Category Archives: Carbonates & PH

PhPill

PH Pills – Making them for support of PH – The pH Pill

VIDEO VERSION PART I

VIDEO VERSION PART II

“pH Pills” Made with safe Plaster of Paris, (details provided) Support pH and Carbonate Alkalinity Against Crash – by supporting carbonates.  Well, it’s been interesting preparing the report on the “pH pill”. Some of the initial (and follow-up) research has yielded some interesting data. I will go through it all for you, from basics to “brass tacks”

NOTE: You could KILL your fish if you add Plaster of Paris to the water as a powder. I have no idea why Plaster of Paris has to be cured to chalky before it’s truly ‘safe’ for fishtanks and ponds.

The “pH pill” is a home-made pill, puck, or chunk, of white chalky material you can toss into the pond or aquarium, and it will slowly dissolve, liberating carbonates, Calcium, Magnesium and gypsum. The dissolution of the “pH pill” increases hardness, alkalinity and more in the water being treated.

It remains to be seen, but some enterprising individuals plan to borrow this technology and incorporate some medications into it for slow infusion into a system. For example, Dimilin (Diflubenzuron) would be ideally suited to this form of dosing.

TRADE SECRET: The “pH pill” is composed of nothing more than pure Plaster of Paris. For the research we did, we used high grade Plaster of Paris purchased at Home Depot. The ingredients are:

C.A.S. Limestone 50%
C.A.S. Gypsum 50%
…with no hardeners or setting agents added. You should be cautious to read the contents label, because some of the plasters-of-paris I saw at hobby shops had stabilizers, binders and hardeners to hasten the set up of the plaster.

Wanna hear something unbelievably stupid? The pundits (who didn’t have ANY idea what CAS stood for) decried this information, saying you don’t want to put Calcium Sulfate in your pond!!!! Remember these are the ‘know-it-all’ ass hats that are saying this. CAS stands for Chemical Abstracts Service. Not calcium sulfate.

There are precautionary statements on the bag, which suggest the dust from this compound can be eye irritant and should not be breathed. The bag weighs twenty five pounds and cost under nine dollars.

We mixed up the Plaster of Paris using regular tap water. Before it had a chance to set, we poured it into cupcake tins, making our initial batch of test-pills the size of small hockey pucks. [Two-and-a-half inches in diameter and one inch thick). It was very difficult to get them out of the pans, so we tried plastic containers the next time and had much better results.
From a friend/hobbyist: 12/19/98 (Yeah old)
“I’m using the pH Pill in my 500 gal. hospital tank (in which I always have trouble keeping the total alkalinity up) and it seems to be working just fine. BTW, a styrofoam egg carton works well to cast the Plaster of Paris into. The resulting puck has good surface area and can be easily broken into various sizes (now have 13 lumps in the tank – seems stable). I will try a little Pam spray as a release agent in my next casting (I’m using an 18 egg carton and Home Depot PP – works well.)” ~SC
Plaster of Paris sets up in less than ten minutes, so if you’re not pouring pretty expediently, you’ll have a chalky, lumpy mess, which will not pour. We found we could make it as thin as we wanted and it would still set up and harden. The more water in your mix, the more shrinkage will occur as it sets up. The quality and performance of the final product is unaffected.
In total; four ponds, and twenty-one aquaria were treated with varying numbers of these “pH pills” and the results have been very good. No toxicity or ill effect was noted in any dosing regimen.
We put whole-pucks into thirty-gallon aquaria, with tropical and coldwater fish, and they worked fabulously, lasting up to seventeen days. The PH of tested systems was always near neutral and best of all, water clarity was enhanced. More on this later.
We put whole pucks into thousand-gallon-ponds and found they dissolved fairly rapidly, but were not adequate to support the pH under heavy loading. In one pond, of twenty two hundred gallons, it took six or eight “pH pills” to support the pH and the pucks lasted nine days. It is now our recommendation that for large ponds, you can mix up a shallow plastic pan full of the Plaster of Paris, then liberate the entire slab from the pan when it is completely dry. The slab is struck in the center (or can be scored for neat breaks) and larger pieces should be used in larger ponds.
My own pond is now being supported by two pieces which are one-and-a-half inch thick and measure six-by-nine inches across the face.
We did notice that the dissolution of the “pH pill” can be slowed by the
addition of other carbonates to the system. When water is pre-treated with Baking Soda or Neutral Regulator, the “pH pills” lifespan is increased.
Placement of the “pH pills” is paramount. They MUST Be employed in the main water flow of the system. This can be either the pulling or pushing segments of the plumbing. For example; in my main system, the chips are used in the skimmer and a slow draw of water ensures their eventual dissolution. In aquariums, if you’re using undergravel filtration, best results are had when you lay the pill on the gravel near the “stacks”. You can even put the “pH pill” in the filter box hanging on the back if you use that type of filter.
There are some precautions concerning the use of “pH pills”.
First, to get good results, you must place the “pH pill” in the main pull or push of the water way as we have already mentioned..

