February 2006: Volume 48, Number 2
Good news and bad news
by Karen R. Smith
As we noted last month when announcing this year's Technical Review Committee members, it was an incomplete list, partly because we hope to add additional members (with additional areas of expertise) to this august panel; partly because some members will change roles in the coming months, partly because some could not be reached to learn their plans for this year.
Since joining WC&P's Tech Review Committee in 2005, Stephen Tischler of National Testing Labs has helped both our writers and our readers with all manner of water problems. His own experience is unique in that in addition to being Director of Sales and Marketing for National Testing laboratories, he worked as an analytical chemist at NASA and has a long history in the aerospace industry with expertise in quality control and analytical testing method development. He will be joining us as a regular contributor to a brand new column, Test Patterns. Today, we can test water for more substances in smaller quantities than ever before and we are legally mandated to do so for a growing list of contaminants. While enhanced testing with reputable labs is to be encouraged, the question today is what do those test results actually mean and what is the correct course of action to take to mitigate the problem revealed?
That is precisely what Tischler will help us to grapple with. While writing for us quarterly, he has graciously agreed to continue on our Technical Review Committee as well. If you'd like to help him get started on his column, send him your problem water stories. Call him at NTL at (440) 449-2525, or send your letters to his attention here at WC&P.
As to the bad news, my east coast family spent much of the holiday season quite literally underwater due to a plumbing problem. The plumbers said the water softener and/or the RO unit were implicated, so they called for a service tech. Nice man, but he refused to believe there was any connection between the disaster and the water treatment system. So they called me.
As luck would have it, I work here at WC&P. I called a member of our Technical Review Committee and although he was several thousand miles away, he suggested that from the description of events, it might've been an airgap problem. Family asked about the airgap. technician agreed with a smile to check it out, but assured them there was nothing wrong with the softener. Five minutes later he said, 'Well, will you look at that? There's no airgap after all!'
Moments later, new airgap in place, he was getting ready to leave. That's when they asked about the odor they'd noticed coming from the softener. He suggested it might be the salt-saying that sometimes salt can have an odor. Inlaws had never found that to be the case and said so. He was getting into his truck by this point, eager to leave. 'If it really bothers you, I guess you can add some bleach,' he suggested as he pulled out of their driveway. In response them asking how much, he made a wavy up-and-down motion with his hand and said he wasn't quite sure, but not too much-and drove off.
This might sound strange, but I don't think a softener should have any smell at all! We drink that water! I wanted a finite, specific solution to the problem, not a smile and a wave from the truck and a guess about an unknown quantity of bleach while he drove off into the sunset.
Of course, you can guess what I did then. Yup...I called a Tech Review Committee member and described the problem. He told me we potentially had E. coli in the softener because of the flooding; told me where to put bleach and how much; how to shut down and drain the hot water heater, disinfect that as well, regenerate the resin and run the whole system through with the bleach by running every faucet, tub, shower and washer in the house.
What if I didn't work here? Are your customers getting the answers my inlaws got? You need to find out-and teach them to do better. Lives and livelihoods depend upon it.
Even the best staff needs to brush up on skills-and there is no better place for training than WQA Aquatech 2006 in Chicago. See you there!