Sunday, June 29, 2008

The 2.6 Million Dollar Salt System (cont.)

I’ve been keeping an eye on the renovation of the wave pool and enclosure at the Southland Leisure Centre this last year. I first brought it up here where I talked about the City of Calgary being forced to perform a 2.6 million dollar renovation of their wave pool a mere 31 months after the addition of a Lectranator commercial salt system. To recap that story, what happened was, “in a wave pool situation -- which no one could have really anticipated -- the salt is going airborne as a result of the wave action,’ said Ron Krell, manager of Southland Leisure Centre. ‘We're getting a coating of salt in the leisure centre equipment.’, and all that airborne salt caused a whopping 2.6 mil damage.


Well, today I'm doing something that I've never done before on this blog. There was a rather long blog piece that followed that opening paragraph. A little piece of detective work where I tried to put together disparate pieces of the puzzle about what happened with the indoor wave pool at the Southland Leisure Centre, and about halfway through the day I received a very lucid explanation of why I was wrong in some of my assumptions. So, I have deleted the rest of this post.

In it's place, I am posting the contents of an e-mail I received from Mr. Ron Krell, the manager of the Southland Leisure Centre. He talks a lot about the entire renovation of the Centre and all of the contributing factors. I found it all interesting. But if you just want to specifically know How The Salt System Ate The Leisure Centre, I've highlighted those passages. The emphasis (bold print; italics) is mine.

Hi there: I had the opportunity to read your blog and I wanted to let you know that your comments about the renovation and lifecycle replacement of 25 year old equipment are a bit off the mark. It is somewhat understandable as you are not privy to all the information about the project and only gleaning snippets of information from various sources.

I will provide some further background that may assist in clarifying how some of the work for the Southland Leisure Centre project came to be and how that relates to some of your comments and observations. The original renovation that was approved by City Council was for $8 million and approved in June 2006. This was to include upgrades and updating to the Southland Leisure Centre Locker Rooms, add an Aquaplay Family Water Feature, Steamroom, New Fitness Expansion Area with new fitness equipment, Elevator and Accessible Service Counter. The Council approved funding also allowed for painting most of the common areas and pool to provide for an updated look to complete this portion of the renovations as well as a Council mandated Public Art Project which is part of the Capital funding formula. This funding had been provided to keep the Centre updated and make improvements so that our base of Customers would continue to enjoy using it and of course, attract new users. If you have had the opportunity to use the Centre in the last few years, for example, you would not have been impressed with the locker rooms as they were impossible to keep clean, i.e. old tiling, old grout that was difficult to repair and clean, damaged lockers, etc…….many areas were in need of updating………nothing worse than coming into a public facility and finding it in poor condition in spite of our best efforts to make the old stuff look good!

As for the Salt System……a decision was made in 2004 to install a Salt Lectranator system at Southland. It was installed in November 2004 as an add on to our current pool system with the intent that it would replace Chlorine Gas (as you know Chlorine Gas is a volatile, dangerous and difficult substance to work with). The filtration was a DE (Diatemacous Earth) based system. The intent to replace the chlorine gas with the salt system as recommended by a Consultant showed that such a system could work in a large wave pool provided that the proper number of Lectranator cells were specified. Based on this information, the project went ahead. Since the original install date in November 2004, the salt system never quite seemed to work properly, i.e. did not produce enough Chlorine to meet the demand. As a result, the Consultant determined that the lectranator system must have been slightly undersized and additional cells were added in March 2005. Even after the upsized installation, the system never met its targets and further to that, we began experiencing salt issues in our mechanical areas, exposed metal surfaces, humidification systems, etc….

The system did not perform and the situation was deteriorating. As you can imagine, the entire system was original (25 years old) with the exception of the newer salt lectranators. In April 2007, I started as the Manager of this Leisure Centre. After a review of the mechanical areas, the aging equipment, the noticeable salt damage and concerns with our inability to meet chlorine demand versus bather load, concerns with DE (carcinogenic material), leaking and corroded piping, large amounts of staff time trying to troubleshoot the system, assurances from the supplier that the system would work when it repeatedly became more apparent that it was not working, etc…..………It was decided with the support of the Director of Recreation and the General Manager of Community Services to approach City Council outlining the concerns about this situation. As a result of a report to Council in June 2007, approval was given for a further $2.6 million to update the pool system at the Southland Leisure Centre. The salt system and DE were removed and replaced with Liquid Chlorine, UV and Sand Filters along with an older boiler system, piping, etc…. and ……..we know that these systems work well and will position us to operate more efficiently and effectively for the next 20+ years.