 

 

Second, do not breathe the powder, or allow the dust in your eyes.
Finally, do NOT use the “pH pill” until it is chalky, and bone dry. If it still feels slick or cool to the touch, it may not be “cured” and it MAY comprise a liability to the fish in that condition –  at the very least causing clouding instead of clarifying it. Funny how an extra day of curing works.

When completely dry, the “pH pill” weighs relatively little, and is chalky and dry. When placed in the water, thousands of tiny bubbles will escape it’s surface. This is perfectly normal and will subside once it’s let off its trapped air.
One interesting note on the “pH pill” concerns its composition. The “pH pill” is made of pure limestone (75%) and Gypsum (25%). Dr. Claude Boyd discusses the use of Gypsum to clarify pond water in his book, released through Auburn University entitled “Water Quality in Ponds for Aquaculture“. The book is superb and it’s availability from Auburn is discussed in the resources pages of my textbook, Koi Health and Disease.

In Dr. Boyd’s work, he found that Gypsum was a very effective water clarifier, and we have found this to be true in our own testing of these home made “pH pills”. Dr. Boyd’s book mentions and compares the clearance of certain turbidities with Gypsum so the benefit is not universal, and depends upon the cause of the particular turbidity. The turbidities I have found it to clear most propitiously are suspensions of the pond’s organics and “fines”. I doubt Gypsum’s ability to clear a bacterial haze.

Limestone is nothing more than pure Calcium and Magnesium carbonate. The limestone used in our Home Depot Plaster of Paris is extremely clean-dissolving, unlike agricultural or dolomitic Limestone. The dissolution of the “pH pill” liberates Calcium and Magnesium, which increase water hardness and is beneficial to juvenile fish that can use aqueous Calcium for bone building. The pill also liberates pure
carbonates, which stabilize and actually increase pH. I could not raise the pH of any system tested above 8.3 regardless of how much “pH pill” I used.
To test the higher end safety margins of the home made “pH pill”, I simply put three pucks in a ten gallon facility and had no mortalities among the following species: Goldfish, Koi, Tetras, White’s Tree Frogs, Alligator Snapping Turtles, and Plecostomi.

To close this discussion, I would mention that graphics (pictures) in support of this technology are available at phpill. I encourage you to click over there soon and see the actual plaster used, the pucks we made and the systems tested.
I do not recommend that this technology is a replacement for pH monitoring. It could [unfortunately] evolve that folks are using the “pH pill” and not checking their alkalinity or pH. The assumption would be made that in the presence of a “pH pill” there can be no pH crash and that the pH is optimal. Indeed, depending upon the start-condition of your water, the “pH pill” may be entirely unnecessary or even harmful. [For example, hard water areas].

But in this technology, we do have a back-up means of maintaining a suitable pH for Koi and Goldfish with the simplicity of manufacture, and an element of affordability which make it a treasure. I hasten to assure you that I still check pH, I still use neutral regulators, but I no longer worry that I am going to miss a day of testing and suffer a pH crash. The use of sufficient “pH pill” material, whether used as pucks or slabs, obviates this possibility.

——————————————————————————–
“It turns out that if your system is grossly overloaded, or if you’re retail, the pH Pill may not dissolve fast enough to support the PH against high CO2 – carbonic acid loading. You may either need to use more pieces than the average hobbyist or more work might need to be done to find a carbonate that dissolves more responsively.” ~ Doc Johnson
===DR. ERIK L. JOHNSON ===
“Using plaster of paris other than the one clearly denoted at right is a fool’s way to kill fish. Don’t do it!” ~ Doc Johnson

Stable pH Is Easy

Stable pH Is Easy These Days

The most common cause of fish illness in the “established” aquarium is a sagging, or even “crashed” pH.

