Sunday, November 19, 2006

Lying Liars

There is so much going on, it’s hard to know where to start.

How about this? A really, really big pool builder here in the Great State of Texas has stopped selling salt systems. Now, this falls under the category of gossip, because I’m not a journalist. I’m a pool cleaner and a blogger. But I heard this stuff from four different stalwarts in the local industry hereabouts, and so I believe it.

But before we talk about that, listen to this:

I was roaming around the internet and I happened upon this little tidbit from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services:

“Both Na+ and Cl- cause a taste in water. EPA has identified a concentration of over 250 mg/L of either Na+ & Cl- as a concentration which can be expected to impart a ‘salt’ taste to drinking water.” Read it HERE New Hampshire Govt.Website

Just to review, 1 mg/L equals 1part per million (ppm).

That reminded me of something I read recently from a manufacturer of salt systems where they were going on and on about how the amount of salt you put in your pool - three to four thousand parts per million, depending on the system - is “below the level of taste”. I couldn’t remember where I read it, so I Googled “below the level of taste” and “chlorine generator” and this is a sampling of what I got:

Every one of these websites say that the amount of salt needed is “below the level of taste”.

So, um, uh... that’s a lie. It’s above the EPA identified level of taste by a factor of 12, to be precise.

Each of these websites, and plenty more, keep repeating the same lie over and over again until it becomes fact. That is the secret of Sales and Marketing. You tell a lie. You tell that lie for money. You get others to repeat that lie for the same reason; money. You rely on the fact that the average consumer and the average reseller aren’t going to question your lie, because there’s no profit in proving that it’s a lie. There’s no money in it, so why would anybody in their right mind set out to disprove the lie if, at the end of the day, it doesn’t make them any richer?

Because it’s a lie.

There are other, more subtle ways of pumping up a product without technically telling a lie. Like the same vendor’s claim:

“You'll never again have to worry about red irritated eyes, dry itchy skin, bleached bathing suits or green hair!”

Green hair? Hmm... Green hair doesn’t come from other types of chlorine, which, if you follow the sleight of hand there, is implied but not said . Once again, Smoke and Mirrors, Sales and Marketing.

Green hair is caused by copper in the water.

How about bleached bathing suits?

“Experts disagree widely about a maximum level for free chlorine, if any. AQUA TIPS interviewed swimmers who had been bathing in 5, then 10, and on up to 25 ppm free chlorine. In the files we found the story of a junior high school pool that was mistakenly carried at 60 ppm free chlorine for about a week's time. We interviewed one individual who had been swimming in 200 ppm free chlorine for 30 minutes. In each of these cases, pH and other water chemistry factors were almost perfectly balanced. Complaints in the above cases were of bleached bathing suits, dry skin, and mild eyeburn.”

There are several other websites with the same information. Just Google bleached bathing suits. Too, there are several websites that will tell you that chloramines cause red irritated eyes and dry, itchy skin. But bleached bathing suits? I’m sorry. That’s from too high a level of free available chlorine, and you’re just as likely to have it with a chlorine generator set too high as you are with a feeder stuffed with too many tabs.

So, why is this important? Because this is the small stuff. If they’re willing to lie and misdirect on the small stuff, what about the big stuff? Big stuff like galvanic corrosion, or ruined coping, or environmental issues. It begs the question, what else are they not telling you?

They’re not telling you things like this:

“Sodium and chloride are costly to remove from water... Normally the best method to control sodium and chloride in drinking water is to prevent or better manage those activities that dispose of salt near the water supply source”. (Whatcom County, WA Health Department, Sodium in Water)

That’s a link to the Whatcom County, Washington Health Department website. “...prevent or better manage” the disposal of salt. Just a crazy thought, but how about not putting salt in your pool in the first place?

Think about it. If you’re trying to maintain a level of less than 250 ppm in your water supply, then dumping a 20,000 gallon pool of 3,000 ppm salt water just brought 240,000 gallons of pure water right up to the level of taste. If it’s 4,000 ppm, then it’s 320,000 gallons.

How about a water park that uses salt chlorination? If you dump a 700,000 gallon Lazy River at the end of the season, that dilutes to as much as 11,200,000 gallons of 250 ppm water. And that’s if the dilute had 0 ppm salt to begin with. Not to mention that the Lazy River’s just one ride in the water park.