In today's dollars, the Southland Leisure Centre's replacement value is in the neighbourhood of $125 million and has approx. 1.8 million visitors per year. The decision to update and upgrade the pool mechanical systems was not taken lightly and the expenditure is a positive one to protect the long term operational integrity of this facility. As you can see, the $8 million and the $2.6 million came about as separate projects. As well, I recognize that some of the facts and assumptions that you flagged were taken from bits and pieces of information, media, etc……..Please note that the Village Square Leisure Centre renovation was also approved by Council in June 2006 in the amount of $8 million. They do 'not' have a salt system, but do have gas chlorine which will be changed out as part of their project. That Centre is also 25 years old and in need of various lifecycle replacements, updating, etc……..

This is the first time that I have viewed your information and I appreciate the opportunity to provide some information that may help clarify why we did the system change here at the Southland Leisure Centre. If you have any questions, please contact me at the numbers provided below.

Thank you
Ron Krell Manager

Southland Leisure Centre # 159

So there you have it. No need to speculate any more. It wasn't high free available chlorine with no stabilizer that caused all that corrosion, as so many members of the Head In The Sand Society have speculated. You have it right here, in the words of the manager who had to deal with all of this. Truth is, the Lectranator never even produced enough chlorine to meet bather load. it's hard to imagine not enough free available chlorine could have destroyed the Leisure Centre equipment in some 31 months, when sufficient free available chlorine from gas cylinders hadn't done it in the twenty plus years prior.

It is exactly as I've always said; It's the Salt, Folks. It's the Salt.

But there's more.

I worte back to Mr. Krell seeeking permission to publish his e-mails in this blog. His response (oncea again, emphasis is mine);

Hi: sorry for not getting back to you sooner. I would be comfortable with you printing my response for your blog....I cannot remove the non disclosure statement as that is automatically added to all of our emails at work. However, I would approve your reprinting my wording verbatim as long as it is stated factually. Would that work for you?? Let me know what you think.

Also, I would be interested to hear more information about salt opinion based on the experience here is that I believe that salt systems can work in smaller applications without too much difficulty.....however, I don't trust salt over the longer period as I think that it eventually permeates the equipment and corrodes it.

Mid-size Wave Pools can utilize it with mixed results, i.e. Collicut Centre in Red Deer, but will show damage to equipment eventually. That Centre opened in 2000 and it is showing signs of salt damage here in 2008.....not as bad as what we experienced at Southland, but enough to be of concern.

Large Wave Pools seems to be a non-starter for a salt application. It failed at Millwoods Pool in Edmonton and now had very poor results here at the Southland Leisure Centre (230,000 gallon US). I am not sure that the Engineering Consultant had enough information about salt to determine that it could not work.....I believe that they took the approach that the system designed for Millwoods was undersized and that by merely upsizing the salt lectranators, they could achieve the perfect operating formula. It did not work as outlined in my previous email. I suspect that they were surprised by this, as we were.

My guess is that salt in the larger applications with large bather loads reaches a threshold level at which point the salt cannot convert to chlorine as quickly as required and even adding additional salt cells does not make a difference.....reaches a saturation point. I am not a chemist, but it is the closest that I can come to describing the situation based on my Grade 12 and University Chemistry courses.

I would not be able to prove this theory, but my experience tells that that I am probably not far off on this one. Your thoughts??


So, we're not just talking about a single facility that experienced heavy and expensive corrosion as a result of installing Lectranator commercial salt systems. According to Mr. Krell, "it failed at Millwood", "had very poor results" at his facility, and after eight years, Colicut Centre in Red Deer "is showing signs of salt damage", "enough to be concerned".

It turns out it's just a matter of time and they all experience these issues. I'm going to try to contact some of these facilities to find out more about their unique situations. Seems to me that with all this Public Money being spent to fix the issues wrought by Salt Chlorine Generation, that some bright-eyed reporter at the CBC should be interested in what is apparently common knowledge among the folks working with these systems in an indoor environment.

Since he'd asked for my thoughts, I wrote back to Mr. Krell and gave him as condensed a version as I could of why I think it's utter insanity to install a salt system on any pool or spa:

My opinion is that the core issue with salt systems is that they use salt. Salt is a corrosive. There's no way around it. All chlorine ends up putting salt (sodium chloride) into our pool or spa water. The new system you mentioned that you've installed on your wave pool, the liquid chlorine feeder, has one of the highest salt contents of any of the bottled/packaged sanitizers. But it's still nowhere near the level of salt that we start with on a salt pool. Typically, our tap water is below 250 ppm (parts per million) chloride. That's been established here in the US as the "level of taste" by EPA and it's the target that most water districts shoot for. So, with a freshly filled pool, that's where you start. Then you introduce sanitizer. Over time, you will increase that sodium chloride level to as much as 1,500 ppm or 2,000 ppm. Usually, that takes years. And especially in something like a wave pool, where so much water is aerated and lost and you're constantly introducing low chloride fill water to make up for it, you may never see those elevated sodium chloride levels. But even if you do someday end up with that high sodium chloride level, you will also have accompanying elevated levels of calcium and manganese and iron and copper and everything else that's in our water supply system and that bathers end up excreting into our pools. That's the point that, before salt systems came along, we would drain and refill our pools. The old standard was 3,000 ppm TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) maximum.

