Pool Water

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What can I do to make my pool water drinkable? Thanks

-- James (b@b.com), December 07, 1999


I'd boil it. Anybody want to chance chemical disinfection? Chlorine doesn't nail all the beasties.

-- Gary S. (garys_2k@yahoo.com), December 07, 1999.

Don't drink the pool water, James. Everything I have read says that it is too toxic to drink and cannot, even with great filtering be made drinkable. Toxic, as in leading to kidney failure and death. This is due to the pool paint.

-- Mara (MaraWayne@aol.com), December 08, 1999.

We have an above ground 12,000 gal pool with plactic liner so I plan on using the pool water for everything. If I have to drink it, I will boil it and then put it through a Pur Plus filter.

-- Carol (glear@usa.net), December 08, 1999.

Does the Pur Plus have an activated carbon element to it? If I was going to drink pool water I would drain the pool, scrub thoroughly, repaint with food grade paint, refill with tap water and use noting but chlorine on it. For drinking I'ld pre-filter it (coffee filter), disinfect it, and run it through plenty of activated charcoal. If you have any doubts, you can just use the pool water in a solar still which will kill and germs andallow toxins to boil off or remain.

-- Ken Seger (kenseger@earthlink.net), December 08, 1999.

Standard pool chemicals are toxic if taken internally, and WILL KILL YOU. Not today, and not tomorrow... But drink enough of it and you're DEAD. And so are your CHILDREN (much sooner than YOU).

As Clint would say.... "Do ya feel lucky...? Well, DO YA??!"

-- Dennis (djolson@cherco.net), December 08, 1999.

I've drained my 23,000 gal pool. Was planning on using pool paint. Maybe the paint designed for pools is not what I need? Worse case, will run the pool water through distiller. Any suggestions on what paint to use and if I should stabilize or use chlorine. After 20 years of "dealing" with this pool,the water chemistry still baffles me. Also, should I try to maintain a specific PH. I've put a lot of time over the years into maintaining this monster...now its time for it to maintain me....Any suggestions appreciated.

-- Larry (Rampon@cyberramp.net), December 08, 1999.

I have the same situation as Carol, except we have a spa. This past summer we drained it, cleaned & covered w/2 layers of clear heavy duty plastic & will fill same w/garden hose very shortly & cover w/new spa cover. This spa holds 800 gal. & we plan to use it for washing clothes, flushing toilets (live on top of a hill, plan on gravity working for a while at least). Have saved over 500 2 liter bottles, over 100 2-1/2 gal. distilled water in the past year & half. We can use the spa water to refil/after filtering any empty liter/gal bottles as time goes by as well. In my last home with a pool in No. CA they treated the water with gases & warned not to use same for several hours after treating/filtering etc., I wouldn't drink pool water. Last summer they carted my neighbor off to the hospital, he was treating his own pool & was over comed by the chemicals, when opening the lid off.

-- Judy (Dodgeball@spa.com), December 08, 1999.

According to some info I read on the net, the problem with pool water is due to the algicides used in treatment. I've been trying to convince some relatives that this may be a great time to drain the pool & refill it, using the hypoclorite bleach treatment only & forgoing the algicides.

Remember to plan redundancies. If there is a fire threat, and your pool or pond water if needed, it becomes a resource for the fire fighters.

Get a good filter, and plan back ups.

-- flora (***@__._), December 08, 1999.

Larry, if you can run it through a distiller you don't have to worry about anything. But boy, that takes a lot of energy, unless you are talking about a solar still. hmmmm..... Make the whole pool one big solar still. Float a bucket with strings to keep it positioned under a well placed weight on a cover that is above the water of the pool. hmmm... And then I had another thought, probably won't work because of the size, you could (?) line the pool with plastic. Ahem... Probably can't find food grade plastic that BIG or WIDE! Still try to find food grade paint... Back to less exciting stuff. I would feel very comfortable drinking ANYTHING (except sea water) that has been first through the Kearney water filter (see Nuclear War Survival Skills by Cresson Kearney published by http:\\www.oism.org ) then run that through some coffee filters, run that through a Katadyn or Berkfield (or treat with chlorine and iodine) then run through several activated charcoal filters (like one of those 3 stage under the sink filter but with all three stages) using their best ($) charcoal filter. What doesn't get adsorbed by the Kearney gets absorbed by the carbon. I would feel comfortable drinking that!!!!

I will say this, while the human body is fragile in some respects, we are pretty tough and people survived, lived well and prospered in rather harsh conditions that weren't OSHA and EPA approved.

You know the more I think about that pool = solar still idea the more I like it. Might require dropping the pool level a bit so you don't have to build up the sides, it would require some sand bagging to keep the plastic at enough tension to keep it above the water enough.

