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Ron Hayes: Protecting consumers in the marketplace

Ron Hayes: Protecting consumers in the marketplace

February 17th, 2013 in News

As the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture's Division of Weights, Measures and Consumer Protection, Ron Hayes has probably saved you thousands of dollars.

Whether it's a gallon of milk, a tank for your gas grill or a box of Post Toasties, someone in his department has measured a similar item to make sure you are receiving the correct amount of product for which you've paid.

Other tasks include: making sure grocery scales are accurate; verifying the countryof-origin for the foods Missourians buy; and calibrating taxi-cab meters.

"We make sure consumers are treated fairly and businesses have a fair market to compete in," he said.

His division's task is a power of Congress, enumerated in Article I of the U.S. Constitution: "The Congress shall have Power to ... coin money ... and fix the standard of weights and measures."

The division also checks gas stations, not only for product quality, but to make sure the amount of gas delivered at all points in the transaction is accurate. Every station in Missouri is checked twice a year, he said. (Orange stickers show the pump has been approved.)

Although a few cheaters are outed, more measurements are off because equipment is slightly awry.

In Missouri, the gas rejection rate is only 2 percent, because Missouri inspectors check stations with relative frequency. "Some states' rejection rates are equivalent to 14 percent out-of-tolerance," he said.

When gas retailers in Missouri are delivering the wrong amount of fuel, 65 percent of the time owners are giving customers more gas than they think they are. "It's equivalent to $2 million lost to service station operators," he said.

But the division also identifies about $1 million in savings to gas customers, as well.

The division also stood its ground with the small propane tank industry. Because the tanks are stored in cages, consumers couldn't read how much gas was bottled in each small container. Today, better placards make it easier for consumers to know how much they are buying.

Hayes started in the department in 1976. One of his first tasks was helping set up the department's laboratory. He is a former Missouri University of Science and Technology student.

During those early years, the division was working on grain moisture meters and establishing the fuel quality program. Back in the early 1980s, "bad gas" was being distributed. "Water was being pumped into the cars," he explained.

Currently the Missouri department is trying to address problems with corrosion in diesel fuel tanks. "The industry is trying to determine why diesel fuel becomes corrosive in some locales," he said.

The Missouri law on weights and measures goes back to 1865 - just after the Civil War - when people relied on coal oil and petroleum oil to illuminate their homes. "People's homes were catching on fire from inferior kerosene," Hayes said.

Inspections helped stop the problem. The penalties for breaking the law were "quite high" and proceeds went to orphans and veterans, he said.

Hayes belongs to the American Society for Testing and Materials. Although the organization's name references the United States, it's a global agency. Hayes has been instrumental in the society's committee work; he is the author of an ASTM test method for measuring biodiesel fuel and offering directions on how to test the material.

He also serves on the board of directors for the National Conference of Weights and Measures and chairs the Fuels and Lubricants Subcommittee. In 2011, 11 percent of the motor oil sold didn't meet viscosity grades and claims. "We have a new national standard and now it's down to 5 percent," Hayes said.

One would think measuring things would be established by this juncture in time, but scientists still find plenty of room to debate. For example, consumers are now buying hybrid plug-in vehicles. But how should the electricity be sold ... by the kilowatt or by the minute?

"We're trying to get our hands on the method of sale to make it fair," he said.

And he's working on a team that's trying to figure out the equivalent for liquified natural gas, because more over-the-road trucks are expected to convert to that fuel.

Hayes - who was raised in Spring Garden, the first settlement in Miller County - is a man of few hobbies, although he does enjoy tinkering with a 1967 two-seat Datsun.