Are You Putting Your Customers at Risk?

Dec. 28, 2000
undefinedAs participants in any industry or organization, regardless of our level or position, the responsibilities we meet or fail to meet are the true barometers of our success. I often wonder if the water treatment industry recognizes the capacity it has to impact people in such an important task as the provision of safe, clean and appealing water. And talk about an impact, what if we do our jobs incorrectly? What legal liability awaits us should we not perform our jobs correctly? Let's examine two possible scenarios experienced by two water conditioning companies.

An in-home appointment was scheduled with the Joneses, a family looking for drinking water treatment. On Friday, ACME Water Conditioning Company salesman Bill met with the potential customers and learned of their concerns regarding the water from their farm well. Bill tested the water for the usual parameters-hardness, iron, pH, TDS and manganese. Because the customer already had an ACME water softener, the water tested fine, but had a TDS of approximately 500 mg/l. Bill recommended an ACME reverse osmosis system for TDS reduction. He went on to explain the system's features, and before long, a sale was made.

Pleased with their RO system purchase one year later, Mrs. Jones was using the RO water to mix formulas and juices for Junior. When the child got sick and had to be hospitalized, the doctors determined that he had Methomeglobinemia (infant cyanosis) from excessive nitrate intake and recommended that the Joneses have their water tested for nitrate and nitrite. Sure enough, the well had a nitrate-nitrite combination totalling over 75 mg/l. Mrs. Jones was very confused because she was careful to use only "purified water" from the RO system. Fortunately, the child was going to be fine, but needless to say, the Jones family was not very happy.

Had Bill been properly trained in the fundamentals of reverse osmosis treatment, this scenario could have been avoided. He may have recognized that under the correct conditions, RO can effectively reduce nitrate-nitrite concentrations by as much as 75 percent. Had Bill recommended a nitrate and nitrite analysis, he could have determined that a 75 percent reduction of 75 mg/l nitrate would not have provided a removal rate sufficient to meet the Environmental Protection Agency's Maximum Contaminant Level for nitrate of 10 mg/l. Had Bill recognized the potential presence of nitrate or any other health-related contaminant, the correct treatment of that contaminant would have included proper follow up testing to ensure system performance.

Scenario 2

Having tested the water at the new home of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas, Fred from the XYZ Water Company explained the results of the iron and hardness tests he performed. He went on to recommend an XYZ water softener to alleviate these problems. The Thomases were impressed with the features and made the purchase. A couple of weeks later, Mr. Thomas called Fred . His wife had been ill with flu-like symptoms since they moved into the new house. Their doctor recommended a Coliform analysis of their water well. The lab found E. Coli in the water. Fred explained that the water softener was not designed or installed for disinfection-it sounded like a chlorination system or ultraviolet unit would be needed in addition to the softener. Mr. Thomas was receptive to these ideas but disturbed that tests for coliform or any other health-related contaminants had not been mentioned. At this point, Mr. Thomas questioned the competence of XYZ Water Company as well as that of the other dealers he spoke with.

The Moral of the Story

Many dealers sell and install equipment exclusively for aesthetic treatment of municipal water and consider themselves exempt from the concerns of private well treatment. This is a dangerous assumption. Regardless of the nature of the equipment installed, the unit will be in direct contact with someone's drinking water. Proper installation and maintenance is critical to the safe performance of water treatment equipment. Only those individuals trained in the sanitary and correct installation procedures should be employed in these practices. A good example of this is the protection against backflow and cross connection with regard to backwash and drain lines. What may appear as a suitable drain source for your equipment could be leaching millions of bacteria into your equipment over a long period of time, whether the drain has backed up or not. It is not acceptable to directly connect any water treatment equipment to a sanitary sewer or septic drain without an air gap or other legal protective device.

Water treatment technicians must be trained to think as Sanitary Engineers, at least as far as the equipment they are working on is concerned. No system should be placed online in a customer's house or business without first sanitizing or disinfecting the unit and all its piping and appurtenances. It is doubtful that you can be certain of the biologic quality of every component from manufacturing through shipping, storage and installation. Showing that we care about the sanitary condition of the equipment we install and maintain will not only ensure against unwanted contamination, but it will exemplify our dedication to quality and the importance of professional maintenance.

These examples may sound extreme or unusual, but they are in fact potential realities to anyone involved in water treatment. The point here is that as water treatment professionals in a virtually unregulated industry, the responsibility we bear is tremendous and should never be ignored or negated. Regardless of the nature of the equipment we sell, like it or not, we are responsible for the health of the customer, at least as far as their drinking water is concerned. If we don't understand the importance of correct water analysis, accurate equipment recommendation, safe and sanitary installation, we risk injury to the customer we serve.

In addition to customer safety concerns, ignorance of these responsibilities creates a poor and lasting perception of the water treatment industry. The lack of self-imposed standards in this industry is a personal invitation to the unscrupulous fly-by-nighters to invade our industry and incite further distrust.

As owners and managers of water treatment dealerships, we are faced with challenges similar to those of many small businesses. Of all the responsibilities maintained on a daily basis, one that will virtually guarantee continued company growth, further success and a professional position in a rapidly growing industry, is the dedication to provide our customers with the highest level of technical competence possible to ensure their safety regarding the water in which they retained us to treat. Whether it is explaining the maintenance requirements of a chlorination system, ultraviolet unit, servicing an RO system or simply installing a sediment filter, our hands are in their water, and their water is in our hands.

About the Author:
Steven L. Richards is a CWS V, and owner and president of Safe Water Systems, Inc., Webster, New York. Steven can be reached on the internet at [email protected]

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