-- Ken Seger (kenseger@earthlink.net), December 08, 1999.

Ken...a stroke of genius! I'll work on refining that idea. I was concerned also about "food grade" paint. The pool is plaster with a few thin spots. Don't know whether to replaster, paint or just clean it up real good and refill it. Maybe then just add chlorine without stabilizer. Don't think I have time (or money) now for a replastering job and not sure about the right paint. Hey, here's another idea...I'll make a giant electrolysis machine...separate the hydrogen & oxygen...no, tried that in High School to build a hydrogen engine (did you know hydrogen will blow up!?)

Thanks,Ken. You're not a HAM by any chance? Might have more questions when/if the net goes down. Realy appreciate your time.

-- Larry (Rampon@cyberramp.net), December 08, 1999.

I have a pebble tec pool which I have stopped addding chems to about 2 months ago. I'm wondering if they would have dissapated enough to drink it now if needed?

Anyone know how to test it for drinkability?

-- Jim Smith (cyberax@ix.netcom.com), December 08, 1999.

Jim, the various chemicals added to pools generally are in three categories, chlorine to kill bacteria, which will eventually gas out, clarifiers which tend to be aluminum based and will stay there, period, and anti-fungals which tend to be really nasty toxic junk of various compounds which are probably fairly persistant. If you used my idea of Kearney filter, pre-filter, microfiltration, chlorine and iodine, with a activated charcoal finisher, I would STILL recommend drianing the pool, scrub it out, fill with tap or well water because, the less junk you add to the water, the easier it will be to remove everything else, and your filters will last longer before you have to replace them (act.C) or rebuild them (Kearney). P.S. you can pour water back and forth to remove some of the chlorine, it'll make you activated chrcoal last longer.

Please note that the Kearney filter was designed to remove radioactive contamination and does not kill pathologic organisms.

-- Ken Seger (kenseger@earthlink.net), December 08, 1999.

There's no easy answer to this question because it depends on what exactly is in your pool water.

In my book I give extensive details on how to maintain a pool without using the maintenance chemicals that pose a problem in using the pool as an emergency drinking water supply and that really is the best way to go. I'll include a piece of that section here:

After that I'll tell you what you can do to use the pool water as-is so far as I've been able to find out.

---------------------------------- Pool Chemicals

There are two major concerns when it comes to using swimming pools as a potable water source. The first is the microbial life the water might contain. If the pool is being properly maintained this is likely to be a very small concern and easily rectified, but it should not be overlooked. Water disinfection is covered below [not in this excerpt]. The other concern is the chemicals used to maintain the pool. The primary substances of interest are chlorine stabilizers, particularly those containing cyanuric acid, algaecides containing copper and any pool chemical containing bromine. Of lesser hazard, but still undesirable is any chemical or mechanism that introduces high levels of salt (sodium chloride) into the pool water. A careful reading of the label, particularly the active ingredient listing, will tell you what's in a particular product.

Cyanuric acid is used as a stabilizer for chlorine in pools to slow evaporative loss from sun exposure. It is normally used in concentrations of 30-80 parts per million (ppm), but at levels of 100 ppm it begins to take on carcinogenic (cancer causing) properties. Since the water has a dual role of both swimming and drinking it is best not to use any pool product that contains this substance. After all, drinking water laden with it will expose you to a great deal more of it than would merely swimming in it and occasionally gulping a mouthful. The only way to lower cyanuric acid levels is to dilute it by adding new water to the pool, possibly several feet of it. Naturally, by foregoing the use of cyanuric acid stabilizers the rate of chlorine evaporation will be higher than if you had used it. The bottom line is you must choose between having to use (and buy) more chlorine and using a potential carcinogen in your emergency drinking water supply.

Copper based chemicals are typically used as algaecides to keep pools from turning green or brown in warm summer weather or to reclaim one that already has. Copper reaches its toxicity level in relatively low concentrations and the World Health Organization has set its maximum limit at one (1) ppm. Unfortunately, most readily available test kits do not begin to detect high copper levels until it has already reached the maximum limit or above. Like cyanuric acid above, occasionally swallowing a mouthful of pool water gives little exposure, but consistently drinking pool water most certainly does. For this reason, algaecides containing copper compounds should not be used. Regular skimming of the pool water and brushing of the walls, ladders and any other place that algae might gain a foothold is the best method of controlling it. Brushing disrupts the viscous slime coating of the algae cells and allows the chlorine to get in and do its work.

A chemical alternative to copper is to use a colloidal silver based algaecide, one such is sold under the brand name of "Silver Algaedyn" and is EPA approved for use in pools. Thirty two ounces will serve to kill algae in 20,000 gallons of water.

