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Chemical Feed Safety

A big liability, often overlooked

Every year in the U.S., thousands of people visit emergency rooms for pool chemical injuries, and the National Institutes of Health says it’s likely many accidents go unreported. 

Injuries can occur because of sensitivity to standard chemical concentrations in pools, but accidental exposure to super-concentrated chemicals from equipment malfunctions or accidental inhalation of fumes are also common causes, according to the institute.

Colby Stratman, business development manager of aquatics for Blue-White in Huntington Beach, California, says one of the biggest problems he comes across when dealing with pool chemical accidents is controllers feeding chemicals into a dead circulation system. 

“Your biggest safety liability or your highest probability of injury is from your chemical feed equipment,” Stratman says. 

Your biggest safety liability or your highest probability of injury is from your chemical feed equipment.”

Colby Stratman, Blue-White

When chemical controllers are feeding chlorine and acid, there is typically a pressure switch that prevents the chemicals from flowing in case the pump gets turned off. If that pressure switch fails, it can be extremely dangerous when there’s no water flowing.

“When they turn that pump back on, it’s going to start pumping water through there and push all that into the pool,” Stratman explains. “And that can cause a huge problem.” 

When liquid chlorine and acid mix, the reaction can culminate in what Stratman describes as similar to mustard gas, underscoring the severity of pressure switch failure — an issue that Stratman says many in the industry aren’t aware of. 

“Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed, investigated and analyzed many incidents over the years,” says Kevin Boyer, chief operating officer for Poolsure in Houston. “These occurrences are more common than many pool pros realize.” 

Stratman says it may not be due to operator negligence. “Either they’re not trained or there’s no preventative maintenance,” he explains. “They may not have that foresight to do the proper preventative maintenance.”

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Anita Minervino, president of Coastal Pure in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, says the unfortunate part of servicing a resort area is the increased likelihood of chemical incidents. “If a local news crew shows up and a stretch of Ocean Boulevard is evacuated, nine times out of 10, [it’s] liquid chlorine bleach mixed with sulfuric acid, causing a hazmat issue,” she says.

Stratman, Boyer and Minervino advocate for more awareness on this issue and believe accidents are largely preventable with proper training and vigilance. 

Minervino says in her team’s experience, pinholes or cracks in the tubes that carry acid and chlorine are most problematic. “Chemical tubes in automatic feeders get brittle and can spray a pinhole worth of chlorine or acid — which is hard to see,” she explains.

To prevent this issue, her team changes out all tubes every 90 days. Chemical feeders with safety interlocks are also used to prevent accidental exposure by shutting down the system during maintenance or malfunctions.

Stratman says he highlights the importance of chemical feeder safety whenever and however he can, but he would like to see the information shared more widely. 

“It’s one of those topics that needs to be spoken about more, not only in publications but in different forums online, and it would be great to see more classes,” Stratman says, suggesting that more pool shows and conferences host workshops that focus specifically on chemical feed and safety. 

“Ultimately, we are an industry built on recreation, and we should expect our patrons and team members to have a positive and safe experience,” Boyer says. “Chemical-related accidents degrade that experience for everyone.”


For pool pros looking to address chemical feed safety, the experts suggest:

  • Communicating to pool operators that leak inspections need to be done daily for feed systems and storage areas. Teaching them how to identify leaks and potential hazards.
  • Implementing daily testing of chlorine and pH levels in the pool.
  • Requiring personal protective equipment for anyone handling chemicals.
  • Always keeping pool chemicals separated. Designating and labeling specific scoops and buckets for mixing and application.
  • In a visible and accessible place, keeping an updated chart of when maintenance occurs and what was done.
  • Having an emergency plan that includes readily accessible PPE kits and pool closure signage.
  • Encouraging industry-standard training like CPO for all operators and technicians.
  • Investing in chemical pumps with built-in safety features.
  • Looking into updating feed lines made of polyethylene to a longer-lasting material like Kynar because the polyethylene pipes can break down and degrade within a year.
  • Installing an alarm to alert the aquatics staff if the recirculation pump shuts down.
  • Installing a device like a safety interlock that automatically stops the feed when there is no or low flow in the system. Safety interlocks should be challenge tested, and the results should be logged every 30 days.
  • Installing a passcode lock or other lockout feature on chemical controllers to prevent untrained people from having access.
  • Publicizing and promoting free industry education products online.

*Many of these practices are mandated for aquatic facilities and commercial pools and are requirements rather than suggestions.

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