Sunday, August 17, 2008

It's Still The Environment, Stupid

I was looking at my site meter the other day and noticed that one of my biggest fans had been visiting the blog nearly every day. So I dropped him an e-mail to ask if he’d like an alert when I published something new, and he answered back that he was “just visiting your blog to kill time… to see if there was anything new”. It made me realize it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. A lot’s happened in Salt World since my last post.

As a fer instance, Pool & Spa News came out as definitely in the Salt Camp (see Pool & Spa News, July 31, 2008). Hmmm... maybe that's why they quit corresponding with me. You think?

They even titled the whole issue Salt Service Solutions. It has some information that will actually help people stuck taking care of salt pools. But, like all good marketing pieces, it passes that information with a lilt in the author’s voice and skip in his step. Sort of like Snow White doing the housework with the help of chipmunks and bluebirds set to Roger’s & Hammerstein. But when you chase out the critters and cut the music, you see that taking care of salt pools is still just Doing The Dirty Work.

As another fer’instance:

Governor Charlie Crist is going to sign A BILL passed unanimously by both houses of the Florida legislature that will shut down the discharge of something like 300 million gallons of treated waste into the Atlantic Ocean each day. They’re stopping for myriad reasons, one of which is that the discharge is killing the corral reefs. If you’re wondering what that’s got to do with salt systems, it’s what’s going to happen when those municipalities start trying to recycle that wastewater and run up against high salinity levels and the expense of desalinization and start looking for ways to reduce the salinity, and like other municipalities, start restricting chloride discharge into the waste stream, like HERE. Then later, they’ll get around to your salt pool, like HERE and HERE

It goes kind of hand-in-hand with a STORY at the Tampa Tribune Online, about how Pasco County wants to expand a treated waste water program to eventually include 30,000 cusotmers, who will use treated wastewater for their lawns. And that’s where I feel like I’ve “been there, done that”. SCOTTSDALE did the same thing a while ago. Then, within a few years, the golf courses using the treated effluent started yapping that their greens weren’t green anymore, and the culprit was high chloride levels in the treated wastewater. If you read the letter from the Environmental Manager in Thousand Oaks, CA that I LINKED TO about a paragraph back, you know that salinity, chloride in particular, is a pass-through pollutant. In other words, it’s not normally filtered out of wastewater.

That was one of the hinky things about the Pool & Spa article, Grains Of Wisdom. On page 37, in the box titled Salt Select, they quote Bob Harper as saying that it’s okay to use potassium chloride. I quote; “In areas where salt going into the water system is not desirable, it does provide an alternative”.

By the way, his company, Goldline, is the only one who says that. Ecomatic, Jandy, Pentair, Zodiac, Autopilot and The Chlorine Factory all say to use Sodium Chloride Only. Ecomatic, in fact, says, “be sure to use sodium chloride and not potassium chloride.”

Besides, Bob should know better than that. He’s been The Man at Goldline since November 2006. So, he should know that sodium chloride dissociates immediately when it hits the water into sodium and chloride, and potassium chloride does the same thing. HERE'S a quote from Water Technology Magazine about using potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride (remember, these are the folks trying to put a positive spin on water softeners): "potassium chloride is a viable alternative to sodium chloride... when the application requires a... low sodium waste brine". Notice they didn't say Low Chloride. And if you ever notice, when water treatment folks are complaining about this stuff, they always refer to the “elevated chloride levels” in the wastewater stream. Like that pesky Santa Clarita, California Salt Pool Ban, which in the introduction says, "The purpose of this website is to educate the community about the Santa Clara River's high chloride (salt) levels, and the reasons and options for reducing chloride levels", [emphasis mine]. In fact, they don't use the words sodium or potassium anywhere in their introduction.

