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August 2002: Volume 44, Number 8

The Salt of the Earth’s Websites -- Mining the Gems on the Internet
by Ronald Y. Pérez, WC&P Managing Editor

"Business is the salt of life."

The above quote was attributed to the esteemed mouth of Voltaire -- the 18th century French writer and philosopher. But it could have very well read, "Salt is the business of life," as many water treatment dealers are quickly learning that large amounts of salt can actually be good for you -- and the bottom line.

Sure, I could have pulled a line from Veruca Salt in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," but how many references to Ooompa Loompas can each of us really stand? For those of you Gen-Xers that remember, Veruca Salt was also a pop group that formed in the early '90s. A thousand bonus points if you can name two of their songs. But I digress?

Salt has always been a staple in many water treatment dealers' offerings. With this in mind, we felt it would be a good time to review a couple of websites relevant to our industry.

www.saltinfo.com
This site is sponsored by The Salt Manufacturer's Association (SMA), which is "the trade association representing United Kingdom manufacturers' of salt including domestic salt, catering salt, water softening salt, industrial salt and de-icing salt." The group's basic purpose is to promote knowledge and information of salt to its members and the public and represent its views to key international and governmental organizations.

With a different but pleasing-to-the-eye aqua background, the home page is succinct and inclusive. Before meandering to the main buttons on the left of the page, I scan the brief text for any key ingredients. I discover that my body (and yours as well) contains about 250 grams of salt. In my case, this will increase as soon as the bag of potato chips, pickle and corned beef sandwich packed for lunch are consumed. I also discover these are only three of the 14,000 products that use salt in its manufacture.

On to the main buttons, which are salt history, salt production, salt uses, salt chemistry, salt surprises, de-icing, salt news, salt & health, myth busters, members list and what is SMA? No, you didn't just witness a typo; all of the main buttons' text is lower case. Beginning with the Iron Age, salt history provides an overview of how the mineral also has ties to the Romans and Normans. As you may have guessed, this site takes a noticeable slant toward salt as it relates to the UK. This holds true for salt production where locations are given only for the UK. Under salt uses, we hit what most of you would consider the jackpot. A sub-heading here is entitled "Water Softening." It turns out to be a nice addendum, if not lengthy. Three areas are covered via a few paragraphs -- "hard water," "water softening" and "the role of salt."

Moving along, salt chemistry touches on the composition of salt. I uncovered a nice surprise with salt surprises. A somewhat connoisseur of word origins, I come across this gem -- "In ancient Greece, slaves were traded for salt; hence, the expression ?not worth his salt.'" OK, perhaps you already knew that; I still like it. De-icing covers more areas than we have space for here but, take my word for it, anything you needed to know about de-icing should be available here. salt news serves as a rather weak news item service. A majority of the items are from last year and before. As a forum to defend the benefits of salt, salt & health states SMA's position on such matters.

myth busters is always an intriguing aspect of those sites willing to include them as part of their home page options. Eight myths are presented; none are Earth-shattering but the closest to the land of X-Files would be No. 3 -- "Manufacturers add salt (thirst determinant) to increase soft drink sales." How does SMA answer this claim? Find out at the site as well as extensive answers to the other seven "myths." An even 10 entrants are included in members list. Among these are British Salt Limited, European Salt Producers' Association and Salt Institute (more on this later). Finally, what is SMA? gives a brief overview of the group's goals.

www.saltinstitute.org
If the name sounds familiar, it should. For one, the president of the Salt Institute, a non-profit group, is one of our authors this month. According to the site, "the Salt Institute is the world's foremost source of authoritative information about salt (sodium chloride)" and its more than -- all together now -- 14,000 known uses.

Much like the SMA site, the home page is easy to read and takes up little space. In short, navigation is hassle-free. Six main buttons are provided along with a search function. In many cases, I would strongly recommend going right for the search line and typing in your key word or phrases. No such worry here. Those seeking water softening information are able to skip the trusty tool and find the desired topic in pop-up lists among the buttons.

From left to right, the buttons are About the Salt Institute, About Salt, About the Salt Industry, News, Members Only and Help. In its mission-like statement under About the Salt Institute, a link is provided for certain words and phrases. One such topic is "water softener owners or dealers." I click here hoping for a good deal of insight. I'm not disappointed. Directly beneath a large heading titled "Water Conditioning" is the sentence, "Water conditioning is a major market for salt." And you thought that Voltaire guy was nuts. Again, several key words and phrases have links, among them being "hard water," "water softening systems," "summary of the benefits of water softening" and a link to your favorite trade publication (er, WC&P) is even provided. Clicking on "summary?" is beneficial in that it gives a thorough rundown of how salt usage can positively affect water softening.

About Salt is an even more expanded button and offers FAQs, properties of sodium chloride, salt history, consumer tips on using salt and, yes, even a map of sodium deposits in the United States. Another category found here is "what is salt used for?" Under this sub-heading is "Softened water." This will take you "The many uses of salt" page, where an icon will lead you back to the previously discussed "water conditioning" page. Meanwhile, About the Salt Industry does a good deal of numbers crunching, in particular "U.S. salt sales." Other significant topics include salt production technologies, salt in Canada and "The worldwide salt industry."

The next button is News. This gives a nice cross-section of noteworthy items such as newsletters, news releases from the institute and a calendar of events. All in all, a nice complement to the other buttons. Members only is just that. If you're not a member or an accomplished hacker, it's best to move on to the last button -- Help. Here you can email the institute with any questions or concerns. I clicked on "contacting other experts on salt" but all I got was a list of .html files that were repeated documents I had perused previously at this site.

Conclusion
So whether you are into philosophy or early Gene Wilder flicks, salt is a major part of water softening and will continue to be a viable option for many dealers. Hopefully, this review provides a nice mix of salt issues here in the United States as well as across the pond. The approaches may be different as the websites, but the common denominator from each seems to be that water softening and the use of salt are being intertwined for the betterment of public health and awareness.

Worth Their Weight in Salt

www.saltinfo.com Ignoring the UK slant, you still come away with a solid effort here. Yes, you get the technical stuff (de-icing students should pay heed) but there's also a good dose of interesting light fare -- myth busters and salt surprises. Overall, a dash of this site is good for the soul.

www.saltinstitute.org Contains a quality more sites should have -- a few main buttons with a significant amount of sub-headings. It makes for a more user-friendly navigation experience. Water softening is discussed at length, a huge bonus. If all else fails, you have the search button.

EXTRA: Other salty sites

* European Salt Producers' Association: www.eu-salt.com
* The Salt Museum: www.saltmuseum.org.uk
* Salt on the Web: http://wizard.ucr.edu/~rhannema/salt/links.html
* Salt?A World History: www.saltbook.com

FYI: Tons of salt produced per year (millions)

USA----------41.3
China--------30.8
Germany------15.7
Canada-------13.3
India--------9.5
Australia------8.9
Mexico-------8.4
UK---------6.6
Brazil-------6.5
All others-------38.0
Total--------186.0

SOURCE: U.S. Geological Survey (1998)