Raising the Bar in the Industrial Water Treatment Industry with Scaling UP! H2O Podcast Host Trace Blackmore

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Episode Description

On this episode, we'll be speaking with Trace Blackmore, CWT, LEED AP, esteemed CEO and founder of Blackmore Enterprises and host of the Scaling UP! H2O podcast, about how the podcast began, and the importance of water management plans, education, and communication.

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Christoph Lohr: Scaling UP! H2O podcast features weekly podcast episodes and daily digital content across social media platforms. With over 10,000 monthly downloads and a ranking in the top 3% of all podcasts globally by Listen Notes, Scaling UP! H2O serves as an invaluable, free educational resource for professionals in the water industry.

On today’s podcast, we speak with Trace Blackmore, CWT, LEED AP, esteemed CEO and founder of Blackmore Enterprises and host of the Scaling UP! H2O podcast, about how the podcast began, and the importance of water management plans, education, and communication.

Let's get to our discussion.

Trace, welcome to The Authority Podcast: Plumbing and Mechanical.

Trace Blackmore: Thank you for having me on the show. I’m super excited to be here.

Christoph Lohr: Well, I am super excited to have you here. I’ve been a long time listener of the Scaling Up! H2O Podcast. I think it’s been on my iTunes podcast feed for probably several years now.

You actually had my colleague, John Mullen, on your episode earlier this year. And I think we’re going to do a cross collaboration here. I’m going to be joining your podcast here hopefully very soon as well.

Trace Blackmore: Yeah.

Christoph Lohr: So excited for you to join us on our episode. And for our podcast listeners, I would definitely recommend you subscribe to the Scaling Up! H2O Podcast.

I’ve certainly learned a lot from Trace and then from all his guests. And you’ve had wonderful people on like my colleague and also Dr. Janet Stout just a few weeks ago for Legionella Awareness Month. So just really again, excited to have you here, Trace.

Trace Blackmore: Well, it’s great to be here. I appreciate you mentioning the podcast. Can’t believe we’re coming up on six years and we've broken 350 episodes. It’s just crazy to think about that.

Christoph Lohr: And every single one of those episodes that I’ve listened to have just been so educational. I think there’s so much there, and I think on the matter of the podcast, can you highlight for our listeners a little bit about the Scaling Up! H2O Podcast and what your mission and vision of that podcast is?

Trace Blackmore: Well, my mission is to raise the bar in the industrial water treatment industry. And that’s something my father tried to instill in me when he introduced me into this business. He said, ‘If you're going to be in this business, make sure you make your mark; make sure you leave it better than you found it.’

And that just ignited a fire for me to learn everything that I could and teach what people have taught me so I could continue that ripple effect. And I had the privilege – I still have the privilege – of working with the Association of Water Technologies and their training committee, but I just got to do that twice a year.

A couple of years ago, had the idea – I didn't have the idea; somebody told me I should do it. They said, ‘Trace, you’ve got a great voice; you should be a podcaster. And I said, ‘Great! What the heck is a podcaster?’ I had no idea. And I started this Scaling Up! H2O Podcast in 2017, I believe. And it has just been a fantastic journey.

And honestly, it’s been a great way for me to meet great people that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet before. And I have learned so much from industry experts that I’ve been able to share that knowledge and further the mission that I just stated.

Christoph Lohr: That is so amazing. And to me it’s wonderful to hear another person that kind of takes that approach.

I do a lot of public speaking as well, and kind of backed my way into podcasting for IAPMO. And your point about learning from others and getting to meet so many other people and learn from them, every time I get to talk to somebody, whether it’s on a podcast or at a session, it’s the same thing.

Education is such a vital role. And especially for me, from what I’ve seen in plumbing, there’s a lot of education and a lot of issues right now in plumbing systems. Trace, can you maybe touch on a little bit for our listeners, what do you see as some of the most important issues in plumbing systems, especially from the industrial water treatment perspective?

What are the most important issues in plumbing systems over the next five to 10 years do you see?

Trace Blackmore: I think a continued issue that we’ve always had is our different industries communicating well with each other. I think water treatment does a great job, mechanical does a great job, the end user does a great job, but a lot of times they don’t all talk with each other.

And there are just so many things that could be avoided if we get into a room and share what we know so we don’t have to suffer when we experience the failures or something that’s getting ready to become a problem. That’s not new, but I don’t think enough is being done to solve that. So for all the listeners today, tell your story, be the one that invites the other parties to the table because you're going to benefit at the end; everybody’s going to benefit at the end.

I truly think when we look at the future landscape of all those things that I just mentioned, waterborne pathogen is going to be something that is just, we’re going to have to do now, and we’re in the United States, we’re lagging behind the rest of the world. Soon, I think that will right itself, but I think even the other parts of the globe are going to demand that things are done to try to protect the public health of people. Now that landscape changes because some people have some information and they act on that and I think it’s important that we continue that line of communication so when we are getting legislation people like myself, yourself, we are involved with those legislators so they have access to the information that we have so they can put better laws on the books.

