The Good, The Bad and The Opportunity

April 25, 2007

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there is a good and a bad side of consumer awareness. Just a few months back I talked about the increase of consumer awareness about water quality with recent media reports: clever TV ads such as the GE Ecomagination ad, “Fishing for Water” that informs TV viewers about GE’s desalination technology, and the report listing the different certification marks for common household goods, including the NSF Mark and WQA’s Gold Seal Mark.

These were just a couple examples of how consumer eyes have turned to water quality and the different technologies available on the market.

I haven’t changed my mind—I still think increased consumer interest in water quality is great for our industry, but … there is always a BUT.

I recently came across a new article in the May 2007 issue of Consumer Reports that provided advice on navigating the water filter market. The report recommended that consumers test their water to determine what contaminants they are dealing with; it highlighted the fact that consumers should be worried about more than taste.

In fact, according to the magazine’s analysis of Consumer Confidence Reports (CCRs), only three of the 25 largest U.S. cities were free of federal water quality violations. The other 22 cities produced samples containing significant quantities of contaminants such as lead, chlorine and E. coli.

Although CCRs provide a resource for consumers to determine the impurities in their municipal water supplies, the report indicated that consumers still need to test their individual home water supplies to figure out what kind of filter best fits their needs. This is especially true for those on private well water because their water is not monitored by CCRs.

The report also evaluated an array of POU water filtration products to help consumers choose. Consumer Reports tested 27 water filters of different varieties. Kenmore’s countertop and undersink filters, and Whirlpool’s RO filter earned “Best Buy” distinctions.

What first caught my attention was the very beginning of the article where it stated, “Our tests found two ‘Best Buys’ that cost less than $60.” Other water filter prices were in the range of $80 for countertop to $300 for undersink, and up to $450 for RO units.

Let’s for a second put aside the fact that these prices can create some difficulties, to say the least, for a dealer whose selling point is offering competitive prices. What raised an even bigger concern was the “First things first” section of the report, which offered pros and cons for each type of filter. For undersink systems, cons included: “Takes up cabinet space and requires plumbing modifications. A hole must be drilled through the sink and/or countertop for the dispenser.” For RO systems, cons included: “Requires plumbing modifications and must be periodically sanitized with bleach. Is extremely slow and creates 3 to 5 gal of wastewater for each gallon filtered. Takes up cabinet space.”

While these statements are true for some systems in the marketplace, other systems feature more advanced technology and options.

It’s obvious the general public is far from knowing everything about their drinking water, let alone different treatment options. While this report is a cause of some concern, I still believe increased consumer knowledge of how different water treatment systems can help improve the quality of their life can only generate more business for our industry. Ultimately, water treatment professionals should consider consumer awareness, with its good and bad sides, an opportunity to continue to educate consumers about the nation’s water status, contamination issues and different water treatment technologies.

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