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Open Letter To A TV Reporter

Editor's note: The following letter was addressed to David Goldstein, a reporter for Los Angeles' KCBS TV. He recently conducted a televised sting operation in which several plumbers were accused of unnecessarily trying to sell new water heaters instead of making simple prearranged repairs. (To view a transcript of the report, log on to The letter is from Kevin Shaw, California contractor and PHCC regional president.

Dear Mr. Goldstein:

I am in total dismay with the way you reported the sting operation with the help of Roger Lighthart. I am the current president of the Greater Los Angeles Area chapter of the National Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors. PHCC-GLAA is the trade association that I was told you contacted to help set up this sting.

I personally know Roger. I have to admit that I have lost total respect for him. You reported him as an expert witness, but I think he gave you bad advice. I thought he was a good and knowledgeable plumber. Boy, was I wrong. And your station has lost credibility with many people in our industry.

I have several pictures of the water heater in question. I went to the site and took pictures myself.

That water heater is by no means safe and up to code. Roger should be ashamed of himself for stating that the water heater was safe. There are several code violations involved in the water heater installation. The water heater is also subject to a major fire if there were to be an earthquake.

I will give you two examples of why it’s not safe:

First, The Rooter Plus plumber states to your actress: “You’re starting to show rust at the bottom of the tank. The canister inside is all rusted, it’s leaked, you can see where the water’s been running down and it’s rusted.”

Remember, your expert said it was fine.

The picture I took substantiates what the Rooter Plus man said. Did you look for yourself, or did you just take Roger’s word for it?

I will admit that when I took the picture, there were no visible signs of water leaking, but something has caused the rust stains on the heater tank and cover.

Second, at the beginning of the piece, Roger grabs one of the pipes and states that he teaches plumbing, has been licensed for more than 40 years and has served as an expert witness for the state. He gives our water heater, which is only 3-and-a-half-years-old, a clean bill of health.

Roger says: “It’s perfectly good. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

Meanwhile, the pipe that Roger grabs is called the temperature and pressure relief line. The plumbing code states that the temperature and pressure relief line shall not be “trapped” per section 608.5 of the plumbing code. My picture shows that it is trapped. (See photo.)

The reason this is a major concern is the following. Under certain conditions, contaminated water could get into the drinking water causing a situation similar to the SARS incident. The chances are remote, but so is the way SARS got started with a contaminated sewer pipe.

These are just two examples of where Mr. Lighthart blew it as your expert witness. I have several more examples of problems that Mr. Lighthart overlooked.

I could go on and on about this mess, but I will wait for you to contact me. If you wish to discuss in detail, please follow up with me. If I don’t hear from you, I will assume you are not interested in the truth, just ratings for your station.

As a journalist, you have sold the public a bill of goods and you need to check the details of what you report.

I am in no way making excuses if plumbers gave false information to the “customer” in the piece. But from what I see, there are many problems with the way this was shown on TV.

As the president of PHCC-GLAA, I have received e-mails, phone calls and faxes from industry experts across the nation with the violations that I have detailed and many more. I have also talked to several of the plumbing companies in the piece and gotten their input on the subject.

To professionals in the industry, this is an outrage. You have lost credibility, your station has lost credibility, our industry has lost credibility, Roger Lighthart has lost credibility and PHCC has lost credibility.

I am forwarding this to all PHCC associates across the country and reporting your actions to the major trade journals in the U.S. As a group, I hope to get your attention. Personally, I can be reached at 626/359-1864.

Kevin Shaw
Kevin Shaw Plumbing Inc.
Monrovia, Calif.

Kudos To Carol Fey

Thanks for writing your articles in PM magazine; you make it all so easy to understand. I wish other authors could do what you do.

Thanks again for your wonderful writing style and your knowledge.

Jerry Morris
GC&M Services
Lakewood, Colo.