So, like I was saying, when the potassium hits the water, it turns into potassium and chloride. When it’s pumped out of your pool and onto the ground or into the sewer, it doesn’t resociate and become potassium chloride again. So, the chloride ends up adding to the chloride level of the wastewater stream. It may later combine with potassium and form potassium chloride again. Then again, it may combine with sodium and form sodium chloride, or calcium and form calcium chloride. But as long as it stays in water, it’s just chloride. If it wasn’t dissociated, you couldn’t create chlorine from the chloride ions that result from pitching sodium or potassium chloride in your pool. Get it?

And you may say, “Well, Bob’s degree is in marketing, so why would he know all that?”

My point exactly. But then, it was Pool & Spa News who asked him the question. Not me.

One other note on potassium chloride; it sells for $18.97 a 40 lbs. bag at Lowe’s. Home Depot’s about the same. Sodium chloride runs about five or six bucks a bag.

Another point about that same inset box, they show you a picture of Coarse Solar Salt, Kiln Dried. It is classified as a Water Softener salt by the manufacturer, and on their website, they say it’s “99.5 pure salt”, and “contains small amounts of insoluble particles from the environment”. That would be the 0.5% that’s not-salt.


What we found here in Dallas, by having similar grade salts from a different manufacturer analyzed by a metallurgist, is that the solid residue was “0.427% of the salt sample, by weight”. Pretty close to 0.5%. These solids split into about a 50/50 mix of gray and red particles, and the “red particle was silica sand (SiO2) containing alumina and iron oxide (red rust)”, hence the reddish stains we were seeing.

You see, we were running into issues of staining as a result of pouring 500 or 600 lbs. of salt on pool start up (after waiting the 30 days, of course) and ending up with stains where the salt laid and dissolved. Some service companies had started noticing less pronounced but still noticeable stains from just adding one or two bags of salt. One company even started to add all salt through the skimmers as a result of the staining problem. So, salt grade became pretty important to us. And, it turned out, important to our supplier, who did The Right Thing and decided to step up their game and only sell Food Grade salt, less the 0.5% insoluble environmental particles.

In fact, Pool & Spa News has been selling ad space to folks selling food grade salt since shortly after this all went down. Coincidence?

I mention this for all the people who like to be dismissive of me by saying “it’s easy to be against something. Why don’t you try being FOR something?” So, there you go. I’m FOR not staining pools by using contaminated salt.

All it took to be FOR that was $5.00 for the bag of salt, about $150.00 for the metallurgist’s analysis and the desire to Right a Wrong. Now, ask yourself, what have YOU done to bring about a positive change in our industry lately? Oh, yeah, let me qualify that; a change that didn’t end up putting money in your pocket.

It’s a Small Club, isn’t it?

Another reason to be a little careful about the salt you select is that if you choose, say, Diamond Crystal salt pellets with Softener Care, you’ll be adding phosphates along with the salt pellets, and Oh-Dear-Lord-In-Heaven-Above, don’t get the Snake Oil… I mean, the Phosphate Remover Guys all riled up about putting phosphates in your pools. You see, the Softener Care additive is sodium hexametahosphate. Each bag is 0.03%. Doesn't sound like a lot, but for a 20,000 gallon pool, 550 lbs. of salt will add 2.6 ounces, by weight, pure sodium hexametaphosphate. 3.2 ounces if you’re running a Zodiac, because they require 670 lbs. for the same size pool.

On the same page in the article, right above the Salt Select box, is a box labeled Mixing metals. It’s nice to see The Industry finally talking about it. I started talking about it on October 14th of 2006, right after Baboosa put me on to the term and I looked it up. I’ve written 10 more pieces to go along with that, because I think it’s that important (see
Salt and Metal Parts tag). P&SN gave about 6 column inches to it, and that included their whole discussion of TDS as well. Salt systems nearly sunk two ladder and rail manufacturers, took a huge toll on pool heaters and copper plumbed pools, and just about every other piece of metal that comes in contact with your pool, and Galvanic Corrosion got six column inches. Oh, well.

