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From a potable drinking water standpoint these are our observations. Tap water rarely “smells” of chlorine. People notice the need to more frequently clean a bathroom or sink areas. The toilet always seems to have a ring. Often times when the garden hose is turned on, a “glob” of icky, pink stuff comes out. What’s going on?
Now we tell our pool or spa customers to run the water for a minute or two to flush out the garden hose before adding that water to the pool, spa or hot tub (now we’re “wasting water,” a very valuable resource). We don’t want the “bio-film” in the pool or spa, but what about the chloramines coming in?
One of the most common causes of water related problems in swimming pools is the presence of chloramines. Chloramines are often referred to as “combined-chlorines” because they are molecules formed by the combination of chlorine in the form of Hypochlorous Acid (HOCl) and organic wastes (saliva, perspiration, urine) in the form nitrogen or ammonia. Chloramines produce the “chlorine odor” that many people do not like (tear gas is a form of Chloramine). When people complain of “too much” chlorine, it is almost always the case of combined chlorine or chloramines causing the foul odor as when in reality, the pool may have a LOW level -- or ZERO -- of Free Available Chlorine (FAC). FAC is what actually kills the bacteria & algae and keeps the water clean & sparkling.
But foul chlorine odors are just the ugly mask of the underlying problems present in swimming pool water.
Chlorinamines (combined chlorine and ammonia)...
Chloramines are the root of many problems in pool water. Chloramines cause problems because of their stability and persistence. This stability and persistence forms additional Chloramines (you don't want them). This is chlorine demand (consumption) at its finest. (Consumers complain that they “just shocked” the pool but there’s no chlorine showing when tested.) As more chlorine is added without reaching breakpoint, more chloramines are formed thereby exacerbating the problem leading to what I’ll call “obvious problems” such as cloudy water or algae growth. Homeowners and/or pool dealers unfamiliar with chloramines and chlorine demand begin treating the symptoms (cloudy water or algae) rather than dealing with the root cause – especially after the second or third treatment. Without the knowledge of chloramines & chlorine demand, consumers may not receive the help they need.
Chlorine demand testing stations aid greatly in determining the appropriate amount of chlorine needed to reach breakpoint chlorination – usually recognized as 10 ppm FAC (free available chlorine) to correct each 1.0 ppm of combined chlorine. Failing to realize this amount actually contributes to the chlorine demand problem as more chloramines are formed. We often hear the consumer complain that “my pool guy told me to put in a double dose of shock to treat my cloudy pool.” That amount may indeed fall VERY short of the actual need. When a chlorine demand test is performed, it is often necessary that a dose of 10, 20 or more times of chlorine shock is needed to reach breakpoint chlorination. That means potentially adding 40, 50 or more pounds of shock (in the form of cal hypo) at one time! Yes, at one time! If you try spreading it out (even over a few hours) you’ve defeated the cure and unwittingly added to the problem.
We describe the problem this way to our customers in regards to reaching breakpoint or satisfying chlorine demand: Reaching breakpoint chlorination is an “all or nothing” proposition. Think of it as trying to jump the Grand Canyon in a single bound; you can’t “come close”. You MUST reach the other side FIRMLY. You can’t “almost make it.” Whether you’re 2 inches short or 100 feet short, you’re still short of the goal. You have failed.
This is where our constant reminding of consumers of the need to weekly “shock” their chlorine or bromine pool. Weekly shocking during the entire time the pool is open & operating will greatly reduce the potential of chlorine demand or consumption.
As of June 1, 2006 a new, state of the art Chlorine Demand test station (BioGuard®'s Accu-Demand 30) is available to us & in our store. It is virtually 100% accurate. Compared to the old method, results are now available in about 30 minutes rather than 24 hours. This gets the problem rectified immediately, as opposed to waiting an additional day or 2 when the results would be ready and more chloramines form. The Accu-Demand 30 will be the best available method to accurately perform a Chlorine Demand test on the market. If you are one of our “out of town” customers, you can send a water sample for testing. There will be a small fee for this service; however we will call you with the results and recommendations within 3 hours of our receipt of the sample
Another facet to the chlorine demand and chloramines problem is the misconception that the pool “smells of chlorine,” therefore (in the novice’s mind) “I’ve got too much chlorine or too many chemicals present in the water,“ and they stop adding anything to the pool, effectively ignoring the problem. Testing goes out the window; pH and overall water balance go out of balance. The pool owner is not convinced that their true problem is a “lack” of chlorine and particularly FAC. This is especially true if the homeowner or pool operator is using OTO - those drops that turn the sample yellow - (orthotolodine will produce results for Total Chlorine only, using yellow color standards, not differentiating the difference between FAC and chloramines present) for chlorine testing as opposed to the more accurate DPD (using pink color standards) method (uses separate tests for Free Chlorine as well as Total Chlorine).
Click here to learn about treating a chlorine demand.
A lurking problem?
Another potential area or source of the Chloramine problem may be something we as dealers or homeowners have no control over. The following comments and questions are purely speculative and have not been scientifically proved. The premises are based on over 30 years of experiential observation and hopefully common sense. The Chloramine problems that we’ve been discussing in this article have become more prevalent each passing swimming season over the past decade. There’s a greater frequency and severity of the Chloramine issue.
In the early and mid 1990’s, the nation’s public water suppliers began switching to using chloramines in the water sanitizing process; known as "chloraminization". Chloramines were and are known to be more stable and “persistent” as we’ve already mentioned. Chloramines do a good job controlling normal bacteria and “stuff” in water. I will not discuss the reasons why chloramines are the preferred and even mandated form of bacteria control in potable water systems. That is a discussion for the scientist and politician. We are instead looking at daily observations.