This is because literally EVERY biological process in the tank is bringing the pH down.

  • Fish breathe carbon dioxide –> carbonic acid.
  • Plants respire at night –> carbonic acid
  • Decay of fish wastes and bacterial processes –> carbon dioxide –> carbonic acid.

With all that going on, the pH would fall overnight EXCEPT there’s “carbonates” in the water that buffer that. Until the carbonates are “exhausted” then the pH *does* crash overnight.

pH crash
Dead fish. pH was not buffered, and the gravel offered no carbonates, either. Crashed pH.

So what you have to do is supply “carbonates” to the system. And you can do that with several things. I’ll tell you what’s wrong with all of them.

Compounds Which Stabilize pH

Oyster shell – (click) Dissolves too slowly to “fix” anything but really “keeps it there.”

Crushed coral – (click) Dissolves too slowly to “fix” anything but really “keeps it there.”

Neutral Regulator – Works great and “fixes” a crash in time to save fish lives. Contains phosphates which MAY contribute to algae growth in high lighting situations. Limit photoperiod to 8-10 hours a day and you’re golden. (Click to find it)

avoiding a low ph

Baking Soda – Works great and “fixes” a crash in time to save fish lives BUT doesn’t last long at all. No phosphates.

PH Pills – Made of Plaster of Paris. They work great, and last a long time. You can “SEE” whether they’re still there, so you know they’re working. Cheap. (PH PILLS)

Testing pH is simply a measurement of the free hydrogen ions(H+) in a system. pH is measured on a scale of 1-14, anything below 7 being acidic, and anything above 7 being basic. But the pH required for aquatic life ranges between 5.5-8.0. Koi and goldfish can, and do, tolerate a very high pH measurement.

People spend a lot of time and money trying to bring down the pH, but this is unnecessary unless there is also an ammonia accumulation in the system. The toxicity of ammonia is influenced by pH. At higher pH values, ammonia is more toxic. Below a pH of 7.2, most ammonia is ionized to “ammonium” and is far less toxic. This has relevance if you are considering raising the pH in a system with accumulating ammonia.

The toxicity of ammonia is influenced by pH. At higher pH values, ammonia is more toxic.

The pH level impacts fish in several ways. First, if it is too low, a condition inside the fish called “acidosis” results. Symptoms are a loss of appetite and then production of excess slime, as well as isolation, resting on the bottom of the pond, or piping at the surface. This is followed by a streaking of the fins; then death will occur. If the pH is too high – say, over 10.0-11.0, the fish will produce excess slime and gasp at the surface. Losses can be major. This condition, called alkalosis is hard to rapidly reverse once it occurs. pH is prone to decline in systems which do not contain sufficient pH buffers or carbonates, and pH can also decrease quickly due to oxygen consumption, accumulation of carbon dioxide, decay of fish and other wastes, and the normal activity of nitrifying bacteria that reduce ammonia to nitrite.

Crashes from a midrange pH all the way down to 5.0 can occur overnight. The pH doesn’t drop below 5.0 because at 5.5, the beneficial bacteria that may have contributed to the crash will cease to function and shut down, preventing the crash from dropping any further. In systems where pH has been chemically stabilized by the addition of carbonates such as baking soda, oyster shell, or any of the commercial buffers, the pH crash phenomena is not commonly seen. pH is supported by alkalinity, or carbonates. Without carbonates, the pH of the system will undoubtedly crash.

It is also worthwhile to note that in ponds built with natural rock aggregates, these construction stones and gravels, depending upon their type, can contribute a great deal of carbonate activity to the water, thereby reducing the need for concern regarding the pH. In other words: a pond made with Tennessee field stone is relatively safe from pH crash due to its possession of carbonate-donating rocks. Regular testing of pH will tell you if you have carbonate donating aggregates in use or not.

Stable pH Is Easy These Days

Stable pH Is Easy These Days

The most common cause of fish illness in the “established” aquarium is a sagging, or even “crashed” pH.

This is because literally EVERY biological process in the tank is bringing the pH down.

  • Fish breathe carbon dioxide –> carbonic acid.
  • Plants respire at night –> carbonic acid
  • Decay of fish wastes and bacterial processes –> carbon dioxide –> carbonic acid.