But enough about that. Let’s go back to the opening paragraph of this article. By the way, that guy pouring the salt in the pool is either photoshopped in or he’s about 8 feet tall. His feet dwarf that brick coping. And he casts no shadow. Hmm… Vampire? No, that’s no reflection in a mirror. Anyway…

“The systems…are dummy-proof,” says Scott Ford of Tropical Aquatics. And using that as an opening statement, P&SN takes up four pages explaining how different and special and destructive salt pools can be.

For example, this article recommends that you maintain salt pools at a 7.2 pH. That is destined to lead people to read that and think that there’s a new standard for salt pools, set around 7.2 instead of 7.5, and so anything from 6.9 to 7.5 will be okay. Huh?

I’m looking at my old NSPI guidelines and it says here that Ideal pH is 7.4 to 7.6. That’s pretty much what’s been taught at every water chemistry seminar that everybody in our industry has ever attended and is pretty much what everybody in our industry lives by. Well, everybody except for the Hamilton Index crowd, or the Tin Foil Hat Brigade, as I like to call them.

Oddly, though, I agree with 7.2. Not as the new center of our scale, but as the lowest allowable for a salt pool, as the target to shoot for each week during service because the one thing you know with a salt pool is the pH is going to rise.

The issue here isn’t whether I agree with a deviation of 0.3 on the pH scale (7.2 vs 7.5), which is still a lot, pH being an exponential scale and all. 7.2 represents water that is 4 times more acidic, hence four times more etching, than 7.5.

The issue is that SOMEONE BESIDES A MAGAZINE needs to go on record as saying that salt pools are different chemically and they need their own well researched and well documented, not to mention well publicized, water chemistry parameters. AJ Wilson, who they’re quoting here, is a sharp guy. He knows his stuff and he’s right about this 7.2 thing.

What he’s getting at is that if you have a salt pool, you’re going to see a rise in pH from week to week. So, if you start at 7.2, maybe you’ll end up at 7.8 by your next visit, instead of starting at 7.5 and ending up at 8.2 by your next visit. 8.2 and any Total Alkalinity between the APSP recommended 80 to 120 ppm will cause lots of scaling with that high calcium San Diego water AJ is dealing with. Not so much here in Dallas, where our tap water is 70 to 120 ppm and we have to add calcium after startup.

So, I agree with what AJ’s saying. But where’s the test pools to prove it? Where's the industry sanctioned research behind these conclusions? The current APSP standards weren't written over dinner and drinks at some pool show, you know. Research went into determining those parameters.

But since we're fiddling with pH, why not fiddle with TA, too? Won’t lowering TA a little, perhaps outside of the biblical 80 to 120 ppm we preach, have a similar effect on this issue? Of course it will. But then we’re right back where we started, aren’t we? It’s just a bunch of pool guys trying to pass on helpful information to other pool guys, and the end result is more likely to be that you’ll get hung out to dry if something goes wrong and you tell your customer or, even worse, the builder, “oh, this magazine I read said to ignore the APSP guidelines for water chemistry, so I’ve been running it acidic the last couple of years”.

This all goes back to when Salt Reps were standing up in front of whole rooms full of pool guys, at association meetings and such, and when we would tell them about the inherent rise in pH of their systems, they would say, “That’s impossible. Salt systems produce pH neutral chlorine.” That was the whole answer. End of discussion. Move on. And while some of them may have since amended their story and admitted that, well, maybe there sorta coulda might be a rise in pH with a salt system, they haven’t done anything to go back and do any real research to come up with water chemistry guidelines unique to salt pools.

Instead, they leave it to guys like AJ Wilson and guys like me to take the liability on our shoulders. Read the owner’s manuals. That’s what they’ll be waving at you in court.

For example, Goldine’s owner’s manual says to follow APSP guidelines and then tells you keep pH between 7.2 to 7.6.

APSP guidelines are 7.4 to 7.6. So, which is it? APSP guidelines or 7.2? Remember, a 0.2 difference is three times as acidic. If 0.1 is twice as acidic, then 0.2 is three times as acidic.

Jandy Aquapure’s owner’s manual says with their system, the “pH produced is close to Neutral pH and tends to stabilize at approximately 7.8.” (You thought I was making it up about the Reps saying that Neutral thing, didn’t you?)

