Across the nation, it appears more and more pool service technicians are noticing an interesting phenomenon. Stories of cut-strength cyanuric acid, used as a chlorine stabilizer, have been spreading at trade shows and other industry meetings.
“It’s just not as potent,” said Bill Peck, owner of Peck Pool Services in San Diego. “[Sometimes] I’m only getting 50 to 65 percent of the increase I expected.”
The reports are still scientifically unproven — no one has done large-scale testing of raw supplies yet — but if this is a widespread issue, operators and the techs who service their pools aren’t getting the product they’re paying for.
All told, potential issues seem to have started about two years ago, when American companies began outsourcing the manufacture of CYA to Asian countries — China, in particular — and many techs and retailers place the blame on that nation’s manufacturing methods.
“We never had this problem when it was domestic conditioner,” said John Taylor, president of Tru Blu Pool Care and Supply in Poway, Calif.
According to Taylor, “every year it shows up a little bit differently.” “This year, for example, my conditioner’s level will spike in two weeks. Go four weeks, and it’s down to zero again,” he added.
For some service professionals, the only option is to run through every brand of conditioner available — and that’s just what Bob Fowler did. The owner of Fowler’s Pool Service in Lemon Grove, Calif., monitors the water chemistry of each pool he treats with CYA, and compares brands himself.
His team has tested everything from the cheapest bulk powder to the higher-end names. “We’re starting to see one that seems to be doing the job, so we’re doing more experiments with that," he said. "But at this point, we haven’t found anyone who’s consistently 100 percent.”
Still, Fowler pointed out, the difficulty of tracing these products back to their manufacturers means it may take time to settle on a dependable brand. “We buy from American repackagers, but we don’t know what their sources are," he said. "We have no idea where this stuff comes from.”
Still, not everyone is convinced there's a problem with the CYA. Chemists in the industry say first-hand experiences with these imported conditioners are hard to come by, and actual samples are even rarer
Jack Beane, owner of Jack’s Magic Products in Largo, Fla., finds it hard to believe that American importers would have any motivation to resell a cut-strength conditioner.
“It’s a low-end commodity,” he said. “It’s not a high-end specialty product, where it would serve any purpose for anybody to cut it. [Importers] are probably getting a certificate of analysis with it, and those are done by chemists who put their reputation on the line when they sign off on it.”
Beane acknowledged that contaminated CYA has made its way into the USA in previous years; however, he added, importers have always tracked down the source of the problem and issued refunds or replacements.
Touraj Rowhani, a senior research chemist at Arch Chemicals in New Castle, Del., agreed with Beane’s assessment. “Cyanuric acid doesn’t go anywhere,” Rowhani said. “Once you add it, the level either increases or stays the same; it’s very stable in water. It may go down 10 ppm on the test, but it doesn’t sink to zero. The only way to get rid of it is to drain the pool or precipitate it out with the reagent melamine. This sounds like a testing issue.”
As CYA continues to raise questions, it’s becoming clear that resolution depends on documentation and communication.
U.S. law already requires extensive analysis and safety paperwork for hundreds of chemicals. Rather than point fingers at manufacturers and importers, Beane said those who buy cyanuric acid should insist on proper credentials, including a certificate of analysis, for every barrel. If a repackager can’t — or won’t — provide the document, they may be worthy of suspicion.
Another option is to collaborate with chemical labs by sending samples in for independent testing. But that collaboration will depend on both sides taking some initiative. Peck has tried for several years to convince distributors to commit to testing his samples, but has received little positive response.
In the end, until the truth becomes clear, Fowler said, “the key is to test regularly, and keep changing products until you find one that you have some confidence in.”