With all that going on, the pH would fall overnight EXCEPT there’s “carbonates” in the water that buffer that. Until the carbonates are “exhausted” then the pH *does* crash overnight.

pH crash
Dead fish. pH was not buffered, and the gravel offered no carbonates, either. Crashed pH.

So what you have to do is supply “carbonates” to the system. And you can do that with several things. I’ll tell you what’s wrong with all of them.

Compounds Which Stabilize pH

Oyster shell – (click) Dissolves too slowly to “fix” anything but really “keeps it there.”

Crushed coral – (click) Dissolves too slowly to “fix” anything but really “keeps it there.”

Neutral Regulator – Works great and “fixes” a crash in time to save fish lives. Contains phosphates which MAY contribute to algae growth in high lighting situations. Limit photoperiod to 8-10 hours a day and you’re golden. (Click to find it)

avoiding a low ph

Baking Soda – Works great and “fixes” a crash in time to save fish lives BUT doesn’t last long at all. No phosphates.

PH Pills – Made of Plaster of Paris. They work great, and last a long time. You can “SEE” whether they’re still there, so you know they’re working. Cheap. (PH PILLS)

Testing pH is simply a measurement of the free hydrogen ions(H+) in a system. pH is measured on a scale of 1-14, anything below 7 being acidic, and anything above 7 being basic. But the pH required for aquatic life ranges between 5.5-8.0. Koi and goldfish can, and do, tolerate a very high pH measurement.

People spend a lot of time and money trying to bring down the pH, but this is unnecessary unless there is also an ammonia accumulation in the system. The toxicity of ammonia is influenced by pH. At higher pH values, ammonia is more toxic. Below a pH of 7.2, most ammonia is ionized to “ammonium” and is far less toxic. This has relevance if you are considering raising the pH in a system with accumulating ammonia.

The toxicity of ammonia is influenced by pH. At higher pH values, ammonia is more toxic.

The pH level impacts fish in several ways. First, if it is too low, a condition inside the fish called “acidosis” results. Symptoms are a loss of appetite and then production of excess slime, as well as isolation, resting on the bottom of the pond, or piping at the surface. This is followed by a streaking of the fins; then death will occur. If the pH is too high – say, over 10.0-11.0, the fish will produce excess slime and gasp at the surface. Losses can be major. This condition, called alkalosis is hard to rapidly reverse once it occurs. pH is prone to decline in systems which do not contain sufficient pH buffers or carbonates, and pH can also decrease quickly due to oxygen consumption, accumulation of carbon dioxide, decay of fish and other wastes, and the normal activity of nitrifying bacteria that reduce ammonia to nitrite.

Crashes from a midrange pH all the way down to 5.0 can occur overnight. The pH doesn’t drop below 5.0 because at 5.5, the beneficial bacteria that may have contributed to the crash will cease to function and shut down, preventing the crash from dropping any further. In systems where pH has been chemically stabilized by the addition of carbonates such as baking soda, oyster shell, or any of the commercial buffers, the pH crash phenomena is not commonly seen. pH is supported by alkalinity, or carbonates. Without carbonates, the pH of the system will undoubtedly crash.

It is also worthwhile to note that in ponds built with natural rock aggregates, these construction stones and gravels, depending upon their type, can contribute a great deal of carbonate activity to the water, thereby reducing the need for concern regarding the pH. In other words: a pond made with Tennessee field stone is relatively safe from pH crash due to its possession of carbonate-donating rocks. Regular testing of pH will tell you if you have carbonate donating aggregates in use or not.

“Carbonates” Support pH, But Can Be Exhausted

Carbonate balance is a long subject, but I intend to keep it brief. I will over simplify for greater understanding. As we mentioned before, pH is a measurement of Hydrogen ions in the system. Hydrogen ions can come from the reduction of Ammonia and several other biological processes. We mentioned that in the absence of carbonate molecules, these Hydrogen ions would drive down the pH.

“Carbonates” Support pH

Carbonate molecules come from several places. Sometimes, they occur naturally as a result of the dissolution of rocks like Limestone and Dolomite. These rocks are made of Calcium and Magnesium carbonate. When these rocks dissolve they release those minerals, plus Carbonates.

Unnaturally, the carbonates may be supplied directly in the form of Sodium bicarbonate. Indeed this is nothing more than Baking Soda. (pH Pills Home Made)

Carbonates can be supported by pH PILLS
Carbonate in the water to support pH can come from pH Pills.

