Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Worm Has Turned

That phrase has an interesting derivation. It comes from an old proverb that says tread on a worm and it will turn. It means "even the most humble will strike back if abused enough". These days, the expression the worm has turned is often used in the broad sense "the situation has changed" - a tip of the hat to’s Word Maven, a delightful source of insight into words and phrases.

So which of those definitions is most apt for this blog piece?

Here’s a news story and a snippet of video that you ought to watch. Click on the links. The first one is the print story. The second is the video report. Then come back and we’ll talk more about how the worm has turned.

WFAA, the ABC affiliate that did this news story, is a part of the Belo media empire.

They own twenty-five news companies, their flagship being the Dallas Morning News, winner of eight Pulitzer Prizes and honored as one of the top five newspapers in the United States by the Columbia Journalism Review. WFAA Channel 8 is the broadcast companion to the Dallas Morning News. They are both considered conservative and reserved, not given to flights of fancy, not a news organization prone to sensationalism - except perhaps a little when they promo the weather... "Armageddon by nightfall? Details at 6." But they all do that. Weather, I guess, is fair game. But it is fair to say about Channel 8 WFAA that If It Bleeds, It Probably Won’t Lead.

And I think it’s fair to say that the story you just read and watched when you clicked on the links (you did click on the link and go see those pieces, didn’t you?) is a news piece done by a news organization with some pretty impeccable news credentials. And the guy who did the story, David Schechter, brings some pretty stiff credentials along with him, having won the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award and the National Headliner Grand Award, not to mention 13 regional Emmy awards as a reporter in Minneapolis.

It’s safe to say that these are not people prone to sticking microphones in people’s faces who are dashing to their car with their hands over their faces. Though I must admit, I was hoping for a bit of that. I confess, I had visions of Salt Reps wailing "no comment!" and reaching out to swat the camera away. But you can’t have everything, can you?

They interviewed a total of five people for the video segment, and four of them didn’t have anything good to say about salt. Although the one person they had who was pro salt brought some pretty hefty credentials to the table. Bob Tomlinson is the National Vice President for APSP Region Three. And as you saw, he stated unequivocally that, "I don't believe the corrosion we've heard about in the past is a valid issue. And I do greatly await the results of the test being done."

When I heard that, I couldn’t believe that such a knowledgeable and experienced pool builder could have gone these last four or five years without seeing any of the hundreds of rusted diving board stands that only seem to pop up on salt pools and then say, "I don't believe the corrosion we've heard about in the past is a valid issue". I mean, I admit, I’ve met knowledgeable people in our industry who have drunk the kool-aid on the damage to stone being a water chemistry issue and not salt, and even though I think that’s the most head-in-the-sand attitude you could take on the issue, how can anyone with even a passing knowledge of the mechanisms of corrosion deny what salt is doing to diving board stands and ladders and handrails?

But the main problem with Bob’s comments are that they fly in the face of the press release that Goldline gave to WFAA in response to their request for a comment on salt damage to pools. If you take a hard look at that two page liability dodge... I mean, press release... you come away from reading it saying to yourself, "did they just say that salt damages stone? They did just say that salt damages stone, didn’t they? I mean, they did just release a document TO THE PUBLIC, addressed to "Dear Pool Owner", that says "Natural stone can be broken down, dissolved or converted to new minerals by a variety of mechanical and chemical processes. Mechanical processes include frost action, thermal expansion, wetting, drying and salt decay." ‘ [emphasis mine].

So, Bob’s wrong. You can erase his segment. The people he was trying to stand up for just left him hanging out there, flapping in the breeze, all by himself, the Last of the Mohicans, the last member of the I Didn’t Get That Memo club.

