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Residential water quality standard possible

An APSP/ANSI standard concerning residential water chemistry is on the agenda for discussion at the Western Pool and Spa show, set for March 8, in Long Beach, California. The meeting will include the Recreational Water Quality Committee (RWQ) as well as key industry service professionals who have expressed concern with the preliminary discussions on the need for, and language of, the draft.

The main body of the residential standard has been approved at the committee level. According to APSP Executive Director, Carvin DiGiovanni, the residential standard is modeled after the existing commercial standard, APSP 11. Of particularly relevance to the service industry, this section includes recommendations concerning water chemistry, with limits to pH and chlorine concentrations. Specifically, that the pH be maintained between 7.2 to 7.8 and chlorine between 1 and 4 ppm. 

The potential standard has raised a great deal of speculation, concern and controversy within the pool and spa industry as a whole. According to many service professionals, such a standard imposes untenable and unnecessary requirements for once weekly service. However, some APSP members say that such a standard could be a valuable consumer safety tool.

“The Recreational Water Quality committee exists for the safety of the bather,” Dr. Laurino, RWQ committee chairman, said.

A recent CDC report published that 43 percent of emergency room visits associated with pool chemicals occurred at a residence. That represents a safety issue for residential pools that the APSP is attempting to respond to. 

The thinking seems to be that the industry should attempt to regulate itself before an external agency does so. Furthermore, that the standard actually protects pool service professionals by providing them “cover” in the event of an incident as long as they adhere to a standard.

However, many service professionals remain unpersuaded by this thinking. 

Gary Crayton, CEO for Bay Area Pools and Spas, headquartered in Tampa, Florida, is among those who oppose the standard. Crayton argues that most of those residential pool injuries occur out of the pool, not within the water. He is familiar with the CDC report, and he has used the CDC’s statistics as a marketing tool to encourage professional pool service rather than risking injury to the homeowner.

“The whole premise and basis for which they are taking this action is flawed,” Crayton said. “Residential pool chemical readings are not even contemplated by the CDC’s report.”

With over 12,000 accounts, his company may be the largest pool service firm in the country, and Crayton is convinced that the standard would be bad for business.

Members of the consulting group onBalance also oppose the standard.

“If the actual problem is ER visits as a result of improper handling and application of chemicals, by all means let’s proactively address that safety issue and protect both service techs and the public, rather than creating a standard that completely avoids the actual problem,” onBalance said.

The RWQ committee has continued to move forward with the standard despite opposition, which has caused Crayton and many others to question the motivation propelling the standard.

“I wonder if the APSP RWQ committee is showing bias toward one segment of the industry with these efforts,” Crayton said. “If they really do care about the CDC report, then why are they potentially encouraging more homeowners to handle pool chemicals, which is in direct opposition to the CDC’s findings?”

Ken Scott, owner of Aqua Bliss Pool Service in Deerfield Beach, Florida sees the standard as a business killer. 

“What this standard may end up doing is making once weekly service impossible,” Scott said. 

In his professional experience, he has sometimes found it necessary to elevate chlorine levels above 4 ppm to have any chlorine residual at the next week’s visit. This is in line with the higher acceptable chlorine level in the Model Aquatic Health Code.

Crayton and Scott say that the standard is unenforceable. 

“The only time I can foresee this being enforced is in courts,” Scott said. “All that this does is give the industry extra liability problems.”

This is an idea that may be supported by experts in litigation.

Ray Arouesty, an attorney in California who has been involved in the pool service for 25 years is concerned that setting a residential standard, as compared to a guideline, could place additional burdens for a pool tech in litigation or arbitration. 

“I’m concerned that an industry standard could make it more difficult to defend a service technician. A standard is a rule or requirement.  Guidelines, on the other hand, are flexible and allow for more discretion, where factors like bather load and weather, for example, could be taken into consideration,” Arouesty said.

The Florida Swimming Pool Association has said that developing a residential water quality standard should be abandoned.

“It is our feeling that a standard addressing water quality has the possibility for many unintended consequences,” the FSPA stated. 

Other associations may also weigh in on the possible standard.

At press time, the California Pool and Spa Association members had a draft response out for vote of the board of directors. 

According to Jerry Wallace, CPSA Chairman, the association is trying to determine whether they will get involved with the standard. 

“My personal opinion is, I think we should,” Wallace said. “I fail to see where this thing is going to get its teeth — who’s going to enforce it? There is a BIG difference between suggested water chemistry parameters as we have now and an ANSI standard. ANSI standards are often times codified in some way and that is a total game changer. The potential liability created by this standard would be extreme and restricting the serviceman of providing the best service to their customers.”

