Wildfires and Swimming Pools

Once again, wildfires rage across Southern California with devastating fury. To say they are a disruption would be an understatement. We sincerely hope your homes and communities are safe. But even if you are not in eyesight of the flames or smoke, there are good chance swimming pools will be affected in the region. Debris can travel many miles, and smoke can travel hundreds of miles. Even if a home is not touched by the flames, there is likely to be a recovery and clean-up process once the flames are finally snuffed out.

We at Orenda have been receiving an abnormally large amount of calls, emails and facebook messages asking questions about how to recover their pools after the wildfires. So to better understand this, let’s start with the facts.

Ash and debris need to be cleaned out

wildfire1Ash, soot and other debris that is created from the wildfires can go airborne and travel in the wind. If it gets in your pool, this debris either needs to be filtered or vacuumed out of the pool. There are no shortcuts to this, as physically cleaning the pool will be the best way to get large particles out of the water. Furthermore, fire debris can contain organic carbon, phosphorus, and nitrogen. These are micronutrients for algae and other living organisms, and can potentially create a phosphate and a nitrate problem for your pools. The ash will also tend to be more alkaline, which can cause the pH of the water to increase. This debris is great for gardening, but not for our pools.

Filtering and vacuuming the pool will dramatically improve any chemical treatment you follow it up with. Again, we strongly advise against any shortcuts to actually cleaning the pool. We also suggest cleaning the deck around the pool, perhaps with a garden hose to clear debris off the deck that may otherwise find its way into the pool after you leave.

Flame retardants can contain phosphates and sulfates

According to some sources we found online, the flame retardants that are commonly used to fight wildfires can be comprised of up to 10% fertilizer (like ammonia phosphate and sulfate ions). The mixture is dropped on the fires from planes and helicopters and creates a sticky solution that is designed to help “smother” the flame until it can be better controlled. These retardants can also travel in the wind and could potentially get in your pool…but probably only if you’re relatively close to the blaze.

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Fire retardants dropped from helicopters are loaded with phosphates. If your pool looks like this, draining and refilling is probably the best option. Image Credit: AP – Kent Porter

Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to not be in the line of fire, and you’re far enough to be safe from the wildfires. You’re probably already aware that having a pool in the backyard means your water is fair game for firefighting helicopters. Consider that the vessels these helicopters tow are constantly flying over the worst of the wildfires. Ash, smoke, and whatever else is rising from the flames can be on the vessel that dips in your pool to capture water. Sure, there are enough pools in Southern California that yours is not likely to be drawn from. But if not, there’s a good chance that helicopter’s water vessel shared some ash and debris with your water.

Smoke and ash travel

Unlike the flame retardant, the smoke and airborne particles can travel a long way from where the fire is being contained. It is not uncommon for this smoke to travel hundreds of miles—and depending on how high it rises, it can be thousands of miles. So, if you’re in the general vicinity of a wildfire it would be safe to assume your pool is being affected in some way. Just because you’re not in the direct line of danger does not mean your pool is not being affected. In the case of an otherwise clean looking pool, we suggest testing water for phosphates and nitrates anyway. These things may go unseen but can impact your pool chemistry. We suggest you err to the side of caution and test your water for these micronutrients.

Wildfires will continue

As wildfires seem to be a more common occurrence and the winds are blowing, this reality is something that has to be managed. You can expect these wildfires to happen year after year. All the ash and debris that settles in our pools create a perfect environment for chemical inefficiencies and stress on equipment. As you know from reading the Orenda Blog, phosphates and nitrates are micronutrients for all living things…including algae and bacteria. Wildfires can drop an all-you-can-eat buffet of micronutrients in a pool, so be prepared.

All that being said, along with proper circulation and filtration, some Orenda products can aid in the cleanup process. Our CV-600 Enzyme Water Cleaner will help speed up the cleanup process by managing the non-living organics falling into the pool. Our PR-10,000 Phosphate Remover Concentrate can handle the baggage of the excess phosphorus finding its way to the water. If you still have particles that you need help cleaning up, you can try CE-Clarifier too. But nothing will replace physically cleaning the pool and filters.

Good luck out there, and if the blaze is headed your way, don’t wait…be safe and evacuate.

The CDC’s Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) Update

The CDC’s Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) has been updated

“New: Specifies that numerous pool chemicals (stabilizers, pool-grade salt, clarifiers, flocculants, defoamers, and pH adjustment chemicals) must meet either NSF/ANSI Standard 50 or NSF/ANSI Standard 60, and/or have a U.S. EPA FIFRA registration. (5.7.3)”

More from NSF.org:

nsf international, Orenda chemicals, NSF/ANSI-50, NSF Standard 50, NSF Standard 60, NSF certificationSpecifically, the code states that treatment chemicals must be certified, listed and labeled to either NSF/ANSI 50 or NSF/ANSI 60 by an ANSI-accredited certification organization, and/or have a U.S. EPA FIFRA (the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act) registration and be used only in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.”

This is a big deal for the health and safety of commercial swimming pools.

What is the MAHC? And what is NSF?

The Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) is a set of recommended standards and guidelines for the aquatics industry from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The MAHC is a code that can be adopted in whole or part by state or local governments, and is designed to help guide local governments in creating aquatics codes to prevent health and safety-related problems in recreational water.

The NSF, on the other hand, is a global independent organization that writes standards, tests and certifies products for the water, food, health sciences and consumer goods industries. NSF International has a committee of manufacturers, designers, scientists and other subject-matter experts who vote on what the standards should be, then the NSF goes out and tests products to see whether or not they comply with those agreed-upon standards. The MAHC just recognized that NSF-50 is a standard worth meeting to be considered safe for commercial pools.