Throughout the 1990’s we heard the cry of “get of rid of chlorine!” Chlorine was given a bad rap. Mainly from people who don’t know what they’re talking about. After all, how do you ban an element? People didn’t like the so-called taste of chlorine in their drinking water. Given a choice of coli-form bacteria or a slight chlorine taste, I’ll take the chlorine taste. Chlorine has undoubtedly saved thousands, and I dare say millions, of lives around the world in purifying water. We see what untreated water looks & smells like and its devastating effects with outbreaks of cholera & dysentery. This is especially poignant in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
These are observations over the past 10 - 15 years regarding swimming pools: Increasing frequency and severity in treating chloramines in swimming pool water; increased questions of chlorine demand or consumption; more frequent consumer complaints of skin rashes or eye irritation when using a pool, spa or hot tub. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, “pink slime” and “white water mold” were being blamed on biguanide usage, until it was noticed that there was this pink stuff coming from the garden hose.
Controlling small amounts (under 2.0 ppm) of chloramines is relatively easy. Shock the pool with a good-quality granular chlorine or use an oxidizing compound containing potassium mono-persulfate. Mono-persulfate “shocks” are great because they don’t add additional chlorine that may contribute to further Chloramine formation. We have found that even when there are larger amounts of chloramines present, the mono-persulfate works well in reducing the chloramines by oxidizing these wastes and releasing the combined chlorines. Breakpoint chlorination often-times becomes simpler to achieve. Again, weekly shocking of the pool is the preferred preventative procedure. Just because the pool water looks good doesn’t mean that everything is balanced and working properly.
Do we have a potential situation where pathogens, that may be present in the drinking water, are being killed but then their “waste” is not being oxidized (utilizing chlorine has some oxidizing attributes, chloramines do not)? Why is there a build-up of bio-films in garden hoses, sinks, toilets, piping?
Are chloramines good oxidizers? No. As pool & spa professionals, we know the necessity and advantage that regular oxidation performs; we more fully get rid of ALL of the stuff that is a potential contaminant. This hypothesis is based on the fact that if you add more chloramines to pool or spa water, you will form even more unwanted chloramines. It’s a vicious circle. Let’s use this analogy: I have a pile of garbage. By putting some kind of chemical on the pile to kill the germs, I may have treated it; but the pile of garbage is still there. Now if I then burn that pile of garbage (oxidizing it), I’ve reduced it to a more “harmless” ash, which by the way has a much smaller volume. Does this make sense? That’s why shock treatments are often referred to as oxidizers. I suppose that’s why BioGuard® named their shock treatment Burn Out®.
The pool, spa or hot tub owner and user must understand these facts and act accordingly to protect not only his or her investment, but also the health of the users.
Is there a correlation? In my opinion, possibly. Unfortunately, it will take many years of testing & “scientific” observation before we have a conclusive answer.
In the meanwhile, the local public water suppliers tell us: “Chloramines will not affect swimming pools; you will still need a free-chlorine residual (my emphasis added) to retard algae and bacterial growths in pools.”
At the same time, in the same article, there is the statement that “[a] small amount of ammonia used to form Chloramines may affect rubber and some manufacturing processes. Chloramines may cause rubber linings of water lines to disintegrate over a period of time.” Think of all the rubber o-rings, gaskets, “donuts”, etc. that are used in your home itself, never mind the swimming pool or spa.
Other comments published by other water authorities such as in Pasco County, Florida, provide similar information. (http://pascocountyfl.net/utilities/water/Chloramine.htm - Link removed)
Another issue is that chloramines attack copper. In due time, those of us with older homes or homes with copper piping will succumb to this attack & experience leaking and ruining of our homes because of chloramines.
Is there a matter of public health? I don’t know. I have not investigated nor do I have the specific expertise to probe those more far-reaching consequences. I believe our public officials are constantly doing what is in all of our best interests. I believe this because they have families and loved-ones who are drinking this water also.
The purpose of this article is to address some possible correlations that may directly affect my customers’ pools, spas & hot tubs and their families and friends who use them. People in both the pool & spa industries and public health & water supply need to work together to address these issues. Although the “use” of water for filling pools and spas is relatively small (practically speaking), our impact is great across the country. Consumers are constantly looking for answers to simplify their pool and spa care needs and expense. Consumers also want to be assured of their personal health and safety regarding swimming, soaking, drinking and overall water consumption.
One last thing. When you are treating a chlorine demand problem, reaching breakpoint chlorination will not necessarily solve the problem. That's why performing a chlorine demand test is so important. You may reach breakpoint at 30 lbs of shock, but satisfying the demand may require 75 lbs. In this scenario, "reaching breakpoint" (or thinking you have) has just made your chlorine demand problem worse.
Par Pool & Spa can perform a Chlorine Demand test for you!
If you don't have a local BioGuard Dealer with a Chlorine Demand Test Station, you may OVERNIGHT a sample to us for testing & analysis. We will perform a complete BioGuard Test using AccuScan and the AccuDemand 30 test stations and will provide you with BioGuard Alex results as well as some of our own recommendations. Please fill out this form (new window will open), print it, and include it with your ONE QUART water sample (must be sent in a clean, plastic bottle that was NOT used to hold cleaning fluids, soda, food in general - an empty water bottle is best). Please note that there is a $20.00 charge for this testing & analysis service. A portion of the fee ($10.00) may be applied to future chemical sales. We will contact you by telephone with the results & recommendations.