But it gets worse. The Salt Institute, a group that represents 36 foreign and domestic salt producers, admits you can taste salt at levels even lower than 250 ppm.

“The secondary drinking water standard for chloride is determined for taste and established at 250 mg/L. If 100% of the chloride in a particular drinking water were in the form of sodium chloride, water containing 250 mg/L chloride would contain 160 mg/L sodium. Thus, 160 mg/L would be the appropriate level where people would notice the taste of sodium chloride.” - Update 03/09/09; this link is dead. It is no longer anywhere on the Salt Institute's website. It's no longer anywhere on the internet except here. I guess they no longer wanted to own that opinion, seeing as how it's been so effectively used to prove just the reverse of what they intended for it to do.

Remember, this is from the Salt Institute, the lobbying arm of the salt industry. So, that means that the folks selling salt systems to you just made up the idea that 3,000 to 4,000 ppm is below the level of taste and then put it in their Sales and Marketing brochures.

Are you insulted yet?

Every place I go in the real world - by real world, I mean things like water treatment info, or drinking water data, or environmental studies, or architectural information, or infrastructure impact studies - I read nothing but the negative impacts of salt.

Well, that’s not completely true. I did recently read how “salting, especially of meat, is an ancient preservation technique. The salt draws out moisture and creates an environment inhospitable to bacteria.”

But starting around 1876, when Karl Paul Gottfried von Linder invented the first practical refrigeration unit, salting meat has been kind of tapering off.

So, there’s all this real world data about the negative impacts of salt.

And then there’s the world of Sales and Marketing, where salt is portrayed as a beautiful, naturally occurring substance that has revolutionized swimming pools and is protecting all those poor little rich folk from the horrible, unmentionable side effects of chlorine.

Be honest. How many homeowners have you talked to who had that exact impression when they contacted you about a salt system? And even when you tried to explain to them that, “chlorine’s chlorine, whether it comes from a tab or from an electronic box”, they give you that, “Yes, but salt’s better, right? More natural, right?”

The deliberate misinformation surrounding the introduction of salt systems is still startling to me, even after all these weeks of reading and writing about it. So, wake up, Also a Pool Guy. It’s not just a swimming pool. It is a conspiracy. A conspiracy to say whatever needs to be said to create and maintain a market for salt systems, whether they’re good for your business or not.

Which is a nice segue into the Big News this week. The Big News goes something like this:

Big Texas Builder came to the conclusion that salt systems, instead of being a profit center, are costing money and slowing production. The unrelenting damage caused by salt created tons of go-backs (doncha just love them free go-backs) to replace diving board stands, rip out ruined limestone, etc., tying up crews that otherwise would have been laying coping and mastic and such on new pools instead of pools under warranty. Not only was it costing a lot to redo the work, but it was costing a lot by slowing new production.

You have to wonder, too, if part of their reason wasn’t the lost referrals that always come with that kind of mess. It reminds me of a recent conversation I had with another builder. He’s a small custom builder, who lives and dies by the referral, and by way of telling me that he, too, had stopped selling salt systems, (that’s two; one Big Builder, one Small Builder) he told me the story of how he lost a whole town to a spate of heater problems a couple of years back. Gosh, I wonder which heater that was?

He’d been going great guns in this small community here in the Metroplex - for all you people not lucky enough to be from Texas, that’s what we call the Dallas/Fort Worth area - all from one customer telling a friend, and that friend telling a friend, (repeat until rich) what a great job he’d done for them. Then, the heaters stopped working. They wouldn’t fire during start up. The local reps were swamped with calls from everybody, so even herculean efforts on their part weren’t keeping up with the trouble calls. (Yes. Mark your calender. I just said something nice about reps. Technical Reps, that is.) Then, a week after the heaters were fixed, they’d fail again, creating an even more upset customer. And then another trouble call, and another, and yet another...

Pretty soon, what his customers out there were telling their friends changed from, “He’s so great and everything works so well”, to “I’m so mad at that guy. He sold me a spa I never get to use because he sold me a broken heater to go along with it.” And he hasn’t had a referral in that town in the three years since.