Well, once again, which is it? Neutral or 7.8. Because 7.8 is a long, long way from Neutral. It’s 0.8, in fact, and if you were shaking your head over Goldline’s contradiction about just a few tenths on the pH scale, now we’re talking about water 8 times more scaling than Neutral pH.

Ecomatic recommends 7.2 to 7.8 and then goes into an explanation almost as long as this blog piece about why that, and your TA level might not work for you, and how it’s all sorta…ya’ know… Whhhhhppppp… hold it… hold it…. Phhewwww… Out There, Maaa-a-n, and you’ll know when you have it right because your pH will stop fluctuating – which is true, but their explanation needs about 8 hours of water chemistry classroom training to fill in the gaps. Remember too, we're talking about the Owner’s Manual, geared for everybody down to the pool owner who, going in, knows nothing about balancing water.

Then, Zodiac, who has the highest salt requirement of any mainstream salt system available in the US, recommends 7.4 to 7.6, just like APSP.

Autopilot says 7.2 to 7.8, allowing +- 0.3 pH of saturation. And that’s great if you’re a pool tech. You can look at the charts provided and actually make out what their version of balanced water is supposed to be. But getting back to the Target Audience; Joe Pool Owner. Is he going to get it? Or is he going to let his eyes roll back in his head and say, “Yeah, Honey, everything’s fine. The kids can swim.”

Because the truth is, if he really did wade through all this and used the chart and the calculator and did all the math, what he’ll find out is that come winter, if his pool water is balanced at 60 degrees F, 600 ppm Calcium Hardness, 75 Total Alkalinity and TDS Above 1000, he’s got to tell the wife that they can’t heat the spa to 103 until he either raises the Total Alkalinity to 125 or lowers the pH to 7.2, and then reverts back to the previous readings before the spa cools off again.

A note in passing: Is the fact that no one ever worries about that the reason that plaster in spas on pool/spa combos with salt systems always gets those little calcium nodules? I vote Yes. And voting’s all we’re going to do, anyway. There’s no research going on beyond what Pool Guys are doing, at their own peril of liability, in their customer’s back yards. If I’m wrong, and there’s this whole industry of research happening that none of us out here in the field know about, then somebody write and tell me.

By Golly, Scott’s right. These systems are “dummy-proof”.

Now, I’m going to beat Sean to the punch here. As he’s reading this, he’s hopping up and down behind his laptop, scrolling down to the comments section to write and tell us that if that’s what we’re all worried about, then why not just use AutoPilot’s Total Control System and let the machine monitor and adjust the pH, too?

And I say - like I always say about salt systems - if your idea of “better” is spending yet more and more money on yet more and more “accessories” for your pool, then by all means, buy it.

Or, you could just use chlorine tablets and enjoy pretty much rock solid pH that “tends to stabilize” somewhere around 7.5. Not 7.4. Not 7.2. Not 7.8.

Seven Point Five.

And if you want soft water, buy Twenty Mule Team Borax for $2.99 a 4 lbs. box and really live it up.

Well, we’ve gotten to the second page of the P&SN article… Just kidding. That’s really about it. The only other thing I keyed on, and it’s probably just a poor choice of adverb, was this: “The conditioner – typically cyanuric acid – only protects the chlorine”. Typically? That implies there are other “types” of stabilizer. Did I miss something? I know I’m getting old. Did ya’ll come up with something else to stabilize chlorine while I was taking my afternoon nap?

So, what’s the Governor of Florida and Pasco County got to do with any of this? Well, several years ago, in California, when they started looking really hard at their dwindling water resources and began considering and then implementing reuse, certain areas zeroed in on salt based water softeners as one way to improve their wastewater quality. Soon after, certain water districts banned water softeners. Then, Santa Clarita banned salt systems on pools that backwashed to the sewer. Now, the Governor of California is poised
TO SIGN LEGISLATION allowing every water district, at their discretion, to ban salt based water softeners.

