The following letter was written to Dateline NBC from Peter Censky at Water Quality Association concerning the Dateline NBC report that showed questionable sales tactics being used by salespeople of residential water treatment systems. The original, unedited Dateline transcript entitled "Testing the Waters" can be found on WaterInfoCenter.com by searching the news archives. An additional article related to the Dateline piece entitled "Kinetico Responds to Dateline NBC Report" also can be found in the WaterInfoCenter.com news archives.
Ms. Karen Heyward, Producer
c/o NBC News
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, N.Y. 10112
Dear Ms. Heyward;
We'd like to respond to your exposure of the unethical behavior of two water filtration salespersons on your recent show "Testing the waters: Are water filtration salespeople cashing in on terrorism fears?" reported by Lea Thompson.
First of all, we're sure you're aware that these were isolated instances of sales representatives of local dealers and that the vast majority of water treatment industry salespersons--and dealerships--adhere to the strict Water Quality Association Code of Ethics. We are very pleased that you did mention that document as the industry ethical standard. As every industry in America realizes, their credibility is directly related to the honesty and respect their sales staff show consumers?and exhibit to government and regulatory agencies.
While the WQA and its members have stressed the importance of high ethical standards for more than 20 years, we realize that there will always be a few individuals who act irresponsibly. Nonetheless, we make--and will continue to make--every effort to ensure that incidents like the ones you reported never happen. You should know that every single person who earns a Certified Water Specialist designation from the WQA is required to take a separate course on Business Ethics for the Water Quality Industry.
It's important to note another issue. Your broadcast implied that our industry's technologies could only be used to treat the aesthetic qualities of water such as smell and taste. In fact, however, there is often a health gap between the maximum level of a given contaminant set by the USEPA and what the safest health level for that contaminant really is.
That health gap is due to the economic realities of municipal water treatment facilities; simply put, the USEPA must consider how economically feasible it is for those facilities to remove contaminants when the USEPA sets the MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level) permissible under law. Too, you need to know that the USEPA also sets a MCLG (Maximum Contaminant Level Goal)--the level that is actually the safest known health level for human consumption--and that the MCLG is frequently much less than the MCL allowed under law.
Our industry's technologies can provide water that is much closer to the known MCLGs than municipal water supplies can afford to provide in mass quantities to the communities they serve. In other words, we can provide water that has lower levels of contaminants that adversely affect the health of consumers; we can provide them an option for safer water than they can ever receive from their taps.
One good example of this health gap is arsenic levels in water. A year ago the USEPA MCL (maximum contaminant level) was 50 ppb (at the same time, the World Health Organization MCL determined maximum level was 10 ppb). After exhaustive studies at the National Science Foundation, the USEPA followed their recommendation and the MCL level was lowered to 10 ppb with an implementation grace period of several years.
In other words, the US EPA is now saying that 10 ppb will be the required maximum, but it's OK to remain at 50 ppm for a few years to give municipal suppliers time to improve their infrastructure. Furthermore, the USEPA MCLG (safest known level) for arsenic is 0 ppb. The difference between the 50 or 10 ppb MCLs and the 0 ppb is a simply a question of economics. However, technologies developed by WQA members and available to consumers today can economically lower the level of arsenic to 3 ppb or lower.
Besides arsenic, there are many other contaminant MCL/MCLG disparities as well. Two examples are the allowed levels of lead--known to cause mental impairment, and trihalomethanes (byproducts of the water chlorination used by municipalities to treat water)--known carcinogens also known to cause birth defects. Again, our industry technologies can significantly reduce these contaminants.
Now, to return to the ethical issues you raised in your broadcast, let me quote just one of the many statements in our Code of Ethics. We require that members, "Accurately represent the source water supply, the performance of the water improvement process and the benefit of the products or services." The legions of honest and ethical salespersons in the water treatment industry do exactly that every day. They--and we--firmly believe that there is no room in our industry for the behavior you reported.
We also know that the technologies we provide can allow consumers access to safer water than can be supplied from public sources.
Peter J. Censky, Executive Director
Water Quality Association