Wallace discussed his issues with the possible chemistry limitations.

“Who gives them the right to tell me how my personal backyard swimming pool water chemistry should be maintained?” Wallace said. “What if I believe in the Hamilton Index, which advocates for a pH higher than what the current parameters allow? I would be out of compliance. There are plenty of recommendations out there on water chemistry standards. That’s where they need to stay- as recommendations.”

Then there are his concerns about the potential repercussions to the service tech.

“What I can foresee happening is a pool owner taking a water sample into their pool store and the pool store telling them that their water is not within the standard. The customer says, ‘But I have a pool care company.’ The pool store says, ‘Maybe you need to find a new service company, or maybe you should buy your chemicals from us.’ This could divide our industry further by pitting retail against service,” Wallace said.

IPSSA is taking a wait and see approach to the standard. Terry Snow, IPSSA Region 3 Director, has attended the most recent RWQ meetings.

According to Snow, APSP standards requiring pH within 7.2 to 7.8 and chlorine within 1 to 4 ppm fall within IPSSA recommendations, and do not present a problem. IPSSA has recently released an updated technical manual that includes pH and chlorine limitations. 

“Their draft coincides with our book,” Snow said. “It is the same thing that we teach our members.”

However, Snow is aware of the controversy concerning the residential standard, and IPSSA hasn’t yet come down on whether they will support a residential standard.

“Whether we have a standard or not, IPSSA gets sued over anything,” he said. “If a consumer feels that the service tech has done something wrong, they’re coming after us. That’s why we have to educate.”

Snow has also heard that some people are concerned that the standard will help facilitate the case of plasterers against service professionals when it comes to plaster deterioration. 

Specifically, stringent chemistry standards imposed on service professionals may make it easier to blame the technician if plaster problems develop, even if the real failure is in the plaster itself. 

Snow doesn’t think that will happen.

“A lot of us know that when you look at a plaster problem, if there is a stain and you were to drain the pool and do a light acid wash, and the stain goes away, it’s a chemistry problem,” he said. “If the stain doesn’t come off, most likely, it’s internally a cement problem. That’s how we come around that problem. We know that chemistry does not cause mottling.”

But some service professionals say that using acid washing as a diagnostic tool is not so cut and dried. 

The consulting team, onBalance, says that there are cases where acid washes may seem to fix a problem, implying that the issue was bad water chemistry, only to have the problem return.

“Grey mottling discoloration can be lightened with a significant acid wash, but it comes back within a month or two. Torching will also lighten that type of discoloration, but the reports are that it often will return. Surface deposits such as iron and copper are often the result of non-chemistry issues. So, using acid washing as a guideline for whether something was a chemical vs. plaster problem is not valid,” onBalance said.

Snow acknowledges that there is a lot of liability for service professionals. He said that if you are a technician in this industry, you’ve got to get yourself educated. 

“A lot of times the service guy gets the blame,” he said. “There’s always that fear. It can go both ways, and sometimes we pay claims that aren’t our fault.”

While many have voiced concern about a residential water quality standard, some service technicians are hopeful.

Ken McAuley, service manager of Aequitas Aquatic Services, in Houston, Texas, said he’s in favor of anything that helps local regulators have a better reference point on what is acceptable as an industry practice – especially to help protect bathers and consumers. He’d also like to see an additional standard pertaining to TDS accumulation and clear language about water replacement.

“You have the objective, and you have the standard,” McAuley said. “The objective is to have better water with less illness. And we want to be sure that the technician is aware of what’s appropriate and what the water quality standards are. The technician should then be able to say to his client, ‘My company is here to help you maintain your pool, but we are only able to adjust your water quality on the order of the amount of time that you are willing to pay us to come out.’”

While that sounds reasonable, some service professionals don’t believe that’s how the standard will play out.

Crayton believes there’s a real difference between regulating commercial and residential pool water quality. Unlike with commercial pools, where the water is tested three times a day, with most residential pools, the water is tested once a week.

“Every single day, we’d be worried that our pools are outside these narrow parameters, and we would therefore be breaking the law, in essence — if it became a law — if the pool was out of balance,” Crayton said.

Crayton added that he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to invite the backyard police to people’s private property.

“I don’t believe this standard is going to happen,” he said. “I think the industry is going to speak out —and we’re going to kill it.”

Once approved by the writing committee (in this case, the RWQ), only technical issues may be addressed in the industry and public comment periods. If you question the need for such a standard to begin with, now is the time to make your voice heard. 

Look forward to updates concerning the Residential Pool Standard. Service Industry News will be in attendance at the APSP RWQ Residential Pool Standard meeting. Send us your comments for representation in this important conference.

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