The carbonate molecule exists in a balance with the environment. When Hydrogen ions become abundant, the carbonate molecules pick up the extras, which prevents the pH from falling. When hydrogen ions become scarce, as in a high pH [to assign a number; 8.3] the carbonate molecules will liberate some Hydrogen ions.

“Carbonates” Support pH

The net effect of the carbonate molecules on the water is to hold the pH at some, constant level. This is why there is a benefit in knowing the “number” [quantitative] measurement of carbonate activity.

Carbonates And Bicarbonates
Most biological processes produce carbon dioxide, which becomes carbonic acid, which brings down the PH.

When you’re measuring the carbonate levels in a system, it’s known as a test of the “Total Alkalinity” of the system. There are affordable Total Alkalinity test strips on Amazon, at most major garden centers and pet shops. Pools supply stores also provide very reliable strips that measure TA.

“Carbonates” Support pH

Carbon Dioxide in Aquaria and Ponds

Carbon dioxide is produced by the respiration (not photosynthesis) of both plants and animals. When you exhale, you produce Carbon Dioxide. Pretty much the same with fish except they don’t have bad breath like you do. Just kidding.

One interesting thing about water is that Carbon Dioxide levels can exist independently from the Oxygen concentration. For example, you can have water with plenty of Oxygen, but which also has a lot of Carbon Dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide in Aquaria and Ponds

Carbon dioxide has a partial pressure in the air, when oxygen goes up, carbon dioxide has to go down. In water; NOT SO. You can have crazy CO2 levels with high O2 levels and vice versa or any mix.

Carbon Dioxide in Aquaria and Ponds
Carbon Dioxide in Aquaria and Ponds

Carbon dioxide likes to do one thing in water. It likes to convert to carbonic acid. When it does this, it tends to affect pH by bringing it down into the acid range. So, a bunch of fish breathing in a small tank with minimal circulation and surface agitation may actually accumulate sufficient carbon dioxide to drag down the pH due to the carbonic acid equilibrium that will result.

Removal of carbon dioxide (with its carbonic acid behavior) by increasing surface exposure and gas exchange will remove the carbonic acid and may raise the pH above neutral.

Do you remember in the discussion of Ammonia when I mentioned that Ammonia is more toxic at a higher pH? Well, this created a problem for some fish once. Someone had the idea that if you deprive the fish of aeration, you will preserve a high carbon dioxide level. The carbon dioxide level will keep a higher carbonic acid level, which will keep the pH down. The lower pH will ionize the Ammonia to Ammonium and preserve the fish from Ammonia damage at shows.

So, at least for a while, it was a widely perpetrated myth to enjoy gasping fish at shows, and use autogenous Carbonic acid to lower the pH, rather than do a water change to remove the threat from Ammonia.

The most amazing myth: “Don’t oxygenate Show Tanks” because it blows off carbon dioxide [carbonic acid], raising the pH and causing the ammonia to become more toxic.

pH Pills Support pH and Carbonate Alkalinity Against Crash

PH Pills – Making them for support of PH – The pH Pill

VIDEO VERSION PART I

VIDEO VERSION PART II

“pH Pills” Made with safe Plaster of Paris, (details provided) Support pH and Carbonate Alkalinity Against Crash – by supporting carbonates.  Well, it’s been interesting preparing the report on the “pH pill”. Some of the initial (and follow-up) research has yielded some interesting data. I will go through it all for you, from basics to “brass tacks”

NOTE: You could KILL your fish if you add Plaster of Paris to the water as a powder. I have no idea why Plaster of Paris has to be cured to chalky before it’s truly ‘safe’ for fishtanks and ponds.

(details provided) Support pH and Carbonate Alkalinity Against Crash - by supporting carbonates.

The “pH pill” is a home-made pill, puck, or chunk, of white chalky material you can toss into the pond or aquarium, and it will slowly dissolve, liberating carbonates, Calcium, Magnesium and gypsum. The dissolution of the “pH pill” increases hardness, alkalinity and more in the water being treated.

It remains to be seen, but some enterprising individuals plan to borrow this technology and incorporate some medications into it for slow infusion into a system. For example, Dimilin (Diflubenzuron) would be ideally suited to this form of dosing.