So, we never had reason to worry too much about all the different mechanisms by which sodium chloride could damage our pools and our pool enclosures. There would be isolated incidences of pool enclosure roof collapses, and the investigation would usually point chloride stress corrosion of the supporting bolts. But as a whole, industrywide, these were very isolated instances.

Both of those links cite the same instance of a pool enclosure roof collapse due to chloride stress corrosion.

However, the use of calcium chloride as an accelerator in the mixing of concrete has been cited in many instances as the main contributor to subsequent chloride stress corrosion that results in the earlier than anticipated failure of metal bolts and support structures worldwide.

So, as you see, it doesn't matter where the chloride comes from, the result is the same; premature aging of the components of whatever structure we are trying to maintain, whether it be a bridge or a swimming pool or it's enclosure... or the bolts in a waterslide.

This is the point where I feel that my industry has departed from reality on the subject, and I think it's for no other reason than greed. Upton Sinclair once said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

And therein lies our problem. The internet is lousy with reports of salt damage to everything in nature. Ask a metallurgist at what level salt will corrode and they'll most likely tell you that, in the right circumstances, pitted against the right substance, salt will corrode at levels as low as 10 and 20 ppm. Ask a highway maintenance engineer what the number one cause of road damage is and he'll tell you it's the salt they use to keep the roads clear in the winter.

The things you've told me in your last e-mail support what I'm saying - and what scientists have been saying for hundreds of years. You mentioned that a mid sized wave pool in Collicut Centre in Red Deer is showing signs of salt damage after 8 years. Your own wave pool showed signs thirty-one months after salt system installation. I have met customers who had stainless steel filter tanks and put salt systems on their residential pools, and within one year they had to buy a new fiberglass filter (about $1,200 for a residential model) and by the next year, their limestone coping and decks were spalled and looked thirty years old instead of two or three. None of these things would have occurred and the normal life cycles in each of these instances would have been 20 and 30 years without salt (I service some stainless steel DE filters that are easily 20 years old, on non-salt pools, of course).

Yet, the pool industry is simply ignoring science so that they have another gadget to sell to pool owners. And it's a gadget that comes with a significant after market. Salt cells, even the best ones out there, are typically rated for about 10,000 hours of operation. In a commercial environment, with 24 hour a day operation, that's not much more than a year. And from everything I can find, manufacturers customarily provide a one year warranty for commercial use. When you imagine the after market in salt cell sales - at $500 to $800 per cell - if every pool were converted to salt chlorine generation, it's easy to see why it's hard to get objective information from the manufacturers. And it's impossible to see where the highly touted savings over other chlorination methods comes in.

I know I'm starting to sound like a conspiracy theorist here. That's not it. I just feel that the sale of salt systems has become Sales and Marketing without Borders. There is applicable research that's been done on the effects of salt on every component that makes up every configuration of a swimming pool. There is research on it's effects on stone, concrete, metals - such as copper, aluminum, brass, cupro nickel, and all types of stainless steel - and in every instance, the research proves that damage is accelerated proportional to the increase in chloride levels over background.

Further, there is abundant research available on the debilitating effects of stray current corrosion on submerged or partially submerged metals - such as ladders, rails, lights, light conduit, heater heat exchangers, etc. Stray current corrosion is often called "electrolysis", the very process whereby we create chlorine from salt. For example. I replaced a 20 amp fuse on a residential salt system the other day. That fuse provided power to the salt cell. Hence, that salt cell was receiving just shy of 20 amps of current from plate to plate, in the water, up until that fuse blew. Stray current corrosion is usually measured in milliamps. There are indications of it's damage nearly everywhere a salt system is installed. There are now pool specialty equipment companies that sell zinc anodes to mute the effects of stray current corrosion. Yet the manufacturers continue to insist that it doesn't exist, that because they met UL 1081 standards in a laboratory environment, that the discussion is off the table.

Well, that's all the news that fit to print for this installment. Happy Trails to all you Salt Reps trying to work up snappy comebacks when this stuff comes up in your Lying Contests.., I mean Sales Seminars.