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March 2001: Volume 43, Number 3

Another California Compromise, European Summits & Dealer Contracts
by Carlos David Mogollon, WC&P Executive Editor

It appears a reasonable conclusion is possible in a California controversy that could cause industry standards to be rewritten and water filter companies to have to retest equipment simply for making a chlorine reduction claim.

An agreement on the Stage 1 D/DBP Rule last fall set maximum residual disinfectant levels (MRDLs) for a group of disinfectants including chlorine (4 ppm), which California said made it a health-related rather than aesthetic claim. As such, new rules were applicable that could cost drinking water treatment unit (DWTU) makers a lot, delay products getting to market and/or put a dent in efforts to get companies to have products certified, particularly smaller ones least able to afford it. Keep in mind, chlorine taste and odor is one of if not the most common consumer complaint of drinking water.

WQA executive director Peter Censky said he and others were "cautiously hopeful" after meeting with California health officials in January. "They're sympathetic to our point and, if their lawyers think it's doable, they'll work out a way to resolve this," he said. "It's very simple... Anything below [4 ppm] we should be able to make the same taste and odor claims using the same testing parameters we use now... A health claim doesn't exist unless you're claiming to remove chlorine over 4 ppm. We don't know of any manufacturers or equipment that make such a claim."

Meanwhile, a group of industry heavies have met twice in Europe -- Bologna, Italy, in December; London in February -- to discuss how to head off ongoing threats to use HPC bacteria reduction requirements to restrict trade there, confirmed WQA World Assembly Division director Dan Wyckoff. Present were members of Aqua Europa -- which acts as EU secretariat on water standards harmonization -- and representatives of Culligan, EcoWater, Kinetico and Amway, as well as WQA's Wyckoff, Censky and technical director Joe Harrison. Wyckoff said it's been determined the best approach is to co-sponsor a major conference on HPC issues in Europe -- aimed for early 2002 -- and attract leading scientific researchers to determine true risks of the broad bacterial group. World Health Organization participation is being solicited to that end.

The HPC debate has prevented adoption of uniform DWTU standards because Austria and Germany have HPC restrictions in their national standards. Austria's BWT has led those dragging their feet on the issue, which threatens to derail adoption of any such EU standards. "I think BWT truly wants to come up with a solution good for all," Wyckoff said. "If they don't find a resolution, then they don't have a standard at all -- and that doesn't help anybody."

Lastly, ongoing negotiations between industry leader Culligan and its dealer network -- always an indicator of things to come -- erupted early this year into public dissension over a new franchise contract. Seems it voids pre-existing contract rights, which is bad for those under the original 1957 version that allows dealerships to be bequeathed to children under existing terms, industry sources indicate. It shortens contract life from 10 to 5 years. And it allows Culligan to approach new channels to market without dealer protection or say for that matter, i.e., as to Internet sales or sales through mass merchandisers in a protected territory.

Incoming WQA president C.R. Hall, who owns a Culligan dealership in Wichita, Kan., said 20 percent of the company's dealer network -- 600+ strong -- are up for renewal this year and next, and many are its prime movers of product. A number were uncomfortable signing a 1991 contract version and likely will be even less inclined to sign this one, he said. Positions seemed to have hardened on both sides and, as of Feb. 12, Culligan will distribute the more restrictive version and refused to go to its own dealer assocation show because outside core products vendors were invited to exhibit.

The impact of such negotiations could be compared to a UAW contract with General Motors. All others in the industry are likely to follow suit.