TRADE SECRET: The “pH pill” is composed of nothing more than pure Plaster of Paris. For the research we did, we used high grade Plaster of Paris purchased at Home Depot. The ingredients are:

pH Pills Support pH and Carbonate Alkalinity Against Crash

C.A.S. Limestone 50%
C.A.S. Gypsum 50%
…with no hardeners or setting agents added. You should be cautious to read the contents label, because some of the plasters-of-paris I saw at hobby shops had stabilizers, binders and hardeners to hasten the set up of the plaster.

Wanna hear something unbelievably stupid? The pundits (who didn’t have ANY idea what CAS stood for) decried this information, saying you don’t want to put Calcium Sulfate in your pond!!!! Remember these are the ‘know-it-all’ ass hats that are saying this. CAS stands for Chemical Abstracts Service. Not calcium sulfate.

There are precautionary statements on the bag, which suggest the dust from this compound can be eye irritant and should not be breathed. The bag weighs twenty five pounds and cost under nine dollars.

Plaster of ParisWe mixed up the Plaster of Paris using regular tap water. Before it had a chance to set, we poured it into cupcake tins, making our initial batch of test-pills the size of small hockey pucks. [Two-and-a-half inches in diameter and one inch thick). It was very difficult to get them out of the pans, so we tried plastic containers the next time and had much better results.
From a friend/hobbyist: 12/19/98 (Yeah old)
“I’m using the pH Pill in my 500 gal. hospital tank (in which I always have trouble keeping the total alkalinity up) and it seems to be working just fine. BTW, a styrofoam egg carton works well to cast the Plaster of Paris into. The resulting puck has good surface area and can be easily broken into various sizes (now have 13 lumps in the tank – seems stable). I will try a little Pam spray as a release agent in my next casting (I’m using an 18 egg carton and Home Depot PP – works well.)” ~SC
Plaster of Paris sets up in less than ten minutes, so if you’re not pouring pretty expediently, you’ll have a chalky, lumpy mess, which will not pour. We found we could make it as thin as we wanted and it would still set up and harden. The more water in your mix, the more shrinkage will occur as it sets up. The quality and performance of the final product is unaffected.
In total; four ponds, and twenty-one aquaria were treated with varying numbers of these “pH pills” and the results have been very good. No toxicity or ill effect was noted in any dosing regimen.
(details provided) Support pH and Carbonate Alkalinity Against Crash - by supporting carbonates.We put whole-pucks into thirty-gallon aquaria, with tropical and coldwater fish, and they worked fabulously, lasting up to seventeen days. The PH of tested systems was always near neutral and best of all, water clarity was enhanced. More on this later.
We put whole pucks into thousand-gallon-ponds and found they dissolved fairly rapidly, but were not adequate to support the pH under heavy loading. In one pond, of twenty two hundred gallons, it took six or eight “pH pills” to support the pH and the pucks lasted nine days. It is now our recommendation that for large ponds, you can mix up a shallow plastic pan full of the Plaster of Paris, then liberate the entire slab from the pan when it is completely dry. The slab is struck in the center (or can be scored for neat breaks) and larger pieces should be used in larger ponds.
My own pond is now being supported by two pieces which are one-and-a-half inch thick and measure six-by-nine inches across the face.
pH Pills Support pH and Carbonate Alkalinity Against CrashWe did notice that the dissolution of the “pH pill” can be slowed by the
addition of other carbonates to the system. When water is pre-treated with Baking Soda or Neutral Regulator, the “pH pills” lifespan is increased.
Placement of the “pH pills” is paramount. They MUST Be employed in the main water flow of the system. This can be either the pulling or pushing segments of the plumbing. For example; in my main system, the chips are used in the skimmer and a slow draw of water ensures their eventual dissolution. In aquariums, if you’re using undergravel filtration, best results are had when you lay the pill on the gravel near the “stacks”. You can even put the “pH pill” in the filter box hanging on the back if you use that type of filter.
There are some precautions concerning the use of “pH pills”.
First, to get good results, you must place the “pH pill” in the main pull or push of the water way as we have already mentioned..

Plaster of ParisSecond, do not breathe the powder, or allow the dust in your eyes.
Finally, do NOT use the “pH pill” until it is chalky, and bone dry. If it still feels slick or cool to the touch, it may not be “cured” and it MAY comprise a liability to the fish in that condition –  at the very least causing clouding instead of clarifying it. Funny how an extra day of curing works.

