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Thread: Couple of questions (burning eyes and Borax allergy)

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    Default Couple of questions (burning eyes and Borax allergy)

    Not sure if this is the forum for this, but if not, please move it to the appropriate forum.

    My son has alot of allergies and very sensitive skin, which I have to consider when I decide how to manage our pool. Here are my questions related to that:

    1) I am experiencing some eye irritation when I swim in my pool . My kids and wife are not really. I know that pH can cause eye irritiation. My pH is ~ 8.0. Is that eye enough to cause eye irritation? I am awaiting delivery of my Taylor test kit (eta Monday or Tuesday) to do the final balancing, but I did add a little dry acid to try to bring it back down slowly and plan to add a little each day over the weekend and test using the $8 test kit from Walmart. Definitely taking it cautious so may not make much headway each day. Just wondering if there are any other factors I should be considering.

    2) My son seems to have an allergy to Borax. My wife has tried to use it on his laundry a couple of times, and he broke out into a rash. I have read about the benefits of borates and would like to be able to use Borax to raise pH (I dropped a bunch of cash on the pool store type and would rather not have to do that ongoing). My question is this....is 30 - 50 ppm of borates anywhere near the concentration that you might find in a washing machine?
    13,500 gallon AGP. Sand Filter. Swimmax 11KW Electric Heater.

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    Default Re: Couple of questions (burning eyes and Borax allergy)

    I would think that 8 pH would definitely cause eye irritation.
    ~18K gal IG Gunite -- 1-HP Pentair Whisper Flo with new 2-speed motor. Intermatic T1000 Dual Speed Timer -- Tagelus 60D sand filter
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    Default Re: Couple of questions (burning eyes and Borax allergy)

    The pH definitely needs to come down, the problem is most test kits can not discern pH above 8.0, so yours could actually be far higher than 8 and you wouldn't know. 8+ pH can cause scaling, which is unsightly and can cause problems especially in your heater. I'm not so sure it would cause eye irritation, though. This is something you should read: http://www.poolsolutions.com/tips/er...uidelines.html . Near the bottom of that document is specifically talks about high pH and eye irritation. My guess is that you have something else going on, perhaps some combined chlorine from fighting algae?

    Here's an excerpt from the article:
    The grandfather of swimming pool eye irritation studies, a study of Yale University swimmers by Dr. Eric Mood, published in 1951 actually shows that eye irritation is lower at pH 8 than at pH 7. Later studies show that chlorine, chloramines, salinity all play a role in determining eye irritation.
    What are all the readings you got with your walmart kit? Combined chlorine can definitely irritate eyes (does your pool "smell" like chlorine?), but we can only guess without a full set of test results.


    As for borax, if he's allergic I would not do it. From what I've read I don't think you can remove borates without draining. The recommended washing machine dose for borax is 1/2 cup (3.6oz) to ~40gal which I believe is about 75ppm.... IF I calculated it right.
    rectangle 11.5K gal IG concrete pool;; 125sf cartridge filter; 2hp 1 speed pump; K-2006, k-1766; PF:10

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    Default Re: Couple of questions (burning eyes and Borax allergy)

    Thanks for the responses.

    My readings are very tough to be certain of, to be honest. I am not color blind, but both of the strips I started out with use shades of colors that my strips do not seem to really match. The FC, TC, and CH are fairly easy to read, and I think I have a reasonable read on TA, but pH and CYA are unreadable for me. The Walmart kit seems useless for CL readings as it seems to read everything as 5+ (including the tap water I tested it on), however I got good readings on pH (and verified them by using tap water and by adding very small amounts of dry acid to the tap water to force the pH lower.

    Thus, here are my best guesstimates from what I can measure and read:

    FC = 3-5
    TC = 3-5
    pH = ~8.0
    TA = ~100
    CH = ~100
    CYA = 20 - 50

    I am estimating the CYA based on the fact that it seems to read lower than 50 on the strips, but that I have used a dozen or so tri-chlor tabs since opening the pool, so I know there is some CYA in the pool.

    How critical is it to lower pH before Monday or Tuesday? I would like to have real readings and do this right, but if there is a significant risk to my equipment by waiting 2 - 4 days, I will go ahead and assume my numbers are close, and use the Pool Calculator to aim for 7.6, figuring that if I am off a bit, I should still be in the 7.2 - 7.8 range.

