Ultraclean Machine

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Hospitals and fish farms know about its efficacy. The food industry, the beverage and bottled-water industry and the wastewater-treatment industry use it. And the pool industry is starting to see the light, too.

That's ultraviolet light.

Ultraviolet is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum with unique germicidal qualities, and it has been used for more than 60 years to disinfect water. The technology is widely used on swimming pools in Europe and is starting to gain traction in the United States. Because of its ability to quickly neutralize cryptosporidium, giardia and the like without affecting pool chemistry, it is catching on as an adjunct to chlorine and bromine-based sanitizing systems in public recreational water facilities. Many feel it is just a matter of time before the residential market embraces UV sanitation.

There are a few barriers to breach before that happens, but a handful of companies are spreading the word.

Ultra Education

"They are expensive and they are new," says Russell Roark of Advanced Control Logix, summarizing the challenge of introducing any new technology. "I consider this like salt systems were 10 years ago." And like salt systems, UV seems a little mysterious at first, but it's actually a very simple way to sanitize.

"You've probably seen UVA and UVB sunblock. The different wavelengths [in the UV range of the spectrum] can destroy different organisms or chemicals. It basically breaks them up on a molecular level. For example giardia or cryptosporidium, it actually changes the chromosomes and destroys them so they can't replicate. It is extremely effective at it," says Roark. Once those organisms can no longer replicate, they can't wreak havoc on the human body and they are considered dead.

The germicidal range of the UV spectrum is called UVC, and it comprises wavelengths of 100 to 320 nanometers. At 253.7 nanometers, the light penetrates the cells of bacteria, viruses and other nefarious microorganisms. Just as important, it also deals with chloramines.

"For indoor pools, a UV system will nearly eliminate that 'chlorine smell' within 24 hours," says Roark. "It breaks things up into the base molecules and anything that's left will eventually get filtered out. It not only does monochloramines and dichloramines, but it also destroys trichloramines, which are almost impossible to get rid of by adding chemicals."

John Psaroudis of PurAqua Products, which distributes the Hanovia Quantum system in the United States, says combating these byproducts of sanitization makes up most of his business. "The main reason we sell them is for chloramine destruction on indoor pools. Outdoor pools don't have the same problems because they have fresh air and sunlight."

Some of the welcome consequences of using the system include fewer problems stemming from outof-balance water. "Chlorine is one of the bigger culprits," says Roark. "If you can run your chemicals lower, then you're going to have less corrosion, etc. And since you're not putting anything in the water, there are no side effects of chemical treatment. It is very good in combination with other sanitizers. I've had a few on salt chlorine generators and they work great. It is a completely added-on system and doesn't conflict with anything else."

Light On Water

Typically, UV units are plumbed right into the filtration system. Water passes through the unit, where it is exposed to the UV lamp for an amount of time that is carefully calculated based on flow and what needs to be neutralized. "Sizing is per flow rate so that you get the correct mega joules per gallons of water that go by," says Roark. Because UV does not add anything to, nor stay in the water, a residual sanitizer should be used along with the UV. But a small amount suffices. "In the UK, where they have been using UV for 25 years on swimming pools, they run their residual volume of chlorine at 0.2 to 0.5 ppm," says Psaroudis. And while most public health officials want to see that sanitizer number in the 1.5 to 5 ppm range, Psaroudis says the change has already begun.

"Right now the health departments aren't as comfortable with UV," says Psaroudis. "They see it, they see that it's working, everything's fine and I think they are slowly, gradually, like the state of New York has done, starting to change their regulations.

When they do that and the UV manufacturers come up with a cheaper system, it will become more common and widespread."

Roark adds, "About two years ago a crypto outbreak happened in the spray parks in New York. The EPA and the CDC did studies, and it is now a requirement to have medium-pressure UV on all spray parks in New York. It is the single best thing for destroying [disease-causing microorganisms]."

"When we first started doing this five years ago, we didn't have any in the United States," says Psaroudis.

"And now I know I've sold 500, 600 units. I know my competitor has probably sold about the same. Now that there are so many of them out there that health inspectors can see what the benefits and advantages and costs really are. More states will come on board. I know Florida is coming along now, so is Michigan."

Both Roark and Psaroudis say they have supplied UV systems for just a handful of residential pools to date.

"Because of the cost, it would be [installed on] an upper-end pool, or for somebody who is very concerned about safety of the people in the pool and wants to keep the chemicals at the lowest level possible," says Roark.

But he hopes that will change. "Anytime you can go to residential, the market is so much bigger," says Roark. "I have put pressure on a couple of different manufacturers to make a smaller unit, and it's just a matter of time."

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For early-adopters of the technology, both experts recommend learning as much as possible about how UV works and about the vendor. "The biggest thing, if you are interested in UV, is to do some homework," says Roark. "Because there are people jumping on the bandwagon out there and saying that low-pressure UV can do the same thing as medium pressure — and it simply doesn't."

Psaroudis adds that the multitude of uses for UV can be confusing, too.

"There are so many different applications: drinking water, pharmaceutical companies, microprocessor companies like Intel," he says. "I even saw one for a flour mill. They run the flour under the UV light and it kills any bacteria or virus there might be in the flour before it goes in the bag.

Every application is different and they size the UV according to the application." Knowing a bit about how UV works will help technology pioneers make the right choices.

According to those who have blazed the UV trail, the rewards are worth it.

"It is by far one of the best things you can put on your pool," says Roark. "It is just amazing."

The biggest thing, if you are interested in UV, is to do some homework.

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