware of how to determine
if they have contaminated water or how to treat for the specific contaminant. In
many cases, the consumer is interested in having his water analyzed and will
appreciate the professionalism used to assess his drinking water requirements.

Drinking Water Contaminant Levels

The EPA has established primary and secondary drinking water
standards to address health (primary) and aesthetic (secondary) effects in
municipal water supplies. More often than not, this testing is not being
performed in the home because when performed in the home, the testing is not
adequate for the consumers concern.

Every contaminant with a primary standard has a maximum
contaminant level (MCL). Municipalities are required to provide drinking water
with concentrations below the MCL. The EPA also has established maximum
contaminant goals (MCLG) for many of these chemicals. The primary difference
between the MCL and the MCLG is the economic consideration given for removal of
the contaminant (see Table 2).
When you consider that less than 0.3 percent of water treated is used as
drinking water in the home (see Table 3), it only makes sense that the
government does not go through great tax payer expense to attain an absolute
measure of safety.

The water treatment professional can test for a limited
number of these drinking water contaminants in the field, but in most cases,
the results will barely meet the MCL, much less the MCLG. In-field tests for drinking water
contaminants do not exist for many contaminants, and those that do exist simply
do not have low enough detection limits to determine if there is an undesirable

With the exception of fluoride, any level of contamination
of a chemical with adverse health effects is bad. Not that a person necessarily
will die if his drinking water has trace levels of a chemical for which a
primary drinking standard has been set. But if given the choice, most (if not
all) consumers would rather have drinking water with zero contaminants that may
affect their health. If we can agree that this is true, it stands to reason
that the consumer would want detection limits for those contaminants to be as
low as possible. Advances in laboratory technology allow detection of the
contaminants to extremely low levels, and the POU/POE water treatment industry
has products to essentially eliminate drinking water contaminants with health

Low detection limits are the reason why the water treatment
professional should use laboratory analyses to address consumer concerns for
drinking water contaminants. More importantly, the water treatment professional
can offer cost-effective POU options to address the drinking water concerns
that are not completely addressed by municipalities and often are not checked
on private wells.

Addressing Consumer Concerns

In order to meet the changing demands of consumers, water
treatment dealers need to shift their analytical requirements to drinking water
contaminants. Consumer awareness already exists; they see the problem in the
news and in movies, and concerned consumers want an assessment of which
contaminants exist in their water supply.

The consumers? concerns for drinking water
contaminants can best be addressed by discussing the primary drinking water
standards developed by the EPA. Table 4 lists the MCL and MCLG of some drinking
water contaminants that have received industry and media attention in recent
years. If an analyses shows that a contaminant exists above the MCL, the choice
is obvious: The consumer needs drinking water treatment. In many cases,
however, an analysis will show that contaminants exist below the MCL but above
the MCLG. The choice is not as obvious, but a call to action is clear. Given
the choice, most consumers would rather eliminate all contaminants with
potential health effects from their drinking water.

Simply stated, in order to get detection limits that meet
the level of consumer concern, a laboratory analysis is required. If low levels
of contaminants are detected, the consumer now can make an informed choice.
Ideally, the water treatment professional will provide an unbiased analysis and
recommend products certified to remove contaminants detected. If nothing is
detected, the consumer may decide that his tap water is fine, or he may decide
to get a POU/POE technology as an insurance policy. Regardless, he can make his
decision with peace of mind.

The water treatment professional always has been called upon
to address problem water. Over time, the role of the water treatment
professional shifted from problem solver to include education on the benefits
of conditioned water. Water analysis was a main part of that expanded role, and
today, most of the analysis required for such demonstration can be performed in
the home.

As consumer concerns for drinking water safety increase, the
role of the water treatment professional is shifting once again. Consumers are
calling on the water treatment professional to assess the safety of their
drinking water and recommend treatment solutions. Once again, water analyses
will be a primary consideration in that expanded role.By addressing the primary
concern of the consumer (safe drinking water), the water treatment professional
also can open dialogue on the benefits of conditioned water. In the end, the
consumer can make an informed choice on water treatment products that provide
health and economic benefits for his family.

About the author

Troy Ethan is the president of Spectrum Laboratories, in Minneapolis.