    To answer the other questions --
    the pool does not smell like chlorine to me. However, I have been using a solar cover to supplement my heater, and it has a little bit of a chlorine smell when I pull it off. My pool is 15 feet from a line of trees and we get debris from the trees in the pool alot. I skim and vacuum the pool nearly every day and it is clear as a bell, but I would not swear that I get particle. Would the chlorine be working on that stuff at night and the CC not be able to escape until I remove the cover? Would that explain the light chlorine smell on the cover but that there is none later when we are ready to swim?

    (Edited by Watermom to combine both of your posts.)
    13,500 gallon AGP. Sand Filter. Swimmax 11KW Electric Heater.

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    Default Re: Couple of questions (burning eyes and Borax allergy)

    Quote Originally Posted by TarheelFan View Post
    1) I am experiencing some eye irritation when I swim in my pool . My kids and wife are not really. I know that pH can cause eye irritiation. My pH is ~ 8.0. Is that eye enough to cause eye irritation? I am awaiting delivery of my Taylor test kit (eta Monday or Tuesday) to do the final balancing, but I did add a little dry acid to try to bring it back down slowly and plan to add a little each day over the weekend and test using the $8 test kit from Walmart.
    With ANY of the test methods you have, and including the Taylor kits, a reading of 8.0 almost always 8 or ABOVE, not 8.0 exactly. A pH of 8.0 is not usually irritating, but your pool is not necessarily at 8.0. You can sort of tell, once you get the K2006, by doing an acid demand, to pH 7.8, and see how much acid is required.

    But, I would NOT recommend waiting. Go ahead and buy a gallon of muriatic acid, and begin lowering the pool's pH. Read our muriatic acid handling guide, before you use it.


    Quote Originally Posted by TarheelFan View Post
    2) My son seems to have an allergy to Borax. My wife has tried to use it on his laundry a couple of times, and he broke out into a rash. . . . . My question is this....is 30 - 50 ppm of borates anywhere near the concentration that you might find in a washing machine?
    As Kelemvor pointed out, borax levels in your pool WILL approach washing machine borax levels. BUT . . . your son was not in your washing machine (at least, I hope not!)

    I cannot find ANY credible reports of allergic reactions to borax. If they were common, they'd be in the MSDS sheet, but you can read the US Borax version here, and see that that is not the case. I'm not sure how much you have dealt with allergies; hopefully not as much as I have. My older son nearly died when he was 3, due to an acute attack of allergic asthma, and we've dealt with severe true allergies ever since -- I personally gave him allergy (antigen) shots for 5 years. Here are a couple of things that people often forget about finding allergies and particularly, chemical allergies:
    1. It takes VERY careful exclusion of OTHER allergens to determine that an individual is allergic to what they think they are allergic to.
    2. Irritation and allergies are different. For example, chlorine bleach is an irritant, but not an allergen.
    3. People are often not careful to identify the actual chemicals involved. For example, both borax (sodium tetraborate) and perborates (like sodium perborate) are used in laundry. Borax is not much of an irritant, and is apparently not a reported allergen, but sodium perborate is very much an irritant, and may well be an allergen. I found this:
    Fisher's Contact Dermatitis
    By Robert L. Rietschel, Joseph F. Fowler, Alexander A. Fisher
    http://goo.gl/6iA5w

    I couldn't find (at least not quickly) any genuine medical discussion of perborate allergies, but I did find that the CDC reports a medical code for "perborate allergy", which suggests that some doctors at least think there is such a thing: http://goo.gl/yaUMt

    So . . . my guess is that your son is NOT allergic to borax. The simplest case is that your wife used a perborate based "oxygen bleach" that mentioned something like "derived from all natural borax", rather than plain 20 Mule Team brand borax. If she did use borax, then it gets more complicated. There should NOT be any borax remaining, if she used it on the wash cycle, and did a proper rinse. But, you'd have to test, by running a load with ONLY plain-as-possible no-allergy bleach (plain Tide?) plus borax, plus NOTHING else -- no softener in the rinse, no stain spray, no softener towels in the dryer . . . and then see if the rash occurs.

