Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Anatomy of Research

I have an admission to make. I’m not proud of it. I hope you don’t think less of me when I say it. Then again, if you’re a Salt Rep, I probably don’t have to worry about you thinking less of me. Do I, Bob? Tom? Anyway... back to the admission. It’s really not my fault. My wife made me do it.

Let me explain. You see, I love that HBO series, Rome. It is kick ass with enough blood and gore to sate any man’s testosterone demand. Plus, it’s produced in conjunction with the BBC, so you can pretend that it’s a bit highbrow, that you’re not just watching another TV For Dummies kinda show. But my wife, being a girl and all, hates blood, which means she pretty much hates Rome. But she watches it with me. And here’s why:

Last season, Rome was followed by Grey’s Anatomy. And that’s the deal. She watches Rome with me, and then I watch Grey’s with her. Now, there’s nothing on TV today more estrogen drenched than Grey’s Anatomy. I can feel my breasts enlarging every time I sit through an episode. Let’s face it, Real Men don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy. I mean, who cares about McDreamy and McSteamy?

And that’s my horrible secret; I do. I’m hooked. I’m in. They had me at Guys & Girls Changing in the Same Locker Room. We Tivo it, for God’s sakes. We follow it all over the scheduling map, from night to night. We even watch the reruns. I’m a 38 double D these days.

So, anyway, this week Izzy, which rhymes with Dizzy Blonde with Big... uh... you know (another secret; she’s half the reason I watch it. The other half being Sandra Oh...Oh... Oh... Don’t tell my wife.) Izzy finally deposited the check for 8.7 million dollars she got from the insurance company when her boyfriend Denny died, which made my wife thoughtfully ask, “Tell me again. How much insurance do we have on you?” Now, the reason she didn’t want to cash the check was because it would be the final admission that Denny was gone, really dead, not coming back, ever. Which I thought was really stupid. In Rome, they would have cashed it day one, rented the entire Coliseum and had drunken orgies until the money ran out. Not that I would have done that. I’m just saying, in those days before good old fashioned Judeo Christian guilt, well... never mind.

And there’s this new patient, a 17 year old girl with scoliosis so bad she is bent double at the waist. And there’s a new procedure that McDreamy can do, literally remove half her spine and replace it with a wire mesh contraption. But she’s got crappy insurance - See? It really is like real life - and the procedure is too new and they won’t spring for the cost.

Can you see it coming? I don’t mean to be a spoiler here, but don’t you see? Next week Izzy is going to offer to pay for the surgery with a few hundred thou off the fortune that Denny left her. It’s so obvious.

It was also in the previews for next week’s episode. But I knew it before the previews aired. It’s just so... Izzy...

God, that is so Gay. I’m going to watch Soprano reruns all weekend to try to make amends.

But that whole suddenly rich, doing good deeds with your money thing got me to thinking. What would I do if my boyfriend died and... wait. Starting over. What would I do if I had that kind of windfall. What good deed would I do?

I’d call about ten of my most salt ravaged customers and ask them if I could replace their coping and decks after I core the old ones for samples, and I’d analyze those samples for sodium chloride expansion pressure damage. And I’d ask them if I could replace their gas heater heat exchangers and analyze the old ones for evidence of impingement corrosion. And I’d ask them if I could rip out and replace their brass water features so I could have a metallurgist do a corrosion analysis to determine what caused the corrosion. And I’d ask them if they would mind turning their pools over to me for a little while so I could have a team of corrosion and electrical experts look for the ground loops I suspect exist that are creating the galvanic corrosion effects. And I’d ask if I could dig up their flower beds and analyze the soil to see if it has a higher salt content than their neighbors yards. And I’d fund a study to extrapolate the long term effects on our waste water - which we are going to end up drinking more and more as the population continues to grow - if every pool was a salt pool and every home had a salt based water softener.

And then, when I die, they could put, “He Saved Rich People From Salt Pools” on my tombstone. I know. It’s not really Mother Theresa kind of stuff. But at least it would counter this kind of “research”:

This is a marketing brochure for a salt chlorine generator. It doesn’t look like one, I know. It looks like a corrosion study that proves beyond any reasonable doubt that high chlorine levels, coupled with low stabilizer levels, are wholly responsible for the corrosion seen on metals in and around swimming pools, especially stainless steel.

It looks that way until you look back in time to the date on the cover letter; 1993. It was a time when Lectranator was one of a very few companies in the salt chlorine generator business. What was going on back then? Rapid failures of stainless steel filter tanks were what was going on back then. But pretty much only on salt pools. A lot more of the market was stainless steel tanks then than it is now. A lot more.

So, Lectranator dug up a bunch of old “research” that one of the numerous past owners of Lectranator, Diamond Shamrock, had done through an affiliate named ELTECH. ELTECH was either another past owner or somehow part of Diamond Shamrock back in the day. Olin owned it for awhile, too, and sold it to the folks who dug all this up and put it out there in 1993. Confusing? Yes, it is. This thing’s been passed around more than Paris Hilton.