I guess Goldine got those test results that Bob was "greatly awaiting" and forgot to tell him that they were releasing a letter to a TV news guy that says pretty much without a doubt there’s more than a grain of truth to the growing opinion that salt systems aren’t right for every pool. They go so far as to WARN THE PUBLIC THAT, "If you have purchased, or are considering purchasing, an electronic chlorine generator for installation with an existing pool or spa with a natural stone surround, you should consult with a qualified stone installation specialist or pool installation contractor in your area to determine what, if any, on-going maintenance will be advised to minimize or avoid unsatisfactory weathering of the stone around your pool or spa."

And right there, they did two things: They admitted that salt ruins certain types of stone. And they said it wasn’t their fault. The date of the letter is May 2nd, 2007. So, anybody who has salt issues that occurred before that date, call your salt system manufacturer. Anybody with issues after that date, call the person who sold you the salt system.

Because if you all can’t see it coming, then let me explain to you what phase of this catastrophe we’re in: Damage Control.

Goldline is the first to jump out with a dated document, available on line, that says, in the most innocuous way possible, that salt will damage stone. Having said that, they’re off the hook if you don’t disclose that to a customer when you sell them a salt system. So, in ten months, when that lady with all the Oklahoma flagstone waterfalls calls you up and says that her pool is full of brown dust, the financial solution to the problem will rest on your shoulders, and not the manufacturers.

And that’s really a big deal. The burden of liability just shifted from the manufacturer to the builders and installers. That is a Truly Seismic Event.

But what everybody’s going to remember about this blog piece isn’t that. What they’re going to remember is; That Rotten S.O.B. The Pool Guy just threw Old Bob under the bus.

I admit, it gives me pause. It makes me ponder whether I should go back and edit that out of this piece before I post it to the blog. But it’s not my fault that what Bob said isn’t true. And it’s not my fault that Goldline published a letter that disputed what he said even as he was saying it. And I know he's the President of a very well respected pool building firm, and that's exactly why I feel compelled to dispute what he says as vigorously as I can. Because what he says carries a lot of weight. Even when he's wrong. Like now. Because MOST BUILDERS IN TEXAS aren't as wholeheartedly behind salt as Bob is. Channel 8 had to go all the way to Houston, Texas - that's a distance of 240 miles for those of you not used to how big the Great State of Texas is - to find a pro-salt voice.

Where were the Salt Reps? A ton of them live right here in Dallas - Fort Worth. Why weren't they on camera saying that all this talk of salt damage is just a bunch of hooey. You think they weren't asked? They declined.

Here's a more typical example of Texas Pool Builder's opinion on salt.
I was talking to a new pool owner last weekend who got a bid from Riverbend Sandler, the biggest pool builder in Texas, about six months ago. At that juncture, they wouldn’t even talk to him about a salt system. I’ve heard they have since resumed salt sales, but with a waiver. It's the same kind of waiver that Phil McEwan, the builder quoted in the WFAA piece, requires. Just like so many builders do these days.

If you go back to the WFAA print story and click on "Have you had a problem with your salt water pool? View Results", there’s a comment that was left by a fellow who says he’s a twenty year service and repair veteran, and he sums it up better than I ever could:

"We are now being asked by a manufacturer to put zinc balls in our pump baskets to deflect the damage away from the other metals in the equipment. We are now being approached by salesman pushing stone sealers. Heater manufacturers are changing their heat exchanger material (they need to figure a way to put thermistors in dry wells). Builders are asking homeowners to sign damage waivers before they will sell/install a salt system. What? There is not an issue with these systems?"

So, when you tell a friend to go look at this blog piece because, hey, The Pool Guy just threw Bob Tomlinson under the bus, remember to add that, oh yeah, and by the way, Goldline just dumped the liability for these salt systems in our lap.

When I heard that this news report about salt pools was coming on, I hoped that it would be the beginning of The Worm Turning in the old proverb sense that even the most humble will strike back if abused enough. But all things considered, with this letter from Goldline, it's more just that the situation has changed, and we've all been put on notice who is going to pick up the tab for all this.

We are.

Brothers and Sisters, The Worm Has Just Turned.

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