The ramifications of the Flint, Michigan, water crisis continues to spread more than two years after the city was thrust into the national spotlight because of lead contamination in its drinking water. What happened in Flint was a tragedy, but it also accelerated a larger trend around municipal water.
Because of the Flint water crisis and stories like it, more people have concerns about water quality, including potentially harmful contaminants that may impact health, and they are demanding in-home solutions to fix problematic water.
The Water Quality Association’s most recent national opinion survey found respondents who identified lead as a perceived contaminant more than doubled since 2015. The WQA survey also found that 43 percent of respondents said they learned about health contaminants in water from the media, up from just 27 percent in 2015.
The reality may be that for most communities, drinking water is just as safe today as it was 20 or 30 years ago. But what’s changed is public awareness and perception around water quality, which is driving demand for products that give people peace of mind.
As municipalities test their water supplies for lead levels and take a closer look at infrastructure, they’re finding lead contamination in large cities such as Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee and Portland, Oregon. Reports come out in the news, stories are shared across social media and the homeowner turns to local water treatment experts for help and advice.
While federal funds are pouring in to address infrastructure problems, it will take a lot of time and money to update and replace municipal water pipelines. A report from the American Water Works Association estimates the restoration of existing water systems will require an investment of $1 trillion over 25 years.
For many people, being told their water is “probably safe” isn’t enough. They want assurance that their families are protected and they aren’t willing to wait two decades for infrastructure improvements. Regardless of where they live, homeowners need water they can trust today.
The pro’s role
As a water professional, contractors service the homes of consumers and end users of water treatment.
The homeowner calls his local plumber to ask about in-home water treatment solutions for reducing lead or addressing another water-quality concern. The plumber turns to the wholesaler to find the right equipment to meet his customers’ needs. The wholesaler relies on the manufacturer for innovative solutions and expertise.
The problem, in some cases, is the distribution chain is not anticipating the needs and concerns of the consumer. Many will wait until plumbers tell them what consumers are asking for and only then do they go to the manufacturer to purchase solutions.
This slows down the process and could mean lost business. It will likely take six to eight months to get products into inventory and train contractors on how to properly install the equipment. In the meantime, the anxious homeowner finds another option and sales go to the competition,
Those in the chain of distribution who embrace water treatment trends today, however, will get the lion’s share of new business. By taking a forward-looking approach to your business, you’ll be able to advise your customers and provide them with high-demand commercial and residential water treatment solutions.
For lead contamination, many contractors are recommending reverse osmosis drinking water systems, which greatly reduce lead levels as well as many other contaminants. Yet, there are also homeowners who want an all-encompassing solution, which is why we see increased demand for point-of-entry systems that treat the whole home. Systems are now in the market with uniquely designed cartridges certified for lead reduction as well as other heavy metals.
While lead in the municipal water supply is a hot topic, it’s not the only water-quality issue making headlines. As health-conscious millennials buy homes and start families, they’re asking questions about what are known as emerging contaminants — chemicals in the water supply for which the risk to human health is not yet fully understood. It includes the presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking water, which are considered potential endocrine disruptors.
Making news recently are EPA health advisories concerning perfluorooctanoic acid. It is a toxic industrial byproduct and a suspected carcinogen impacting specific at-risk communities where spills have occurred. Homeowners also are looking for ways to remove chloramine, which is used instead of chlorine as a disinfectant in municipal water.
Water treatment manufacturers are developing new systems and solutions to address the health and safety concerns of homeowners. That includes expanding the potential of different filtration medias, such as synthetic zeolites. The plumbing distribution chain must stay educated on these issues and solutions so it can meet demand as it rises. Plumbers and well drillers must be equipped with the products and knowledge they need to do their jobs effectively.
Back to basics
Emerging concerns with municipal water quality are prompting many people to take a closer look at the way water treatment solutions could enhance and protect their daily lives. This includes people with city water who are considering basic water treatment equipment, such as water softeners.
J.D. Power’s 2018 Water Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study found that nearly a third of those questioned indicated they have water-quality issues. Complaints included problems with water pressure, hardness and scaling, discoloration as well as taste and odor. These are all common issues you can address with traditional products.
Plumbers and well drillers visiting the homes of consumers have an opportunity to help people fix problem water. They already have a foot in the door and consumers are already asking them questions.
For example, a plumber installing a high-efficiency, tankless water heater in a region where hardness could cause scaling should notice when a home is lacking a water softener. High-efficiency appliances require highly efficient water. By recommending the installation of a softener, the plumber not only increases sales for his business and the supply chain, but also earns the trust of the consumer as a local water expert.
Because awareness of residential water quality has arguably never been greater, more municipal water customers are looking for ways to improve the aesthetics of their home’s water. Today’s consumer can quickly hop online and learn about the troubles hard water causes. Or, the environmentally aware consumer reads about the impact of plastic waste from bottled water and wants to make a change. This increased awareness is why consumers, not manufacturers, are now driving demand for in-home water treatment.
We see tremendous growth in the market for treating municipal water and it’s an opportunity upon which your organization must act. The distribution chain should be providing customers with product knowledge and adequate water treatment training to answer the questions and meet the needs of consumers.
Whether a homeowner’s water quality problems are perceived or an urgent need, it’s up to the chain of distribution to be the connecting link that brings innovative solutions to the consumer.