    Bottom line: I really, really doubt that your son is allergic to sodium tetraborate decahydrate . . . which is 20 Mule Team borax. He might be allergic to sodium perborate "Oxygen bleach" and some of the OTHER per-something bleaches are even worse. But if these are being used in the wash cycle, they STILL should be a problem UNLESS they are able to combine with something that carries them through the rinse.

    Once you've solved the wash issue, you can move on to actual testing with borax. I'd just buy a box of borax, put a tablespoon in a cup of warm water, mix it, and then take a Q-tip and dip it. Touch the wet Q-tip to the inside of your son's arm, making a small wet dot . . . and wait. If he doesn't react, you should be good to go. But, you can go a step further, and add a cup of borax to a bath tub, and let him have a bubble bath (dunno his age -- maybe he's beyond that!) in it. If you get no reaction there, use it in your pool!

    You should have liquid Benadryl on hand anyhow (basic first aid for allergic responses), but if you don't, to be safe get some. I can't imagine that a systemic reaction is possible, and not present on the MSDS sheets, but again, I'll simply warn that if there's ANY evidence of a systemic response and ESPECIALLY if there is any difficulty in breathing, take him IMMEDIATELY to an emergency room. (In general, for ANY allergic response that involves breathing difficulty, you are facing a true emergency -- people die from allergy shots in 15 minutes! We keep injectable epinephrine around at all times, and I take it with my Scouts on hiking trips, because I've got a couple of guys that have bee sting allergies. If you EVER encounter such a situation, getting the victim to E-room as quickly as possible is critical -- this is one situation where driving fast is warranted. Check with your doctor, but the best info I have suggests that you give the best form of benadryl available (injectable, liquid, tablets -- in that order of preference) AND if you have injectable epinephrine (Epi-Pen) use that - which gives you about 15 minutes. I've been told that liquid benadryl may reach the system that fast -- but I carry TWO pens or ampules.)

    Once you've ruled out borax, you may want to go back and see what your son IS reacting to, and also try to determine if the reaction is irritation or allergic response. The difference can literally be life and death, since allergic sensitization can continue to the point of triggering anaphylactic reactions like I mentioned above; where as irritant reactions do NOT escalate in that fashion. You should ask your doctor about the rash, to try to determine whether it was irritation or hives (allergic rash). He'll probably want to know whether the rash lined up with the 'contaminated' clothing (irritation more likely) or covered your son's body in areas NOT in contact with the clothing (allergic reaction).

    Quote Originally Posted by TarheelFan View Post
    My readings are very tough to be certain of, to be honest. I am not color blind, but both of the strips I started out with use shades of colors that my strips do not seem to really match. . . . . I got good readings on pH (and verified them by using tap water and by adding very small amounts of dry acid to the tap water to force the pH lower.
    (Get the K-2006!) I think we mention that frequently. The drops based pH readings are probably trustworthy. The high OTO reading in tap water is not necessarily wrong: call your water company (or look online) and see if they are doing monochloramination. If they are, OR if you live VERY close to the treatment plant, chlorine levels greater than 3 ppm are very possible. However, with chloramination, your FREE chlorine levels (DPD) may be zero, while your OTO (yellow) drops may show 5 ppm of TOTAL chlorine.



    Quote Originally Posted by TarheelFan View Post
    However, I have been using a solar cover to supplement my heater, and it has a little bit of a chlorine smell when I pull it off. . . . Would the chlorine be working on that stuff at night and the CC not be able to escape until I remove the cover? Would that explain the light chlorine smell on the cover but that there is none later when we are ready to swim?
    Yes.
    Last edited by PoolDoc; 04-28-2012 at 02:32 PM.

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    Default Re: Couple of questions (burning eyes and Borax allergy)

    Thanks for the thorough response. You guys are great!

    I had some dry acid that I bought before I learned about the BBB method and that there were cheaper ways to go, so I used that and got the pH down to 7.6. I am going to keep an eye on it to see if it stays there, but I think I have that issue under control now. I just wish it was warmer (81 yesterday, 58 today) so I could see if the eye irritation issue is gone.

    I appreciate the detailed information on the Borax allergy. My son is allergic to most things that they test for (all pollen, all grass, all animals except ragweed and dogs) but no food bourne allergies. He also has very sensitive skin, and it is very possible that rather than an allergy to borax, he is simply sensitive to it. It is also possible that there was a secondary component involved with the rash. At the time, using Borax was merely something my wife was trying and not overly important, so we did not really try to verify it. However, I am intrigued by the effects of borates, so I think I will talk to his doctor to see what he thinks and may try something along the lines that you are suggesting. If nothing else, I think I need to know about this allergy in case he goes to a friend's house that has used borates.