Why have standards for pool chemicals?

Without a credible, neutral third party like NSF evaluating products for quality and safety, manufacturers could sell almost anything. For swimming pools, bathers are exposed to pool chemicals not only by accidental ingestion (swallowing some pool water), but absorption through skin. Human exposure to pool chemicals is a health and safety issue, and the MAHC recognizes that.

Our food is regulated by the FDA, and manufacturers are required to put a table of ingredients, nutritional facts and allergen information on packaging. Household chemicals are regulated by the EPA, and are required to put such certifications on their labels. The CDC is now specifying commercial swimming pool chemicals need to be held to a similar standard of quality and safety.

There are three types of certification mentioned in the new MAHC update:

Swimming pool chemicals being used in commercial pools must have at least one of those certifications. Let’s briefly cover each of these standards.

NSF/ANSI Standard 50

NSF-50 is the recreational water safety standard for equipment and chemicals. Like other standards from NSF International, the standards are created and voted on by manufacturers and experts in the industry. The NSF then tests products with intense scrutiny to see if the products meet the standard. The registered trademark NSF® mark is then put on the label of such products that meet the standard.

If a product with the NSF® mark is tested by the NSF, and it fails to meet the standard, the manufacturer is liable for penalties and can lose the NSF certification. For swimming pool chemicals, an example of this could be changing the chemical formula without telling NSF, and having the new formula tested and certified. Perhaps it could be watered down to a point where it no longer works like it is supposed to, or a harmful additive is blended in.

NSF International is a widely accepted organization that provides independent testing. It’s credibility is now recognized by the CDC. So much so, that it is on par with the EPA.

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Every single Orenda product meets NSF/ANSI Standard 50.

NSF/ANSI Standard 60

NSF-60 is the drinking water safety standard for equipment and chemicals. Compared to NSF-50, NSF-60 is a more rigorous health and safety standard to meet, given that it’s for drinking water. Any chemicals or equipment used to treat drinking water must meet the NSF-60 standard. Calcium Hypochlorite is one example of a pool chemical also treats drinking water, and depending on the brand, cal hypo may already be certified to NSF-60.

Orenda’s enzyme products (CV-600/700CE-ClarifierCE-SpaSPA-500) meet NSF/ANSI Standard 60.

EPA FIFRA Registration

Any product that claims it can kill/sanitize/disinfect anything, it must be registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This is required under the US Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). EPA Registration is not required for speciality chemicals that do not make such claims. Products such as phosphate removers, enzymes, clarifiers, flocculants and pH adjustment chemicals do not claim to kill anything, so the EPA does not need to be involved.

If you notice, on the label of algaecide and chlorine products, there is an EPA registration number printed on it. Without that printed registration number, no ‘killing claims’ can be made.

No Orenda products have (or need) EPA FIFRA Registrations, because Orenda does not manufacture any sanitizing chemicals. We have no algaecides or any product that kills anything.


In commercial swimming pools, the MAHC now specifies pool treatment chemicals must be NSF/ANSI 50 or 60 certified (or EPA Registered) and appropriately labeled as such. This MAHC update encourages non-certified chemicals to either get certified, or stay out of recreational water. As we said at the beginning, this is a big deal for the health and safety of swimming pools.

Every Orenda Product is, always has been, and always will be certified to a minimum of NSF/ANSI Standard 50. To us, it’s the right thing to do, and we are pleased that the MAHC has officially recognized the importance of setting health and safety standards for pool chemicals.

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Does My Pool Guy Need A Contractor’s License?

Guest Author: Originally published August 12, 2016 by Javier Payan

In the State of California, a contractor’s license, which is issued by the California State Licensing Board or CSLB, a contractor’s license is not required to clean pools. The reason for this is that, in California, a contractors license is required if a job or project costs $500.00 or more. So as long as your pool guy is not charging you $500.00 or more to clean your pool, a license is not required. Now, if that same pool guy installs new equipment or does repairs that exceed $500.00, then a license is required by the CSLB In my experience most pool guys do equipment repairs and or equipment installation, therefore they should be licensed.

The CSLB is under the Department of Consumer Affairs, the consumer agency which regulates business in California. This is the part of the state government that is looking out for the consumer.


Do you know who is in your back yard? If they have a contractor’s license, they have been background checked.

What is required to obtain a pool contractor’s license?

So should your pool guy have a contractor’s license? I would always say yes, even if he/she does not do jobs over $500.00. My reasoning is this: in order for a contractor or business to obtain a license from the CSLB,

1) an application needs to be submitted and approved,

2) a test that covers basic business law and another test that covers the contractor’s related trade must be passed,

3) a fee has to be paid to the CSLB,

4) each contractor has to submit fingerprints to be kept on file with the CSLB,

5) a background check needs to be passed,

6) no outstanding debts such as child support or spousal support must come up,

7) a criminal background check must be passed, etc.

Benefits of a background check

Sounds like a lot of hoops to have to jump through. However, when you deal with a licensed contractor, all these items must have had to be met.

Remember, all this is the efforts of the Department of Consumer Affairs trying to help the public screen people who will enter your home or property to do business with you.

Lets ask the question again. Does my pool guy need to have a contractor’s license? No, but he really should. Without one, you really do not know who you are allowing onto your property. You can look up the licensing status of each contractor on the CLSB website, www.cslb.ca.gov

About the Author: Javier Payan owns Payan Pool Service in San Diego, CA. He and his team manage hundreds of residential pools and insist upon doing things the right way. Javier knows that with his contractor’s license, he is doing everything legally and ethically, paying taxes and keeping records. Unlicensed workers may not be. Here’s a video of us sitting down with Javier for a Customer Spotlight.