No, this isn't an announcement of a Clint Eastwood Hollywood rerun. It's the heading for a two part series on what you and the government can do to protect yourself from misinformation about the important subjects of drinking water and home water purification systems.

Millions of dollars are being spent on all types of home water purification devices. Without hesitation, we can say that much of the equipment is simply junk masquerading as legitimate merchandise in a "needy community" plagued by "bad drinking water".

The entrepreneurial spirit has reached far into the water purification community and literally every conceivable type of "water system" is being foisted on a relatively uneducated(water-wise) public in the name of the almighty dollar.

There are a lot of double standards at work in the water industry. For example, when I visit national "water conventions", I am always amused to see the sales executive sporting a name tag from a nationally-known company staggering around with a highball in one hand, a cigar in the other, telling you just how great his water purification system is and how good it will be for your customer's health---while he blows cigar smoke in your face.

The unfortunate corollary is that many distributors are misleading customers about these products as well as the condition of the local drinking water.

You, the consumer are caught in between the fast-talking distributor with his handy-dandy "do it all" water purifier and a flood of public media information intimating that your neighborhood has drinking water problems.

Today we'll talk about what the government is doing to try to clean out the "bad apples" in this new and growing industry. Next month, we'll talk about what you, the homeowner can do to sort out fact from fiction when looking for a home water purification system.

PART 1 - GOVERNMENT LEGISLATION---

HELP IS ON THE WAY---MAYBE!

Most Bay Area individuals have a rather calloused and probably well grounded opinion of our State Government's efforts to curb drinking water pollution.

In defense of our legislators, there are organized efforts afoot in State Legislatures across the country to protect the public not only from poor water quality but also from poor water purification equipments which in all likelihood are being sold in your neighborhood at this very minute.

In every industry which cannot police itself to rid the group of the "bad apples" which gives the industry a tarnished image, someone has to step in and establish criteria by which product performance, safety and advertising honesty can be judged.

Such has been the case with the water purification and water conditioning(softening) industries. Self-regulation and self-policing just doesn't seem to work.

Additionally, historically everything in the U.S. which is sold for human consumption is regulated someplace, by someone. As a society, we demand that regulation, particularly when there is a profound abuse of the customer or his welfare.

As a result of widespread customer abuse, a dozen states now have legislation in place or in progress to somehow regulate the over-zealous manufacturers and salesperson promising pure drinking water or various types of conditioned water through the use of all types of devices, many of which simply do not work as advertised.

The blame really doesn't fall completely on the salesperson. He or she may be simply parroting what the local distributor or franchise has told him to say. Many times, even the cigar-chomping, local franchise owner is led astray by the manufacturer. The blind leading the blind. In any case, the loser is you---the customer.

Last fall in this paper, we described two bills, now law in California, that are designed to reduce the number of problems of this type. Senate Bill(SB) 2119 by Senator Art Torres, D-Los Angeles, instructs the State Department of Health Services to establish testing protocols to certify devices for which health claims are made. One year after the protocols have been approved and put into effect, water treatment devices not properly certified cannot be sold in the state.

If the protocols for certification for California are anything like those already being used in Wisconsin, California will have a long list of items it will review for each type of water "purifier", "filter", or water "conditioner". Included would be sales literature, installation instructions, details on the maintenance cycle, materials used in the devices, warranties(and what they mean), contaminants the device is intended to remove and explicit health-related claims, if any.

A very small number of home water purification systems have managed to become certified under the stringent new Wisconsin regulations. California may choose to accept certifications from other states(such as Wisconsin). This would certainly help preclude a water purifier manufacturer's worst nightmare---a different set of equipment certification requirements for each of the 50 states!

Several manufacturers are actively preparing materials which will be submitted to the various states where their respective equipments are sold. In defense of the State's position, they certainly need inputs from industry to help construct meaningful certification guidelines. It is too early to tell what part of this industry effort is sincere and what part is purely self-serving or self-protecting.

On another front, California's Business and Professions Code has been refined by Senator Dan McCorquodale's(D-San Jose) Senate Bill(SB) 2361. SB 2361 makes it a punishable crime to use false or misleading advertising in the sale, rental of lease of water treatment devices. Included in this legislation will be water softeners, magnetic water treatment systems, iron filters and a wide variety of water purifiers.

SB2361 also prohibits false and misleading advertising, disseminated to the public through written facts or opinions in any manner and through any media which relate to such items as contamination problems in tap water, relationships between acute or chronic illnesses and drinking water and unproven water quality product "benefit" claims related to various water purifiers.

These two bills are obviously intended to weed out the scare tactics and "garbage" from the marketplace.

These new laws have already snagged(and severely fined) several victims, many of whom operated widely-known businesses in California. Each was publicly and avidly making various types of product "curative claims", ranging from supposed cancer cures to incredible water conditioning results with simple devices devoid of scientific fact or documentation.

Will these new laws protect you as a California water purifier buyer? Maybe. The equipments certification process in California will certainly document equipment design processes, maintenance, general equipment performance and other criteria. It is in a way a "mini-U/L type approval" for a water purifier. That's nice if you are a stickler for well-written product brochures.

Many water purifier product brochures have been created with tens of thousands of advertising agency dollars specifically to imply or portray an incredible capability without making explicit claims thereto. This lets the manufacturer "off the hook", literally and gives virtually unlimited freedom to the salesperson to "sock it to the buyer" with other, undocumented verbal claims to help close the sale.

Let's repeat that. The equipment certification process doesn't prevent the manufacturer's representative from verbally mis-stating(or over-stating) product capabilities during the sales process in the privacy of your living room. He won't get caught---unless you, the consumer, catch him doing something illegal or improper.

The new State laws are designed to catch the blatant offender. Others will probably escape detection and cleverly hide behind new, carefully worded ads or slick presentations. The water industry, just like any other industry, works that way, because most large water companies manufacture, sell and profit through only one type of water purification technology.

Until these companies decide to tell the real truth about the comparative performance of all types of technology on the market(filters, distillers, reverse osmosis, etc.) this abuse of the public's confidence and pocketbook will continue.

Therefore the burden will still fall on you, the buyer, to determine whether or not the salesperson is telling you the whole truth about his product, what it does(and doesn't do), and how it stacks up against other types of systems.

The answer is clearly one of self-education.

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