2010: Restructuring for Growth
Heading into 2010, the water treatment industry looks different than anyone could have imagined last year. It’s hard to know what to expect in 2010. Water Quality Products spoke with a variety of industry leaders to get a broad perspective of what to expect in 2010 and how to be prepared for the challenges that will certainly arise.
International Bottled Water Assn.
Another Busy Year
The outlook for the bottled water industry in 2010 points to another very busy year. The following issues of concern to bottled water companies will likely be considered at the state and federal level.
Consumers’ Right to Know
Congress may consider federal legislation introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the Bottled Water Safety and Right to Know Act (S 2848). This legislation would require bottled water companies to prepare consumer confidence reports and bottled water labels would have to include the range of detections of contaminants, the maximum contaminant level (MCL), a definition of MCL, the range of detections of unregulated contaminants, the source of the water, the types of treatments to which the water has been subjected, a website address and a toll-free number maintained by FDA where consumers could get additional information. IBWA agrees with the FDA’s conclusion that placing detailed information on a small label is not feasible for many reasons, including limited space. Bottled water quality report information for IBWA members can be found at http://www.bottledwater.org/content/ibwa-members.
According to the Drinking Water Research Foundation, only 0.02% of all groundwater withdrawals each year in the U.S. are attributable to the bottled water industry. Despite this minimal use of groundwater, IBWA anticipates several types of proposals next year, including attempts to require local involvement or approval in the bottled water permitting process and other onerous bottled water facility requirements such as bonding, insurance, extensive reporting, extraction fees, moratoriums, bans on out-of-state water transfers, international trade agreements and even public trust issues.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
The BPA issue is critically important to the bottled water industry and IBWA continues to defend the safety of polycarbonate plastic bottles that contain this substance. According to the FDA: “The consensus of regulatory agencies in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Japan is that the current levels of exposure to BPA through food packaging do not pose an immediate health risk to the general population, including infants and young children.”
FDA is expected to announce its final determination about the safety of BPA shortly. The Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition is reviewing the latest studies that evaluate the health risks from low-dose exposure to BPA before making a recommendation.
A major increase in state legislation concerning BPA occurred in 2009. IBWA monitored more than 70 local, state and federal BPA-related bills introduced in more than 20 states and Congress. We should expect as much, if not more, related legislation in 2010.
As we look ahead toward 2010, we know that threats of bottle deposit bill expansion and creation of new bottle deposit bill programs will continue as states seek additional revenue sources under the cover of environmental initiatives. IBWA will be working closely in 2010 with a broader beverage industry coalition to continue consideration of repealing bottle bills and enhancing the state’s curbside and other recycling initiatives. The most recent data on plastic recycling indicates bottled water containers were recycled at a 30.9% rate last year, a 32% improvement over the year before.
After 10 states sought to add a bottle deposit program to their statutes during 2009, we can only expect more of the same in 2010.
IBWA expects many different tax proposals to come forth in 2010 as states struggle to come up with ways to repair and maintain their failing public water systems as well as help fund their deficit budgets. In addition to excise tax proposals on bottled water products, look for state legislation seeking water withdrawal severance taxes on bottled water, and proposals that directly target our industry’s containers. Several states previously considered legislation that would have placed a per-container tax on each container of bottled water (up to 20 cents per bottle) sold in their state. While none of these proposals were enacted, it represents a concerning trend, as some legislators in 2010 will continue to view bottled water as a luxury rather than a packaged food product.
Activist groups can be expected to make headlines in 2010 by continuing to pressure city and state officials to ban the purchase of bottled water for use in government offices. Although the cities complying with calls for bans have been few and far between, the media and some lawmakers have found the “bottled water versus tap water” debate to be an irresistible attention-getter.
Often lost in debate is bottled water’s utility when tap water is not available, such as with police and firefighters, construction workers and other government employees working outside an office and during natural disasters and municipal water system failures, when boil-alerts pose a risk to everyone.