Christoph Lohr: That’s a really great point, and your point about communication. Again, Trace, I feel like you’re a man after my own heart here in that sense because I have seen that same thing. I come from the design professional standpoint and a large part of construction during my career was just making sure I communicated with the installer on the field, asking them what they thought of my blueprints that I put together for permit and whatnot.

But I see that same thing extending into, like you said, this treatment of plumbing systems and that communication between the utility, the owner, the installer, the engineer, the treater, all of them. One of the approaches we’ve taken with IAPMO is we had this task group that we formed, Construction Practices for Potable Water, and then we partnered with ESPRI on a water quality manual for the plumbing professional, – the installer – because as a mechanical engineer that focuses on plumbing systems, last time I took chemistry was in college. And so you as a water treater, you probably have a much more immense knowledge on water chemistry and water quality and all these things and so, realizing that, we try to put together some folks, and we’re fortunate to work with ESPRI and start putting a water quality manual together. And I think the big message in both the construction practices and the water quality manual is talk to the other people out there. Talk to the utility, talk to the treater.

And I think your point there is so poignant because it’s a challenge. We don’t know sometimes who to talk to. And so there’s these challenges that we see down in the weeds, where we’re in the field, but obviously there’s probably bigger picture implications at play. So when it comes to the water and plumbing and mechanical systems, is there any suggestions you would have for the policymakers in terms of trying to understand or shaping policy when it comes to water and plumbing systems, how to approach that?

Trace Blackmore: Well, I think it’s important to understand all the things that you just mentioned. I like to explain industrial water treatment by a four-legged stool. If you can imagine a four-legged stool and the legs are equally set apart, we’ve got corrosion control, scale control, microbial control, and control of general dirt and debris.

And if all of those legs are sturdy, if all four of those areas are done well, then we have a sound water treatment program. But if one of those areas is not done properly, well, the other legs can’t stand by themselves. That chair will topple over. The issue we have is if we do get people to understand that, and that, by the way, is how I explain a complete water treatment program and how do you determine if your water treater’s doing the best job they can. Well, you should have metrics for each one of those. The microbial part gets misunderstood, and where I said we’re going to see a lot more legislation on waterborne pathogens, a lot of people understand – or they think they understand – that since they have a water treatment professional doing microbial work, keeping that at bay, that that includes waterborne pathogens. Well, it doesn’t. When we talk about water treatment, water treatment is about prolonging the longevity of the equipment and also making sure that it runs as efficiently as possible. So we’re talking about microbials not becoming insulation to retard the heat transfer of that system, not eliminating something like Legionella bacteria. That’s a different part of that program, and as you know, there’s testing that’s involved, there’s remediation that’s involved, and that’s far different than a regular water treatment program. And I think that’s a general misconception with people that are paying a water treater to treat their systems – they think they’re getting something, but there wasn’t that communication to let them know that, no, we need to take that other step. And of course the end user has to be responsible for what they do in their systems. The water treater can’t make those decisions for them.

Christoph Lohr: That’s interesting. So if I’m understanding you correctly then, the way that you’re seeing at least being an industrial water treater, and then from that water treatment standpoint, when we talk, oftentimes the perspective I see is we see water management as this thing that focuses on Legionella. The water management program, the water management plan focuses on that. One of the things that I’ve always wondered is, it seems like we’re focusing on this one thing, but real water management inside a building probably has that component of scaling of other contaminants, also the sustainability element of it too. That’s one that I think of a lot living in Phoenix and with some of the water cuts that we have here. And so if I understand correctly, are you saying that water management plans almost need to be more holistic than just the biological contaminants, let's say, or the waterborne pathogens in terms of how we think about it?

It's really much more holistic thinking in terms of how we manage water inside a building. Is that fair in terms of we’re just identifying that?

Trace Blackmore: If we’re going to use the term water management plan, that’s normally used in conjunction with Legionella bacteria prevention or awareness. In that context, then that’s specifically dealing with that waterborne pathogen.

What happens is there’s a lot of people that own a cooling tower or a hot water system or something where Legionella can propagate, but they don’t have a water management plan. And the assumption is that they already have it baked in because they have a general water treatment plan for their closed-loop system or their cooling tower system.

Christoph Lohr: Gotcha. OK, that makes sense. That makes sense. No, that’s a really great point in all honestly, because it’s that gap there in knowledge that a lot of people have. In regards to water and plumbing mechanical systems kind of following up on that question, is there conflicts that policymakers and jurisdictions need to be aware of when they’re making policy in concerns of water, especially in the built environment?

Trace Blackmore: We can go back to the same thing that we were talking about. We could eradicate all the bacteria if we kept 10 parts per million of chlorine in the system, but we’re not going to have a system to protect. If they don’t understand that when they're making that law, it might just make sense, well, why don’t we just put so much oxidizer in it where it’s not a problem?