When completely dry, the “pH pill” weighs relatively little, and is chalky and dry. When placed in the water, thousands of tiny bubbles will escape it’s surface. This is perfectly normal and will subside once it’s let off its trapped air.
One interesting note on the “pH pill” concerns its composition. The “pH pill” is made of pure limestone (75%) and Gypsum (25%). Dr. Claude Boyd discusses the use of Gypsum to clarify pond water in his book, released through Auburn University entitled “Water Quality in Ponds for Aquaculture“. The book is superb and it’s availability from Auburn is discussed in the resources pages of my textbook, Koi Health and Disease.

In Dr. Boyd’s work, he found that Gypsum was a very effective water clarifier, and we have found this to be true in our own testing of these home made “pH pills”. Dr. Boyd’s book mentions and compares the clearance of certain turbidities with Gypsum so the benefit is not universal, and depends upon the cause of the particular turbidity. The turbidities I have found it to clear most propitiously are suspensions of the pond’s organics and “fines”. I doubt Gypsum’s ability to clear a bacterial haze.
Limestone is nothing more than pure Calcium and Magnesium carbonate. The limestone used in our Home Depot Plaster of Paris is extremely clean-dissolving, unlike agricultural or dolomitic Limestone. The dissolution of the “pH pill” liberates Calcium and Magnesium, which increase water hardness and is beneficial to juvenile fish that can use aqueous Calcium for bone building. The pill also liberates pure
carbonates, which stabilize and actually increase pH. I could not raise the pH of any system tested above 8.3 regardless of how much “pH pill” I used.
To test the higher end safety margins of the home made “pH pill”, I simply put three pucks in a ten gallon facility and had no mortalities among the following species: Goldfish, Koi, Tetras, White’s Tree Frogs, Alligator Snapping Turtles, and Plecostomi.

To close this discussion, I would mention that graphics (pictures) in support of this technology are available at phpill. I encourage you to click over there soon and see the actual plaster used, the pucks we made and the systems tested.
I do not recommend that this technology is a replacement for pH monitoring. It could [unfortunately] evolve that folks are using the “pH pill” and not checking their alkalinity or pH. The assumption would be made that in the presence of a “pH pill” there can be no pH crash and that the pH is optimal. Indeed, depending upon the start-condition of your water, the “pH pill” may be entirely unnecessary or even harmful. [For example, hard water areas].

But in this technology, we do have a back-up means of maintaining a suitable pH for Koi and Goldfish with the simplicity of manufacture, and an element of affordability which make it a treasure. I hasten to assure you that I still check pH, I still use neutral regulators, but I no longer worry that I am going to miss a day of testing and suffer a pH crash. The use of sufficient “pH pill” material, whether used as pucks or slabs, obviates this possibility.

——————————————————————————–
“It turns out that if your system is grossly overloaded, or if you’re retail, the pH Pill may not dissolve fast enough to support the PH against high CO2 – carbonic acid loading. You may either need to use more pieces than the average hobbyist or more work might need to be done to find a carbonate that dissolves more responsively.” ~ Doc Johnson
===DR. ERIK L. JOHNSON ===
“Using plaster of paris other than the one clearly denoted at right is a fool’s way to kill fish. Don’t do it!” ~ Doc Johnson

What is PH and Why Does It Matter? What is An Acid PH?