In swimming pools bromine is mostly used as an algaecide, but in hot tubs, spas and jacuzzis it commonly replaces chlorine since it is much more resistant to heat and does not have a detectable odor in hot water the way chlorine does. I have not yet found any solid information on maximum limits on bromine, but I DO NOT recommend drinking it in any quantity. My reason for this is that in the dozens and dozens of sources of information on water disinfection I have found, NOT ONE has mentioned bromine for use in potable water. This should be a clear warning. Swimming in it is one thing, drinking large quantities of it is another thing altogether.

Bromine presents a special problem for use of pools for potable water. It does not evaporate the way chlorine does, nor does it combine with other substances and become unavailable for later activity. In fact, the very next time chlorine is added to the pool the free chlorine will oxidize the spent bromine back into elemental bromine and it is the chlorine that becomes inactive. Thus, once bromine has been added to a pool the pool will always have bromine in it. Some of the better pool test kits will measure bromine levels. If you are not certain of the history of the chemicals used in your pool then you should test the water using a kit that will show bromine levels after the next time you shock the pool.

There's only one solution to the bromine problem and that is to drain the pool, scrub it out with muriatic acid, then trisodium phosphate (follow your pool maintenance instructions carefully here) and refill with fresh water. A gallon of acid in five gallons of water and a couple of ounces of dishwashing detergent such as Dawn as the scrubbing solution will suffice. A hard stripping is not necessary. The TSP after will neutralize any remaining acid and remove any oils that have accumulated. Don't neglect your filter while you're at it and all plumbing pipes should be flushed. This all requires a lot of elbow grease and even more water, but it's the only way that I know of to eliminate the bromine.

Salt build up will typically not be a problem in pools unless you fill them with water containing high levels of salt to begin with, particularly if you haven't changed the water in a long time. There are also pool chlorinators that use salt as its feedstock to derive chlorine from and they can put quite a lot of salt in the water, enough even to be able to taste it. This is not recommended.

There are dozens of pool maintenance products available on the market some of which have active ingredients other than the ones mentioned above. As a general rule the ONLY chemicals I would use in a pool that I might need to drink serious quantities of water from are:

Chlorine, either calcium hypochlorite (HTH or similar brand), laundry bleach (plain sodium hypochlorite, typically 5.25%) or other form of plain, unstabilized chlorine. For shocking, disinfecting and oxidizing combined chlorine compounds.

Muriatic acid. For lowering pH levels. Be sure to use all acid precautions.

Baking soda or soda ash. For raising pH levels and/or increasing total alkalinity.

Water clarifier. The polymeric types are typically easy to filter out. There is one brand, Robar Super Blue, that claims to be EPA approved for use in drinking water with one ounce treating 5,000 gallons of water. There may be others as well, but read the label carefully. Clarifiers such as these may be a good idea if your pool filter is not the best at removing the really small particles.

Alum. A flocculent used in municipal water treatment. In turbid water is causes particles too small to be easily filtered out to coalesce into larger clumps which then either settle out on their own or can be more easily caught in filters. Seldom needed.

Sequestriant chemicals. For chemically binding certain metals and compounds, like copper, to make their particle sizes large enough to catch in the filter. Removing them can prevent staining. They must be used in advance of any possible crisis as they require as much as several weeks of running the pump and a fine filter such as diatomaceous earth to remove the particles. Also seldom needed.

Excerpted from The Prudent Pantry: Your Guide to Building a Food Insurance Program. Copyright 1999 Alan T. Hagan ---------------------------

If you just have to use the pool water as-is the best I can tell you is to either distill it (an energy intensive proposition) or try to find a filter that will take out what needs to be removed. There are some NSF (National Sanitation Foundation - http://www.nsf.org) rated filters that will remove most of the copper but I've never found anything that claims to remove the cyanuric acid. The only thing I can suggest there is to call the technical service departments of some filter manufacturers and discuss the matter with them. These pool chemicals are not the kind of thing typically found as water contaminants and the filters may not have been tested with them. Some searching and reading on the NSF site will give you leads on the likely filter manufacturers to investigate. Believe it or not, Amway makes one of the best. These will all be under-the-sink or whole-house filters and not camping filters. The camping type filters are not really up to the job of doing this kind of chemical removal.

A reverse osmosis set up might do the trick but there are certain low molecular weight chemicals RO does not work well with.

What you really need to do before doing anything is to read the labels of all of your pool chemicals closely to see what you've been using and then test the water to see how much of what is actually there. You'll need a good test kit to do this with. Taylor makes an excellent kit for the purpose.


The Prudent Food Storage FAQ, v3.5


-- A.T. Hagan (athagan@sprintmail.com), December 09, 1999.

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