OK, well, we don’t have the chiller anymore. We don’t have the cooling tower. They need to understand that there is a balance between maintaining the systems that the water treatment program is there to protect, at the same time making sure that the water is not pathogenic to the people that are inhabiting that building.

Christoph Lohr: Oh, so that makes sense. It’s really the conflict that jurisdictions need to be aware of. Is it fair to say that they really need to make sure that they have the experts, the engineers, the treaters, the installers, those people that touch those systems every day when they’re trying to make a bigger-picture decision for their community, making sure to be engaged with those experts, making sure that they’re not having an unintended consequence.

Trace Blackmore: Absolutely. There’s a double-edged sword with everything you do. And if you go too far to one end, you’re going to create another issue. If you talk with the expert in that area, OK, now I know what that issue can be. And now we can collaborate and try to make something that will work for everybody.

Normally that doesn’t happen, but at least something that somebody is happy with. And I’m thinking about when New York made the hyperchlorination clause for cooling towers; that went through several iterations, and I want to say someone told me that they were circulating or they were proposing that they circulate almost 100 parts per million of chlorine in the tower for an extended amount of period.

Well, we’re not going to have a tower for very long if we do that. Obviously they spoke to somebody and they figured out how do we get that more realistic?

Christoph Lohr: Balancing all the variables basically at that point. Interesting. Well, you mentioned education, and I want to touch on that because one of my favorite episodes, actually a recent episode, you had Dr. Janet Stout on there and talking about education and particularly the IAPMO/ASSE 12080 Legionella Risk Mitigation Specialist credential, and would love to hear a little bit, how you see the education for that fitting in to the plumbing industry or into the water treatment industry.

Trace Blackmore: Well, I have to say, I love that there’s a certification for that because it wasn’t the Wild West, but I guess we could say it was the Wild West out there for a while, and it was really based on opinion. And when that’s the case, well, who’s got the better opinion? Now that we have some sort of guidelines around that – and we do have this certification – we’re all aiming at the same target, and I really commend IAPMO for helping create that.

And I was fortunate enough to take Dr. Janet Stout’s class and I am certified in 12080, and I have to tell you, I had a great time with that. Looking at how long I was going to be on the course, I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s a lot of time. I don't know how I’m going to get all my work done during those days,’ but I had a blast.

It was a lot of interaction. Learned a lot, also got to share a lot of experience and get advice. It was by far one of the better classes that I’ve taken in a very long time.

Christoph Lohr: That is so great to hear. All of us at IAPMO just want to say thank you for the kind words. I went through that same class a year or so ago and to me, what I loved about it was the fact that there were chapters in there, and being a plumbing design professional, being a plumbing engineer, the plumbing chapter, it was the very basics of the knowledge. But for me, what I appreciate, I was in a class with water treaters, with infection preventionists, with lawyers, with manufacturers, with a whole host of people, and not everybody had that knowledge of plumbing that I did.

And so what I noticed was in that conversation, in that training, everybody kind of started getting that basics knowledge. And I didn’t have a lot of knowledge on the treatment side, on the microbial side on how to test and on all those things. So those other chapters that Dr. Janet Stout spent time on, I learned so much in those. And coming out of that class, the feeling I had was, ‘You know what, we’re all speaking the same language. Now when we get on a water management program team together, we at least know a little bit about what the other person’s doing, what that person brings, and we can work better collaboratively because we all have that little bit of basic understanding.’ And that to me was the real strength in that class was, for me at least, was realizing that I could speak the same language as somebody else when it came to that.

But I’m so glad to hear it sounds like you had kind of a similar experience, like there’s something that you can take away from this and talk with others about too.

Trace Blackmore: Oh, absolutely. It was a great experience and I had a similar experience to you. There was a communication specialist that was there and her job was to communicate what was going on in the hospital.

And Janet would defer to her and she would say, ‘This is how I would communicate this.’ There were a couple of water treatment questions there and Janet deferred to me, and we just had so many experts in the room there; it was a fantastic class. Highly recommend it to everybody.

Christoph Lohr: Excellent. That’s great to hear.

Well, Trace, to wrap things up, I like to ask our guests kind of a big-picture question, and my big picture question for you is: If you were going to wrap up everything we spoke about in one word, what would that word be?

Trace Blackmore: Well, I feel I’ve said it about five times, but I’m going to say communication.

Christoph Lohr: Excellent. And the reason for communication is just for that continued conversation between different people and education and all the rest?

Trace Blackmore: Absolutely. When we are sharing what we know and asking what others know, we’re going to get a synergistic result that we just can’t achieve by ourselves.

Christoph Lohr: Excellent. I totally agree, Trace. I think that’s a great point to end on. And just on behalf of IAPMO and The Authority Podcast: Plumbing and Mechanical, I just want to say thank you so much for being our guest here today.

Trace Blackmore: It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.