Amanda Goldstein and Dan Schilling agree on one thing: It's not a good idea to be too trusting.
Goldstein, a former print and TV journalist who lives in Madison, feels she made a mistake in trusting Schilling, a Madison-based building inspector who sold her a home air purifier two years ago.
Schilling, who sells EcoQuest purifiers as a sideline (about 1,000 over the years, he reckons), says Goldstein is foolishly putting her trust in the pronouncements of "people who lack common sense" - like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"It's laughable and it's sad at the same time," says Schilling, who deems himself "a national expert" on indoor air quality.
Goldstein bought an EcoQuest model called Fresh Air from Schilling for $800 in July 2007. She'd had a good experience hiring him for a mold problem, another issue on which he's "a national expert," and she trusted him. "He's a very convincing salesman."
It was, Goldstein says, one of the few major purchases she's ever made without "hours" of research.
But within a few weeks of plugging the unit in, there were problems. First Goldstein's dog, then her husband, started coughing. After a few weeks she stopped using the unit, turning to the Internet to learn more.
It was around this time that California banned home air purifiers that omit ozone, specifically including the EcoQuest Fresh Air. The state's Air Resources Board says that the devices, sometimes sold door-to-door, "are ineffective at cleaning indoor air" and that "breathing ozone poses serious health risks."
The EPA agrees. A report on its website says that claims of effectiveness are "without substantiation and sound science"; that "NO agency of the federal government has approved these devices for use in occupied spaces"; and that they can exceed public health standards for ozone when used at the manufacturers' recommended levels.
Add to this a big thumbs down from Consumer Reports, which says the devices - specifically including the EcoQuest Fresh Air - produce "very high levels of ozone" and do a lousy job. "We consider them Not Acceptable."
"It isn't a safe product," says Goldstein, who has repeatedly asked Schilling for a refund; he has declined. (He did offer to replace the unit's ozone-producing cell with an ozone-free one, but she was not interested.) Last week, she offered to sell it back to him for just $300; he refused this too. When she contacted Isthmus, he blew his stack.
"Amanda," he wrote via email, "it is bad enough that you do not understand air quality or air purificaiton [sic] and as a result are so easily decieved [sic] by incomplete information. At this point you have become an obstinant nuscience [!] and appear to be enjoying it. Do what you will but I...simply don't have time for deliberate ignorance of truth or communicating with people who don't know the first thing about air quality."
But Schilling did take time for two interviews with Isthmus. He blamed the EPA report on "some bumbleheads who work for the government" who like to "create hysteria" and "scare the dickens out of people" with false information.
"The government has been proven wrong time and time and time again," he says. "Science has been proven wrong again and again and again." He adds that the purifiers he sells are "what anybody with any brains uses."
Schilling says the ozone produced by his device is at "natural levels found in the outside environment all over the world," and completely safe. "The EPA doesn't know what it's talking about."
Who does? Schilling cites reports from the "University of Kansas," by which he actually means Kansas State University. One such report, a "White Paper" written in November 2005, says it was "sponsored by EcoQuest International," whose mission is "to help people live better."
Schilling, in his defense of EcoQuest to Goldstein, who ended up tossing her unit, also invoked NASA; the claim is that this technology is used in space travel. But Consumer Reports says a NASA spokesperson told it the agency has "always relied on filtration to purify the air, not ozone."
Yeah, well, what does NASA know?
Majestic saga continues
Matt Gerding, co-owner of the Majestic Theatre, says his nightclub has buckled under pressure from the city to pay a $1,100 fee for encroaching into the public right of way, in part with its landmark marquee (see "City to Majestic: Pay Up or Else," 3/20/09).
"We had no other option," he laments, adding that the venue also had to agree to make this payment on an annual basis. "They said they weren't going to back down."
Ald. Mike Verveer wants to sponsor an amendment, backed by the city's Landmarks Commission, to limit the encroachment fees on landmark buildings. Says Stu Levitan, the commission's resident historian, "I don't believe there is any positive public policy served by charging an encroachment fee on a legally protected landmark."
Levitan is upset by City Attorney Michael May's initial resistance to this exemption ("Apparently you can fight city hall, but you can't fight the city attorney"). May admits he had problems with this change but says "we noodled on it" and devised a workable approach, which he expects will be ready for introduction "yet this summer."
City bills wrongly fined activist
As a peace activist, Miles Kristan has more important issues to address. But you can hardly blame him for being angry over the lousy way he's been treated by the city of Madison.
As Isthmus reported (Watchdog, 4/30/09), Kristan, 23, was fined $675 for writing on State Street in chalk, as city ordinances expressly allow. He told this to the cops, who ignored him. Even after a police supervisor admitted that Kristan was right, he had to make a court appearance; it was only afterward that the citation was dismissed (Watchdog, 5/14/09).
Now, he says, the Madison Police Department has rubbed salt in his wounds by sending a $2.25 bill for the postage of its earlier letter explaining its decision to withdraw the bogus ticket. (His mother received and paid it, before telling him.)
"The audacity!" exclaims Kristan. "That they would actually send me a bill for their own mistake! I don't believe it!"
Kristan says he plans to file misconduct complaints against the officers involved and fight the city until he receives "a formal apology." He's owed at least that.
Speaking of apologies
In late May, Japan's ambassador to the U.S. extended "heartfelt apologies" for the Bataan Death March of 1942, which killed thousands of U.S. and Philippine soldiers, proving anew that it's never too late to say you're sorry.
Last week, Wisconsin State Journal reporter Dee Hall was doing some research when she came across an Isthmus opinion column from April 2002. Entitled "The Importance of Being Sorry," it stressed the obligation of people in the justice system to admit when they're wrong and apologize, which hardly ever happens.
The column, by the guy who also writes Isthmus' popular "Watchdog" column, went on to criticize the ongoing probe into the caucus scandal bought to light by Hall's reporting, which had "no chance of leading to the successful prosecution of key legislative leaders." The writer added, parenthetically, "If I'm proven wrong about this, I will admit error and apologize."
Of course, that probe led to the incarceration of top legislative leaders, but the promised apology was forgotten. Let it be made now, to the world: The writer was wrong; the writer is sorry.
Wal-Mart's unconscious bias
Headline in the business section of last Saturday's State Journal: "Wal-Mart Vows to Keep Its Conscious Customers," apparently a botched reference to cost-conscious.