This “research” supposedly proves that at “levels below 3000 ppm (mg/l), chlorides in the water had an ‘INSIGNIFICANT EFFECT’ on TYPE 304 Stainless Steel”, even though there had been a rash of rust-throughs on filter tanks within a year or so of adding the salt to the water. You know, about three months ago, I was talking to a metallurgist and I mentioned that the salt system manufacturers, for the most part, were telling us that salt wasn’t corrosive in levels under 6,000 ppm. He arched his eyebrows and said, “I’ve seen salt be corrosive at levels as low as 10 parts per million”. But then, he was just telling the truth as he had seen it. No one was paying him for a report that they could twist around to say what they wanted. The “research” further claimed that stainless steel was, however, “extremely susceptible to rapid corrosion at high free chlorine levels (20 ppm), regardless of the Source of chlorine”, and that it was really just those dumb old pool owner’s fault for allowing their pools to “unknowingly be... operated at very high chlorine levels. Most common test kits lose their accuracy over 4.0 to 5.0 ppm free chlorine. Pool Owners did not realize their pools carried excessively high chlorine levels,” and if only they had known that moderate “levels of Cyanuric Acid effectively inhibit corrosion caused by high chlorine levels”, then there would have been peace in the Middle East.

So, you see, all we really needed was an “awareness of the effect of high chlorine levels on metals...” so that, “ ...the limitations of test kit ranges will eliminate the corrosion issue, allowing the pool owner the substantial advantages of automation of the water sanitizing process.”

Let me decode this. What they’re saying is, “We know when you put our system on your pool, your filter disintegrated inside of a year. But it’s not salt’s fault. It’s because our system produces more chlorine than you expected and when it does that, it gets outside the range of your test kit and it gets so high that it eats right through anything. Like that green blood in Alien. And it’s your fault for not turning down our wonderful chlorinator’s output.”

Now, the thing that most people say they love about their salt system is that they don’t have to have so much chlorine in the water, so what are they shoveling here? Don’t you think you might notice 20 or 30 ppm chlorine when 1.5 ppm is normal?

You see, this is just a great big, fat hearsay document. Go to page two and break it down. They claim that there’s this guy, Professor Hehemann, who did some corrosion analysis for ELTECH in 1982, but for some reason the company was “reluctant to publish his findings”. Which is a lot like saying, “we don’t trust them”.

Then, they talk about doing long term testing where they proved over and over again that stainless steel subjected to 20 and 30 ppm chlorine corroded. Duh. Once again, don’t you think you might notice 30 ppm chlorine in your pool? “Oh honey! The kids are screaming in agony in the pool. Should I tell them to get out?”

Then, it really departs from reality. Field studies, and an “independent survey” - read “somebody told us” - culminating in “a similar survey in Texas” - somebody else told us - convinced them they were right. A survey is asking lay people questions. Not real scientific stuff.

You see, they want you to think that what they saw in their lab is exactly what they saw in the field when they started looking. But they’re having it both ways here. If it’s the lack of Cyanuric Acid in the water that makes the free chlorine more corrosive, then all the field work has to be bogus, because it had to have been done on pools with at least normal levels of Cyanuric Acid, - i. e. tab pools. So, if they claim that they saw high free chlorine levels in the field, they have to also admit that they didn’t see any corrosion, because the Cyanuric Acid would have arrested it.

I posed my reservations to the fellow hosting this “research” on his web site, Richard, AKA The Chem Geek, and even Richard had to admit that “I have problems with a summary of a study since there are many tricks that can be played to draw conclusions. I already noted one of those in my post on The Pool Forum in that the study in the lab looked at high chlorine without CYA AND without salt while separately looking at salt without chlorine. Obviously, a real pool has both and since both factors influence corrosion you really need to test with both at the same time.”

Richard freely admitted he was given this report by people who make money selling salt. I believe he is honestly pursuing solutions to problems here and trying to conduct an objective analysis and look at all the published information. But it’s like I said a few posts back about objectivity; it’s the built in blind spot of objectivity that lets the folks with the agenda of the Almighty Dollar sneak in and shovel their manure and call it research.

It isn’t even research, for God’s sakes. It’s a summary from a company about the research they claim they and other’s have done. There’s no proof anywhere on any of those three pages. It’s just a white paper that somebody sat down and wrote. It’s that person’s version of what a box full of documents says to them. And it was written by a person who had a monetary gain if what they wrote got traction and was believed.

Let me summarize what others have said about their own research:

“There is no direct link between cigarettes and lung cancer” - Every major tobacco company, until Russell Crowe outed then in The Insider.

“Global warming is a Myth” - Every major oil company, to this day.

“My research proves beyond any reasonable doubt that you can make research prove anything you want to, especially if you’re the one paying for the research.” - The Pool Guy

So, what’s the answer? The answer is truly independent research. The problem is the only people with the money to do the research aren’t independent. They’re the manufacturers, and they’ve already lied to us about so many of the problems with salt, it’s hard to imagine they’re going to have a rebirth of conscience. So, we’re back to waiting for Denny to die to get that check for 8.7 million.

And one last question. Why is this paper being thrown out there now, thirteen years after it was written? Because that’s just about enough time for everybody to lose historic perspective of why it was written; in a vain attempt to shift the blame for the corrosion of stainless steel filter tanks from the salt that caused it to the homeowner’s negligence - the old “it’s either God’s Will or Somebody Else’s Fault” defense - and to the chlorine, that’s always been there, even before the corrosion showed up.

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