So there’s that.

And then, in closing, I wanted to thank Also A Pool Guy for his comments. And I wanted to clarify, like Another Pool Guy already pointed out, that 7.6 isn’t neutral pH. 7.0 is neutral pH. Further, the difference between 7.6 and 7.7 isn’t “slightly basic”. The difference between 7.6 and 7.7 is that 7.7 is 20% more base than 7.6. The pH scale is a logarithmic scale, where the number to the right of the decimal - the mantissa - is the logarithmic representation of the actual number. The number to the left of the decimal - the characteristic - represents the power of 10 the number is to be raised to. So, 7.6 represents -40,000,000 and 7.7 represents
-50,000,000. With that kind of progression, the difference between, say, 7.2 and 8.2 is -30,000,000 and -300,000,000, respectively. So, 8.2 is ten times more base than 7.2. The pH scale has fourteen orders of magnitude (0.0 to 14.0), expressed in this logarithmic notation, pH being the negative logarithm of the concentration of hydrogen ions. Kind of like 7.6 pH is 40,000,000 hydrogen ions per liter... not.

Phew! I wanted to spit all that out to illustrate what a bad idea it is to throw even a tenth of a point on the pH scale around so casually. And I realize that it’s open season on the above paragraph from all you chemists out there. So, go ahead. Take your best shot.

Also a Pool Guy has started his own blog here on Blogspot. He calls it Another Look at ThePoolBusiness. You can access it by clicking on his name at the bottom of his comment. He hasn’t posted anything, though. Perhaps he’s busy studying up on the pH scale.

Yes. I know. That was mean. I am ashamed. But I’m not stupid. And that brings up an interesting point about this blog. Usually the guys who will tell you the truth about anything aren’t nice guys. They’re rock throwers looking for a plate glass window. And they don’t have solutions. They have questions. If you think about it, they’re not supposed to have solutions. Because they didn’t build and sell the problem. They just point out that the problem exists.

Res Ipsa Loquitur.


Dick Hanneman said...

Your commentary seems to imply something sinister about the Salt Institute's mathematics on the amount of sodium and chloride defining the EPA secondary drinking water standards. It boggles my mind why you've quoted us at all. The standard is that of US EPA. We didn't make up the fact that NaCl is 60% Cl and 40% Na. So what's the problem. If drinking water has 250 ppm Cl and all the Cl is from NaCl, it's simple math: that water would have 160 ppm Na. All that anger and no point to be made.

Dick Hanneman
Salt Institute

The Pool Guy said...

Hi, Dick. Thanks for dropping by. I didn’t imply anything sinister about your institute’s math on secondary water standards. What I said was that salt system manufacturers have been telling us pool guys and our customers, for several years now, through printed brochures and as an integral part of their sales pitch, that 3,400 parts per million (ppm) sodium chloride dissolved in water was “below the level of taste”. I simply pointed out that the EPA had established 250 ppm as the “level of taste”, and that your Salt Institute had promulgated an even lower standard of 160 ppm. I referenced your document, available online, precisely because you’re the Salt Institute, and as a contrasting authority to what we’re being fed by salt system manufacturers. I know the argument you guys are having with the EPA about your spot on the Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List and the levels they’ve set. I’ve read about that, too. And, Dick, I don’t have an opinion on that either way. But you’re wrong about my anger being pointless. It’s just not aimed at you or your institute. It’s aimed at companies who take the public for such complete rubes that they inflate numbers by a factor of 21.25 - if I use your institute’s level of taste standard - just to put a little lipstick on their... well, you know. So, tell me, Dick. You're the Man. If someone told you, by way of trying to sell you a product, that a 3,400 ppm sodium chloride level was below the level of taste, knowing what you know about salt, would you trust anything else they say?

Baboosa said...

Hey Pool Guy,

I was thinking... I have this cute little meter that says it measures NaCl. My suspicions are it just measures conductivity and lots of different salts like maybe even calcium chloride. So how do it know? what the NaCl level is. Am I supposed to just believe what it says and trust them.. cause it is printed? Okay well I was just wondering if I actually had the right amount of salt in my pool degenerator.