Water Quality Assn. (WQA)
Restructuring to be Stronger
The industry is going through a period of significant change that is affecting every company. As we emerge from the worst recession in many decades, we should not expect to return to business as usual. Is this a bad thing? Not at all. I think our industry is restructuring itself to be much stronger than it was before—different, but much stronger. I see strength in some surprising areas: softening, green technologies, gray water and small systems, among others.
Consumers are increasingly relying on our technologies to improve the taste and healthfulness of their water. WQA’s consumer attitude research has consistently demonstrated that younger households prefer to improve their drinking water by utilizing a variety of technologies, and that preference is moving with them as they age. But drinking water is not the only driver of our industry.
I think softening is going to continue to be a strong product category in the future. Contrary to some of the things I’ve read recently, California did not ban residential water softeners. What the state did was turn the issue over to regional and local governments, and it has been our experience that most localities do not want to ban softeners. We have worked with our members to assemble a number of ways that they can work with local governments to help them reach their goals of reducing salinity without banning our equipment. Yes, there will be some areas that eventually will ban equipment, but in most cases we can dramatically reduce our salinity discharges while offering a range of improved products.
Local dealers hold the key to their future. They need to get involved in their local communities—seek out the politicians and regulators, get to know them and make sure they know you. It is a lot harder for a local regulator to harm your business if they know you and understand the value you bring to the community.
“Green” is the latest catch phrase these days. Again, contrary to some of the things I’ve read lately, “green” is not going away. Like most industries, we have our own impact on the environment, and we are working hard as an industry to reduce our footprint. But we also have one of the best “green” records of any industry, anywhere. Softening and scale control are key enablers for the newest water heater and boiler technologies so they can achieve energy-saving efficiencies.
We have been “green” since that word only applied to trees and lawns. Remember, our products have always empowered consumers to improve their own personal environments.
We have given them the tools to enhance their families’ well-being, to improve their health, to preserve their fixtures and to feel secure with that final barrier of protection against the contaminants that the environment “out there” threw at them. Increasingly, when people think of “green,” they should make the connection to our products.
Gray water may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this is one area where we have the best opportunities to develop new markets for products and services. At WQA, we’ve been told by regulators that recycling and treating gray water within homes and commercial establishments is an emerging need, and they expect that our industry will likely be the one to seize this emerging opportunity.
I think our member companies are implementing the necessary changes to take advantage of these and other opportunities that will be taking root over the next five to 10 years. Of all the industries that touch the consumer’s water, only ours puts the technologies and local chemical knowledge to work in homes and businesses across the land. The key to taking advantage of all these growing opportunities is education for employees and information for customers.
Drinking Water & Wastewater Treatment Units Program
Source Water & Scarcity Challenges
There is a growing force reshaping opportunities in water treatment: water scarcity. Historically, we have thought about the expanding means by which to treat naturally occurring source waters of varying qualities. Treatment technologies and markets have evolved to provide more treatment at lower cost, adapting to a wide range of source water qualities. The concept was a simple one—find a surface or underground source, treat it, use it, discard it, repeat. In today’s market, the increasing challenge is the availability of naturally occurring source water. The result is a rethinking of “source.”
The depleting availability of naturally occurring source waters has been fueling change for many years, particularly in those regions of the world long stricken with shortages. Water efficiency in appliances, plumbing fixtures and to some degree treatment devices has been one change evident in the market.
Newly emerging products and regulations, at least to North America, are moving past this into new sources, such as rainwater and storm water. Some are taking this a step further into the recycling of already used water generated within a residence or commercial building for use again in the same location.
All of these options come with challenges, but all of them also create opportunities for market growth. There are several initiatives in the plumbing codes, local and state regulations and national product standards that will have a significant impact in 2010.
There are many “chicken-and-egg” scenarios playing out, all of which need to happen before the real value of these innovations can be realized. One is that plumbing codes need to be established that allow for the collection and use of new sources and onsite reused sources. Recognizing this need, U.S. code bodies including the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO) and the International Code Council (ICC) are actively writing new code language that adapts to these changing market needs.
