Are My Pants on Fire? Are Yours?

When I was growing up on the northeast coast ofFloridain the ‘50s, if someone told an obvious “whopper”, all the kids would chant, “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!!”  Small falsehoods might be tolerated, even encouraged among boastful boys, but there was a limit.  A series of two events occurred over the past 14 days that brought that old chant to mind. 

 I was at the ADEM conference in Montgomery, Alabama (a great event with good information and located in a great venue), and I overheard someone referring to my industry as a bunch of guys with “black boxes” using “voodoo” science for performance claims.  As a member of SWEMA (StormWater Equipment Manufacturer’s Association), and one who practices good science, the remark was hurtful.  SWEMA has worked hard to educate everyone about how well vetted and tested our products are, and about what should be expected from a reputable manufacturer.  I wanted to refute what the speaker had said, but it was not the time and place to challenge him in front of his peers.  I will get my chance soon to show him how the responsible people in my industry present their products and what they can do.  At that time, I thought that the days of the “black box” and outlandish claims were behind us for the most part. 

Just a few days later, I saw a project in a major southeast city that had a manufactured device in the storm drain system.  The contractor was a company that often uses our product, but we were not on the plans for that project, nor had we been asked to bid.  We asked about the omission and were told that none of our products could handle the large flow from the system.  In truth, we could have used two of our largest devices to meet the specification, but he did not know that.  However, when we looked closely at the project, we saw that only one of our competitor’s devices was used on the project, and it was much smaller than our proposed solution.  When we looked at the claimed treatment capacity of the smaller system, we could not believe it.

The system in question had been tested by a nationally recognized agency and found to be able to process about 9 cubic feet per second (cfs) and to remove about 65% of the solids.  So, the salesman on this job claimed that the device could run FIVE times as fast, and still remove 80% of the solids.  An image of flaming trousers flashed through my mind.  (Chant here.)  Now, this type of outright exaggeration is easy to counter, but at what cost?  Once I inform the engineer and the regulator of the truth, my industry will once again have been painted (by me) to be using voodoo science and magic black boxes.  In the eyes of the jurisdiction, the engineer, and the contractor, am I any different? Am I guilty by association?  If you recall, the gentleman at theAlabamaconference said we were, “All the same.” 

 I know that times are tough, and that sales are few and far between, but it is time for good men to stand up and call for a stop to outlandish claims.  SWEMA worked very hard to develop a fair and accurate laboratory testing protocol.  There was lots of “discussion” as one company or another worked to defend its own turf, but in the end we all agreed to compromise on what was best for the industry as a whole, and what would work best to protect the watersheds that we are asked to protect.  It is disappointing after that mutual effort, to see one of our peers disregarding the entire process.  Perhaps it is time that our industry started issuing the “Flaming Knickers” award to the company that makes the most exaggerated claims of performance.  It will be hard to find anyone with the … er, guts to claim more than five times their tested performance, but I bet there may be someone out there who will do it. Of course, they will be hiding as best they can.  Do I hear six??

On February 6th, 2012, posted in: Blog by
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