    I have already ordered the K-2006C (did so a week ago after reading this and the TFP forums for a day or two) and it should arrive Monday or Tuesday. However, my kids and wife could not wait (since the pool is heated to 84 degrees and we have had several days in the upper 70s and lower 80s) so I opened the pool and have been doing the best with the limited test results that I could get.

    Thanks again!
    13,500 gallon AGP. Sand Filter. Swimmax 11KW Electric Heater.

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    Default Re: Couple of questions (burning eyes and Borax allergy)

    Quote Originally Posted by TarheelFan View Post
    My son is allergic to most things that they test for (all pollen, all grass, all animals except ragweed and dogs) but no food bourne allergies. He also has very sensitive skin, and it is very possible that rather than an allergy to borax, he is simply sensitive to it.
    Sounds like my son. I would STRONGLY recommend that you get an Epi-Pen and liquid Benadryl, learn to use them, and keep them close. Highly allergic individuals can have an anaphylactic reaction to an unexpected allergen -- and the reaction proceeds so rapidly that calling 911 isn't enough! If your son goes into a full-blown anaphylactic reaction, and you don't have epinephrine, he's likely to die before EMT's arrive.

    One of my pet peeves, as a Scoutmaster, is that first aid training today is what I call '911 training' because it presumes all you can usefully do is keep people stable till the EMT's arrive in 15 minutes. But for Scouts, this doesn't work, since we frequently are in places where -- at best -- it's going to be an hour before an EMT touches them (at least, till paratroop-EMTs are available in my area! ), and may be longer. In such situations, an anaphylactic reaction is LIKELY to be fatal. We need to know first aid for what to do, not in the first 15 minutes, but in the first 1 - 4 hours. However, more and more children today have severe allergies, and in those cases, even 15 minutes is too long. The protocol we follow with our Scouts (haven't had to use it, yet, fortunately) is immediate administration of Benadryl on first sign of allergic reaction, and preparing to administer epinephrine. We wait 30 minutes, and if nothing has worsened, we continue. But, if the reaction progresses at all, we proceed with immediate evacuation, and alert 911 to a possible episode (as soon as we are in cell range). That is NOT standard protocol, but it was the best I could work out, after discussing it with a couple of doctors and a paramedic.

    Today's EpiPens are durable, easy to use, and not that expensive, even if your insurance won't cover them. I would VERY strongly encourage you to talk to your doctor about getting one. You may need more, if you hike and go in places where 911 response is LONGER than 15 minutes. It's my understanding that each one is good for about 15 minutes, but that it can take more than 30 minutes for Benadryl to have full effect. So, you might need 3 to cover you, while you got a prescription dose of Benadryl on board. A full response will also include either Zantac or Tagamet. But you can carry all these durably in very small camera bag or belt pack, if you get small bottle of Benadryl, and foil packed Zantac or Tagamet.

    Here are some links:
    How to use an EpiPen
    PubMed epinephrine auto-injector guide

    Practical Guide to Anaphylaxis - AAFP (I hadn't seen this article before -- it sums up a lot of good stuff, so I saved it in my first aid files for my own use.)

    Wiki on Benadryl (diphenydramine

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    Default Re: Couple of questions (burning eyes and Borax allergy)

    Quick update...

    Per my morning test, pH rose to 7.7 today. However, the temp also rose to ~8, so I was able to swim in the pool and spent about 5 hours in or around the pool with no eye irritation at all. Clearly it was the high pH causing me issues. Thanks again for the help on that.

    We have an appointment with my son's allergist tomorrow, so if I find out anything interesting regarding Borax / borate allergies, I'll update here.
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    Default Re: Couple of questions (burning eyes and Borax allergy)

    Quote Originally Posted by TarheelFan View Post
    We have an appointment with my son's allergist tomorrow, so if I find out anything interesting regarding Borax / borate allergies, I'll update here.
    I'd be interested, to hear what you find out.

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    Default Re: Couple of questions (burning eyes and Borax allergy)

    Ask the alergist for an epi-pen prescription.
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