Copper Ionizers

Discussion in 'Water Features' started by jp14, Feb 17, 2011.

  1. jp14

    jp14 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 24

    Lately I have been seeing the latest and greatest algae killers being heavily marketed as the cure all for algae in ponds. Not only that, but I have come across many contractors/installer's websites that promote the use of these copper ionizer products (produced by a variety of manufacturers). A few years ago something similar was being pushed that was essentially a copper bar you dropped in the pond and it would release ions that would control algae. My research has shown both these products originally got their start in swimming pool maintenance.

    My question is this: Based on the research I have done about koi/goldfish and their ability to tolerate copper, why is there no outcry to put a stop to these products? From what I have found, a sub-lethal level of copper can range from .02 - .2 ppm of copper. The instructions I stumbled across for these ionizers recommend you adjust the unit until you get a measurement of .25 ppm in your pond. The figure reported by other sources call for a range of copper from .1 - .3 ppm to control algae, depending on the varieties present.

    Further compounding the problem is the adjustability of the unit and the complicated relationship between pH, buffering and copper concentrations. I am no chemist and there is always more to learn about the products we use in our ponds but I simply cannot see why anyone would risk using such a product in ponds that house koi or goldfish when the potential for harm is so great? Am I missing the boat here or does someone have a reasonable explanantion why these things are safe?

    Thank you
  2. tadpole

    tadpole LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,221

    I am in full agreement and have questioned the use of such products myself.I suspect that the outcry will only come when enough pondkeepers' fish start showing signs of copper toxicity. I would like to think that any responsible contractor would thoroughly investigate any product that may alter the chemistry of the water before recommending it to a customer. The manufacturer is always going to fall back on the caveat "when used properly" to cover their Six.
    When I originally saw this product advertised and read how it functioned, my immediate thought was that a copper test would be required BEFORE this unit was installed as most water will likely have a trace level of copper. I once had a customer that killed all of his Koi in 3 ponds by switching to well water without testing it first. It contained toxic levels of copper.
    As you mentioned, copper in very low concentrations is lethal, but even lower concentrations will cause health problems in fish.
    Another algae control device? that is also gaining prominence in the marketplace is one that utilizes ultra-sound. I question the safety of these devices also. One manufacturer claims that this product will not only control algae but will also destroy biofilm, which is the true base of the Food Web in Freshwater ecology. Why would anyone want to destroy this is beyond me. I have written directly to a couple of these manufacturers questioning the benefits of a product that, by their own admissions, would disrupt the normal natural processes in an aquatic environment while still claiming that the product' use is safe for aquatic life. (Seems to be blatantly contradictory). I have yet to receive and answer, and frankly, don't expect one.
    Until we contractors take the time to properly educate our customers on the preventive measures that can be taken to maintain a balanced, algae-free pond and explaining to them why these measures are necesary, there will, sadly, always be a market for Wonder Cure products and devices.
    Remember the words of P.T. Barnum.
  3. tadpole

    tadpole LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,221

    Just wanted to add this excerpt from an article by Norm Meck, a well respected authority on Koi keeping.

    "There are many so-called algicides on the market (and many more not available in the U.S. due to environmental regulations). Most of those available are copper based. Although those containing chelated copper may be less toxic to fish, it has been shown that the long-term effect of copper build-up in Koi is a problem. Dosages are critical. Too much will kill the fish; too little will not do anything (except maybe long term side effects to the Koi). I cannot overemphasize: BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL OF ANYTHING YOU PUT INTO YOUR POND! "
  4. jp14

    jp14 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 24

    In response to the comment made about contractors taking the time to educate customers about how to properly maintain and keep their pond in balance, I will go one step further and say that first contractors need to understand how to do just that. Products such as ionizers and ultra sonic algae killers wouldn't be an issue if they weren't being installed and promoted by contractors. When those who claim to be knowledgeable are the ones pushing a specific product, it lends credibility to even a questionable product.

    So far nothing I have come across justifies the use of copper in a koi or goldfish any level or concentration. It seems to me that the marketing of ponds/water gardens depends on the myth of maintenance free enjoyment and thus any product that can promote and help achieve that feeling of no maintenance is accepted by customers and contractors alike as long as someone will assure us the product is safe. But do we really want to take the word of the manufacturer of these products when there is so much data available that says copper is not safe for fish? For me, it always comes down to the simple fact of whether each contractor is willing to think for themselves and ask important questions or if they just want to follow along with whatever myth they have been told as long as they can make money from it.

    In response to the other post about algaecides, it brings to mind something that happened to one of my customers. At a trade show the customer visited my booth and asked about some string algae growth on his waterfall during the winter months. My response was to physically remove the algae and wait until spring to take any other action. That wasn't the answer he wanted to hear so he visited another booth at the show and asked for their opinion.