There are questions and concerns related to the public health risk of these new sources, particularly in the reuse of waters. This risk leads to the involvement of local and state health departments responsible for determining acceptable use of new sources and the proper treatment and use of reused waters. Many health departments have already established water quality regulations for waters used in non-potable applications, but most are awaiting plumbing code adoption and national product standards that enable the concept to be put into practice.
National product standards are needed in several areas. One is to evaluate the impact of these new source waters on current plumbing components. Another is to evaluate those treatment technologies that claim to improve the source water quality in such a way as to expand the range of use applications. This leads to an interesting matrix of possibilities, shifting further from the traditional model.
Rather than treating to a single, highest level of water quality appropriate for any application, there are an increasing number of products that provide partial treatment sufficient to be used in specific, controlled applications. NSF/ANSI standards have been drafted for products that treat gray water, principally laundry and bathing waters, for onsite reuse in toilet flushing and lawn irrigation both at the residential and commercial levels. Another is being drafted for rainwater catchment and treatment that will likewise have varying treatment levels dependent on the intended use application. Others are expected to expand into a wider range of source waters.
While there is market infrastructure to be built before product manufacturers and their customers can realize the opportunity, most existing treatment technologies can be reconfigured or modified rather than newly developed. The same can be said for product standards, plumbing and health department codes. All of these existing resources and lessons learned will accelerate the process of creating and adapting to these new opportunities.
Issues that can affect overall timing include financial drivers and incentives, user perception and acceptance and competing interests in the old versus the new model. No one can predict the impact of all these variables, but it is easy to recognize the momentum driving the need for creative use of a vital and increasingly limited resource is growing rapidly.
Taking note of changes and getting involved with initiatives that impact your business will be important to be positioned when the pieces start to fall into place.
Frank A. Brigano, Ph.D.
Vice President of Technology
Thomas A. Burke
KX Technologies, LLC
An issue of major importance that we see continuing in 2010 is emerging contaminants, most specifically, chemical or pharmaceutical contamination of drinking water supplies. Several of these contaminants can be reduced with effective filtration systems. The bigger issue is whether consumers are adequately aware of the possibility of emerging contaminants in their drinking water. While it would seem that with all the news about this issue consumers should be aware, translating that awareness into appropriate action may not be fully understood. Does the average consumer fully understand which federal, state or local agency can provide them with the most comprehensive drinking water information and recommendations—especially when the recommendations themselves may be changing?
Consumers not currently on municipal systems often are held responsible for testing their own water source to ensure compliance. However, it is rare that consumers have the knowledge to understand exactly what to test for, let alone how often to test. This, plus the cost of individual testing, can be a huge barrier to informed decision-making. Given that emerging contaminants may not even have defined testing protocols, there exists the possibility that a large group of consumers remain unaware of the possibility of chemical and pharmaceutical contamination of their drinking water supplies.
For customers currently on municipal systems, the issue is whether they need to provide additional contaminant reduction filtration beyond chlorine taste and odor reduction. For example, there might be a delay in reporting a contamination event, such as in 2008 when water containing the chemical trichloroethylene (TCE), an industrial solvent that is suspected of causing cancer was accidentally released into the water supply of nearly 5,000 Arizona American customers in Paradise Valley and Scottsdale, Ariz.
In rare instances, customers are not informed of possible contamination issues and only learn about these issues long after the fact. Such an instance was reported in Crestwood, Ill., where, from 1986 to 2007, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes Crestwood was using water from its contaminated groundwater well to supplement its Lake Michigan source water without informing the Illinois EPA or its water customers.
Drinking water supplies are interconnected with the larger ecosystem and thus may be exposed to several contamination sources. Consumers not currently on municipal systems may be more likely to be unknowingly exposed to contamination due to inadequate testing. Conversely, consumers receiving drinking water from municipal systems need to determine whether additional filtration or treatment at the point of entry or at the point of use is necessary. Getting this message to customers so they can make informed decisions is key, prior to any possible contamination that may impact their drinking water supply.