Stepping up to the Ray Cross Challenge

With the start of a new year, it’s only natural to reflect on past accomplishments and goals for the future. For those of us involved with the Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF) and the Ray Cross Challenge, a new year takes on even greater significance.

At WQA Aquatech USA last year, Water Specialist Emeritus Ray E. Cross gave an unprecedented gift to the water treatment industry. Ray announced he would match every new dollar donated or pledged to WQRF, up to $300,000, for a period of one year. This potential $600,000 boost to the foundation is set up as an endowment that not only guarantees funding for important research for the foreseeable future, but also secures our industry’s place as a leader in the science behind water treatment.

The following are some recent examples of how vital such research is, what kinds of studies receive funding, and how funding water quality research can benefit all of us.

WHO Calcium/Magnesium Symposium

WQRF was a sponsor of a World Health Organization (WHO) symposium on potential health benefits of calcium and magnesium in drinking water. It was theorized that hardness minerals present in drinking water might have certain cardiovascular and other health benefits. The April 2006 symposium focused on exactly what those benefits are, and whether WHO should go as far as to recommend calcium and/or magnesium’s presence in drinking water.

Because many POU/POE products are designed specifically to remove dissolved minerals like calcium and magnesium from drinking water, such a pronouncement by the WHO would have had a negative effect on the water treatment industry. WQRF supports decisions made in the public’s best interest, but it wants those decisions to be made on the best available research.

After various discussions and presentations on both sides of the issue, WHO released a report in November 2006 that suggested providers inform consumers about the altered mineral content of treated water. WHO stopped short of actually recommending a bypass or remineralization of drinking water. The fact that the organization didn’t go further in its recommendations illustrates that the benefits of water treatment products outweighed possible negative effects.

WQA Technical Director Joseph F. Harrison, PE, CWS-VI, was one of the experts who spoke at the symposium. “The evidence is strong that calcium and magnesium are essential elements for our bodies; there’s no question. But even though modern diets are becoming more deficient in these minerals, it is a weak argument to suggest we make up for that deficiency through water consumption. Those who are concerned about calcium or magnesium sufficiency should turn to dietary education, supplementary sources or fortified foods as a smarter solution,” he said. “I think that is the position now bolstered by the WHO’s report.”

Harrison added that without important funding such as that provided by WQRF, this symposium might not have taken place.

Softened Water Eczema Trial

A British university will conduct a clinical trial to investigate whether the installation of a domestic ion-exchange water softener can improve the symptoms of childhood eczema. Atopic eczema affects roughly 15% of British children and has doubled in the last 20 years. The skin condition causes itching, soreness, secondary infection and sleep loss, among other symptoms. Current treatments incorporate emollients and topical steroids, of which skin thinning is a side effect. It is felt that research can provide independent proof that softened water is beneficial in the treatment of eczema. WQRF is a sponsor of the clinical trial.

Tony Frost is with U.K.-based Aqua Focus, Ltd., and is working to generate financial support so the eczema clinical trial can go forward. “The British government has awarded the University of Nottingham a grant to investigate whether the installation of domestic ion-exchange water softeners can improve the symptoms of childhood eczema; however, financial contributions from industry are needed to provide the softeners and their installation for 310 participants selected for the trial,” Frost said. “Results showing softened water helps alleviate the symptoms of eczema would enable softeners to be endorsed with a positive health benefit—to the advantage of the softener industry as a whole.”

Frost continued that WQRF support has an international reach. “WQRF is a vital contributor to the security and advancement of the POU/POE water treatment industry—benefiting not only the U.S., but the entire global market. We have seen benefits in situations such as the WHO’s conference on heterotrophic plate count, which was a landmark in establishing that bacterial regrowth in POU/POE devices is not a health threat when the feedwater is treated to municipal standards.

“There are numerous other examples where WQRF support has enabled the provision of information and data in defense of both domestic and international issues, such as the alleged corrosivity of softened water, and the effect of softeners on package sewage treatment plants. Even the salinity issue, which is currently receiving WQRF support in the U.S., is now encroaching into other territories such as Israel. By providing support, WQRF sets the example and identifies the priorities for industry-wide attention to these critical issues,” Frost said.

Septic Tank Issue

WQA, with the WQRF, has opened a dialog with the National Onsite Wastewater Recycling Association (NOWRA) to jointly research the validity of restrictions against water treatment waste discharges to septic tanks that have spread to county and sometimes state codes across the U.S. Within the last few years, WQA has been asked to address public health codes prohibiting or proposing to prohibit water treatment backwash/regeneration discharges to septic tanks and advanced wastewater treatment units (ATUs) in Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Texas.

The water treatment industry feels these rules are arbitrary and not based on science. We know that many of the thousands of WQA member water treatment dealers across North America can likely each show hundreds of water softener installations that have been discharging to a septic tank for decades, with no apparent problems. It is an onerous prospect when trying to correct hard water or iron, manganese, and hydrogen sulfide problem waters, to also have to charge the homeowner for construction of a separate or dual waste disposal system through the foundation and into the yard. It can double or more the cost of the water treatment system, and it prevents many consumers from receiving the benefits of enhanced water quality. WQRF, together with NOWRA, is willing to organize and finance the data gathering needed to settle this issue. We are also asking that an organization like the State Onsite Regulators Association (SORA) be willing to buy into and use these findings to recommend a position that can then be brokered with state and county code writers.

Harrison will be the luncheon speaker at the upcoming SORA meeting in Reno, Nev., Feb. 27 to March 1, 2007. WQRF has also been asked to sponsor the meeting. WQRF (with NOWRA) will request SORA’s official help in resolving the issue between onsite waste systems and water treatment backwash/regeneration discharges. WQRF will suggest that a SORA committee be developed and charged with helping to direct and then accept the WQRF-NOWRA investigations and research findings. This committee should be charged with developing a SORA position, following the WQRF data development, that can be used to address the proliferation of county and state codes banning home water treatment discharges to septic tanks and ATUs. We all will agree that the data and conclusions should be true to the science and objective facts, whichever way it comes out, but then so should the codes and regulations. A well-funded WQRF can work through credible science and education to resolve issues like the discharge to septic tank bans that are thorns in our industry’s side. But it all relies on your help and support to your research foundation.

Setting priorities and making commitments brings me back to the New Year and to the Ray Cross Challenge. Ray’s priorities and commitment to this industry were evident by his appearance at his 60th consecutive water quality conference last year. Sadly, it was his last. Ray passed away Aug. 25, 2006, Ann Arbor, Mich.

I was just one of Ray’s many friends in this business, and I know it would make him incredibly proud to know that his peers in the water treatment industry have stepped up and answered his challenge. It was Ray’s lifelong dream to provide something within the water industry that would benefit all of mankind. This is our chance to make that happen.

At this point, we’re nearly halfway there. As of Nov. 30, 2006, $146,853 has been donated or pledged—but time is running out. The challenge is good for any donations or pledges made before April 1, 2007. By that measure, we still have a long way to go.

If you have already donated, I thank you for your commitment to this industry’s future. If you haven’t yet taken the opportunity, I encourage you to make your donation today. You may pledge over a multi-year span, through 2009, but you must get your pledge commitment in before April 1 for Ray’s estate to match the donation. Forms are available in the WQRF section of www.wqa.org.

John Packard, CWS-V, serves as president of the Water Quality Research Foundation. He is president of Culligan Water Conditioning in Minnetonka, Minn. For additional information, contact WQA at 630.505.0160, or visit www.wqa.org.

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