    When I came to service the pond in the spring, he had no koi in the pond. I asked what happened and he mumbled something at first and then finally told me what happened. The "other" company told him to treat the string algae with a cocktail of bleach and copper sulfate and that would take care of the algae. It did...along with killing all his koi. My point here is that knowledge or the lack of knowledge is what does the majority of damage in our industry.

    There are so many products on the market that I can understand the blanket approach to label them all as unnecessary or harmful. Yet in the hands of someone willing to educate themselves on how a specific product works and interacts in their specific pond environment, some products have merit. To label them all as harmful is just as bad as labeling them all as useful. It comes down to the amount of work we are willing to do in educating ourselves, asking questions and doing the proper research.

    In some ways I view some of these products like medications...they can solve alot of problems but they also can create problems due to side effects. We need to learn how to make a case by case assessment of what each pond needs and then teach the customer how to make good choices in keeping things balanced. But to throw all "products" under the bus isn't the answer as I have heard many contractors doubt the need for dechlorinators because they are just another "chemical" being sold. Of course if we had a way to test and verify the merits/performance/side effects of all products being marketed in our industry, then we would be onto something.
  5. tadpole

    tadpole LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,221

    Ditto!!! Very well put.
  6. STL Ponds and Waterfalls

    STL Ponds and Waterfalls LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,174

    After reading many many different myths and theories I'm glad to say I'll keep doing it the natural way like nature intended. After last year spending many dollars on algaecides and other snake oils I stopped and I stopped using this stuff on my customers ponds. My theory is to just let it go and let nature run it's course with a little human persuasion a little at a time.

    Let me explain a little as best I can since I'm not a biologist, chemist, or mother nature. I grew up in the creeks and ponds in Fox Creek MO and I've alway's wondered how the creeks and ponds were alway's clean. What I mean by clean is clear water and mostly free of algae. This doesn't mean that the water was neccesarly healthy but I'm sure it is since there is plenty of life in the water. I came to the conclusion it is because of the natural flushing of the natural waterway's. The only chemicals I will use anymore is dechlorinators, and liquid bacteria (which isn't exactly a chemical). My way of treating backyard ponds is to keep as many plants in the pond as possible. Try to keep them somewhat shaded within reason. Partial cleanouts with regular water changes. Last but not least is to keep the debris down and to keep the fish population within check.

    This isn't a cure for most people that want instant gratification, but I'm trying to teach my cutomers to enjoy a pond as a hobby that takes weekly and sometimes daily maintenance. This is where we have to teach our clients if they want an aquarium, build them an aquarium, if they want a pond build a pond. If they want a waterfeature for the sights and sounds build them a pondless waterfall.
  7. Pondmeister

    Pondmeister LawnSite Member
    Messages: 19

    It's great to simulate mother nature, but it's a ***** trying to explain to a pond owner with a pool mentality about the natures approach.:dizzy:

    It comes down to education....for us as well as the customers!

    Look at natural ponds treated with the copper sulphates for years, hmmm, what's that egg smell?;)

    Flow, Filtration and Aeration

    I go back to my pool and spa days of "when in doubt spill it out and start over"
    Adding more and more "chem's" adds to to two things $$ and sediment
  8. tadpole

    tadpole LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,221

    I just received a 2011 catalog from one of the distributors that I deal with.In it is a full page devoted to an 'Ionizer' manufactured by one of the major manufacturers of Pond equipment and supplies. In the ad text is this statement-"The mineralized water is not only safe for animals and plants, but actually promotes healthy living conditions in the water."

    At the bottom of the same page next to the listing for the replacement anode for this unit is a listing for Copper Test Strips.

    In other words, the product is 'Safe', but you damn well better test the water to make sure.

    Brings to mind the tag line of an old public service ad-"It's not nice to fool Mother Nature".
  9. jp14

    jp14 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 24

    Nice way to promote a product...use it first and test later. Brings to mind that chlorine is added to tap water to "promote healthy living conditions" but none of us would let our fish be exposed to it long term. Still baffles me why anyone would do so with copper.
  10. tadpole

    tadpole LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,221

    Interesting that you should mention Chlorine in tap water. Research has shown that, although it may control free floating pathogenic organisms, it has little or no effect on those that may exist in any biofilm on the interior pipe walls.
    This is evident from the following excerpt:

    "Roger Anderson and his colleagues at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control took plastic pipes and filled them with water contaminated with two strains of Pseudomonas. After allowing the bacteria to incubate for eight weeks, the scientists emptied out the infested water and doused the pipes with germ-killing chemicals, including chlorine, for seven days. They then refilled the pipes with sterile water and periodically sampled the "clean" water. The team reported that both strains survived in the chemically treated pipes and reestablished colonies there." (Copyright © 2011 Edstrom Industries, Inc)

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