California Assemblyman John Laird said this about the Water Softener Industry, who are the only people lobbying against the bill; “ It’s not time to protect somebody that’s polluting groundwater at a time that we have to rely increasingly more on groundwater as part of a comprehensive solution”.

A few years from now, when the water they’re starting to reuse in Florida isn’t working out so well because of its high chloride content, The Governor of Florida, or the Mayor of Tampa will be saying the same thing about water softeners – and later, salt pools – in Florida. And then when you come to this blog, you’ll see a whole list of counties and states and water districts that have banned their use.

It started with Santa Clarita. It spread to Dixon, CA and then Scottsdale, AZ, and now the whole state of California. And the pattern is the same. They try to reuse their wastewater and then they find out how damaging that water is.

And time after time, the only people who oppose the restrictions are people making money off the pollution of our groundwater. That would be people who sell appliances that use tremendous amounts of salt for their operation. You know, like water softeners and pool salt systems and... water softeners and pool salt systems and... Yep. That about covers it.

I stated earlier that the P&SN article talked about how destructive salt systems can be. The very last thing they talk about - almost reluctantly, it seems - is "Compatible equipment". They talk about how hard salt systems can be on the aluminum tracks for an automatic pool cover. They quote Randy Parsons as saying, "I've had a number of [pools] where the tracks have been destroyed by salt." Word here in Texas from the local Automatic Cover Guru is that when those tracks are corroded, they usually have to be jackhammered out of the tile line to replace them. You see, they're set into the tile line at the time of pool construction, and so having a corroded track is just about the worst and most expensive thing that could happen to a pool owner.

Boy, P&SN, talk about Burying The Lead.

Many of you in the industry who read this blog regularly who think I’m So Wrong on So Many Levels, you ought to take a moment here and re-read some of my earlier pieces.

I ranted about stone and concrete damage and the manufacturers and reps called me a liar. Now they have all added disclaimers to their owner’s manuals and websites.

I was the first in the industry, with Baboosa’s nudging, to talk about salt systems causing galvanic corrosion. The manufacturers and the reps called me crazy out of one side of their mouth and told you all to put zinc balls in your pump baskets out the other.

I was the first one to talk about Exploding Salt Cells and everybody and their brother jumped up and down and called me certifiably insane. And then I pointed out half a dozen incidents of it occurring around the world, and can point you now to
ANOTHER POOL GUY’S BLOG (scroll down to SAFETY) where he describes first hand his experience with the explosion of a properly installed salt cell.

I’ve talked a lot about the environmental impact of your salt pools on our environment, and you all say I’m overstating the case, even after I’ve pointed out several places where levels of sodium and chloride in wastewater are being legislated and even your salt system manufacturers now work a caution about how salt will “damage or destroy certain types of plants” into their disclaimers. In case you Missed a Memo, those Dead Plants are The Environment.

I can just hear ya’ll at the public hearings when they outlaw these things; “But my kids can swim with their eyes open underwater. That ought to be worth something!”

Good luck with that.

And we haven’t even talked about the lawsuits that have started to pop up, as pool owners file suit against builders and builders turn around and file suit against manufacturers. Oh, you hadn’t heard? And, yes, I predicted that, too.

Folks, the Titanic has hit the Iceberg. You can either make for the Lifeboats or Stand Around and Rearrange the Deckchairs.

To put it literally instead of metaphorically; the manufacturers and the media in our industry are doing everything they can to create a body of work – sometimes referred to as evidence in the event of future litigation – that says, “We warned those pool stores and builders and service guys that there were downsides and that they needed to think really hard before they sold these salt systems. Look, we wrote about it here in our warranties and over here in our media publications and over here on our websites. We Have No Liability if things go astray after installation”.

No one’s going to hold their feet to the fire over what they say in a marketing brochure. No one’s ever going to lose a lawsuit over No More Green Hair! But in the little-read and oft-overlooked Fine Print, they’ve covered their asses quite well.

It’s called The Writing On The Wall. Take a moment and read it.