Strictly Professional

January 25, 2012

Positioning yourself as an expert in water treatment

Water treatment is rapidly expanding in the residential market. The primary reasons behind this expansion are better-educated consumers and a growing attention to the potential contaminants in drinking water, whether from a private water well or a public water supply.

Just a few decades ago, water softeners were the extent of residential treatment. Today, scientific advances have improved the detection and removal of contaminants in drinking water supplies.

In order to be successful in water treatment today, a high level of professionalism must be maintained. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, professionalism is defined as the conduct, aims or quantities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person.  

Professionalism is a term often used to describe people who are highly educated in their fields, such as doctors or lawyers, as well as the ethical obligations they have to their clients. Developing your education, certification and overall understanding of water and contaminants, along with dedication to continuous improvement, will provide you the tools you need to become an expert in water treatment.

Educational Development

Water treatment is all about water chemistry. In addition to college education, there are programs geared specifically toward water treatment professionals. Organizations such as the Water Quality Assn. (WQA), American Water Works Assn. (AWWA) and National Rural Water Assn. (NRWA) offer educational materials (e.g., books, tapes, CDs and white papers) for members.   

AWWA and NRWA focus on water treatment in public systems, so their educational materials focus on meeting regulations. While AWWA covers public water systems of any size, NRWA focuses on smaller, rural systems and the problems they face. WQA focuses on water treatment in residential, small system, commercial and industrial applications. Membership in the appropriate organizations will keep you informed of current industry issues and provide educational opportunities.  

Certification Options

WQA offers individuals the opportunity to become certified in water treatment on various levels, from certified sales representative, certified installer and six levels of certified water specialist to certified operator of small systems. To become certified, you must pass a lengthy exam and agree to abide by WQA’s code of ethics. WQA provides the educational materials necessary to complete the exam.  

Once certification is obtained, you must earn continuing education credits to maintain it. Credits can be obtained by attending WQA-approved presentations, typically given at the annual WQA Aquatech USA tradeshow. Regional or state shows also offer opportunities for educational credits.  

In addition to education and certification, WQA provides an invaluable opportunity to network with other water treatment professionals, which can lead to increased business and knowledge. Employees with professional certifications like the WQA Certified Water Specialist can advertise their status on the company website and business cards. Establishing employees as Certified Water Specialists can be a way to set your company apart from local competition.  

Performing Analyses

Water testing is essential to proper water treatment. Knowing basic water chemistry will help determine the best treatment options and system sizing for a customer. While many treatment companies perform a free, basic in-house analysis, there may be a need for laboratory analysis as well.  

When performing an in-house test, sales representatives should be knowledgeable about the testing methods used, as well as possible interferences. Employees new to field-testing kits should practice analyzing samples and use a standard to ensure they are getting an accurate result. Once proficient and knowledgeable about the testing method, they easily can explain the testing and results when speaking with potential customers.   

Some analyses should be done in the field to meet the holding time specified in the testing method. For example, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Method 150.1 for pH testing, samples should be analyzed as soon as possible after collection, preferably in the field. For regulatory purposes, some states allow up to 24 hours for pH testing, but it is more accurate to do the test in the field.   

Chlorine is similar to pH and also should be measured in the field to obtain the most accurate result. When performing analyses in the field, the test kit should be clean and orderly. Check the kit to ensure that all necessary reagents and solutions are available and within their expiration dates. You may want to calibrate your meter prior to use, noting the date and time of calibration to ensure it is calibrated on a regular basis.

Due to increased media attention given to drinking water contamination, consumers are becoming more educated about contaminants and requesting more sophisticated analyses. Laboratory analysis will provide answers that field test kits cannot.  

When dealing with health-related contaminants, laboratory analysis will provide confirmation of a field-testing analysis. It is important to confirm accurate analysis for health-related contaminants, such as arsenic and nitrate, because some field methods can be highly inaccurate. Utilizing a third-party-certified laboratory for analyses will provide your customer a higher confidence level in the results and your recommendations.  

Understanding the Results

It is important to understand what may occur in the water you are servicing. Public water supplies are required to distribute consumer confidence reports with testing data. Keep in mind that testing requirements are based on the size of the system and may require testing for certain contaminants only once every five or more years. Review the data before discussing it and determine if additional testing is needed. If the water source is a private well, spring or cistern, a microbiological test and inorganic analysis should be conducted.  

Once an analysis is complete, present the results in an easy-to-
understand format. You may want to include information on what the results mean in comparison to EPA’s requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  

You may also want to explain EPA’s Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL), which is an established and enforceable level based on acceptable risk, cost and availability of technology. This means there could be contaminants present at levels EPA is comfortable with in terms of risk for those who may develop health effects—specifically cancer—as a result of consuming small amounts of contaminants over long time periods.

EPA also has established MCL Goals (MCLG), which are levels at which there are no known health effects. This level typically is zero. Keep this in mind when health-related contaminants (e.g., arsenic, uranium, barium, volatile organic compounds or pesticides) are present to distinguish between the MCL and MCLG.  

Homeowners may opt to reduce cancer risk by using a carbon filter. It is important to explain how water chemistry may affect water treatment devices. For example, a carbon filter will adsorb radon, which may mean it should be changed more frequently.

Look and Act the Part

Company personnel always should conduct themselves professionally. Corporate logo attire or dress codes help convey who you are and what you represent. Whether at a tradeshow, sales appointment or maintenance call, you represent the company.  

When working with clients, listen to their concerns. Show genuine concern about what worries them. There are growing fears about contaminants that can cause health risks, such as arsenic, radon, perchlorate and various volatile organic compounds, including trihalomethanes, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Sharing your knowledge about these concerns will provide customers the reassurance that you are an expert in this industry.   

Water treatment is not a static profession. Advancements in chemistry, industry and technology will forever require continuous learning by water treatment professionals. The pursuit of quality water will continue to bring newer and stricter testing requirements, and improvements in testing methods will allow us to see lower contamination levels as well as new contaminants.  

Consumer awareness will continue to grow as network media and social media take water quality familiarity to new levels. This consumer understanding will bring a greater need for educated water treatment professionals.

Your ability to speak to your customers’ concerns will take the fear out of water treatment solutions. Your professionalism will rise above the rest when you continue the process of improvement through ongoing educational commitment and certification pursuits. A personal commitment to professionalism will have customers coming to you first because you are an expert in water treatment.

Marianne Metzger is GPG business manager for National Testing Laboratories Ltd. Metzger can be reached at mmetzger@ntllabs.com or 800.458.3330.

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