pH in The Most Basic Terms – by Doc Johnson

Simple drop type test with Bromthymol Blue

Stay above pH 7.0 for best results with Koi

pH can “crash” to 5.5 overnight due to fish, plant and bacterial activity without adequate buffering of water – fatalities result
Baking Soda is a good buffer. Check Total Alkalinity before its use, though. (Use one teaspoon per ten gallons if the TA <100)
pH is a measurement of the free hydrogen ions in the system.
pH is measured on a scale of 1 to 14, but the pH required for life lies between 5.5 and 8.5.
Individual species will have varying demands as far as pH. Ignorance of the requirements of each species will result in the death of the animal in question.
pH impacts fish in several ways.
First, if the pH is too low, a condition within the fish called “Acidosis” results.
Symptoms are anorexia, and then production of excess slime, isolation, and resting on the bottom, finally, streaking of the fins, and death will occur.
If the pH is too high, the fish will produce excess slime, and will gasp at the surface. Losses can be major. “Alkalosis” is hard to reverse once it occurs.
On the other hand, Acidosis is rapidly corrected once the pH is brought up to a suitable range.
IMPORTANT: pH contributes to the toxicity of Ammonia.
At higher pH values, ammonia is more toxic.
Below pH 7.2 most Ammonia is ionized to “Ammonium” and is far less toxic.
This has relevance if you are considering raising the pH in a system with accumulating ammonias.
There is a routine, inexpensive test that measures pH, and compares the result to a color chart for the diagnosis.
pH is prone to “fall” in un-buffered systems, and can fall precipitously due to Oxygen consumption, accumulation of Carbon dioxide, decay of fish and other wastes, and the normal activity of nitrifying bacteria which reduce Ammonia to Nitrite.
“Crashes” from a normal pH all the way down to pH 5.5 can occur overnight. At 5.5 the filter bacteria that may have contributed to the crash will shut down, preventing the crash from dropping yet further.
In systems where the pH has been chemically stabilized by any of the commercial buffers, the pH crash phenomena is not commonly seen.
When “pH Crash” is observed, bring up the pH **rapidly**, not slowly. Would you want to be removed from a smoke-filled room rapidly or slowly?
“There are two other articles on Ph in this web site and even more in the book.” Doc Johnson

Here’s a Video on pH by Yours Truly (Me)

 

pH Crash Is a Common Cause of Mass Koi and Pond Fish Death

PH Crash Is The Second Most Common Cause of Overnight Fish Death – by Dr Erik Johnson

can ph kill all my fishAbstract Format:

  1. pH is just a measurement
  2. It needs to be higher than seven
  3. A high pH doesn’t really matter unless there’s ammonia in the water
  4. pH is supported by carbonate
  5. Baking soda is a short term carbonate source
  6. Failure to support carbonates will result in an eventual “crash”

I am sure that for most people, “pH” is a pretty normal term, maybe even a household word. For those who don’t understand its importance, pH is a measurement of free hydrogen ions expressed in a ratio or logarithm, called the Michalis-Menten equation.
Here’s how that ratio works:
When you have a lot of hydrogen ions in the water (such as are liberated by the reduction of Ammonia) then the pH drops into the ‘acid’ range below 7.0
When you have very few hydrogen ions in water, the pH climbs into the high, alkaline range, above seven but usually more like 8.0-9.0. A high pH is harmless to the fish unless the pH potentiates a toxin like ammonia if accumulated in the system.
What else drops the pH?
When carbon dioxide is made in the water, by plants, it converts into carbonic ACID and this brings down the pH into the acid range. So there are a variety of forces pulling and pushing pH. Almost all biological effects are pulling the pH down.
So what, really?
Hey, all that matters about pH is that it’s HIGHER than seven-point-oh for Koi and goldfish.
Now, before you go thinking the pH moves naturally “all over the place” on various chemical whims, it’s not always like that. It’s important that you understand that there’s a ‘federal reserve’ system which checks-and-balances the pH. It’s ‘Carbonates”

Almost all biological effects (decay, plant and animal respiration, are pulling the pH down.

Carbonates come naturally from limestone and other sedimentary rock, which is made of Calcium Carbonate, and Magnesium carbonate. Carbonates can also come naturally from shell, like Oyster shell, which is made from Calcium and magnesium carbonate. If you have decorative rocks and cement at the ponds edge, and your pond water can rinse over these rocks and grouting, you should have NO problems with pH or carbonate support of same. This is true if you have a nice waterfall bathing rocks and grout.

It is also very uncommon to have pH Crashes in the Western states where the ground water comes out of limestone aquifers.

how fast does ph crash kill fish
Water changes were done to remove a fish medicine but no buffer was added back. Days later: Crashed pH

Less naturally, carbonates may come (through man made intervention) from chemical additions such as Baking Soda (unscented Arm&Hammer) works in my pond. Baking Soda is Sodum BiCarbonate. When it gets in water, Baking Soda dissolves and renders a harmless sodium and then the pH-stabilizing carbonates.
Baking Soda is a naturally short-lived pH buffer (stabilizer) but despite it’s short life, it works pretty well.
The carbonate molecule can give or take free Hydrogen ions. This means that when there is a surplus of Hydrogen, the carbonate-reserves can capture and hold the excess, preventing the pH from dropping. When the hydrogen ions become scarce, the carbonate molecules can liberate hydrogen ions to maintain a smooth pH as well.

So carbonates are there for us, stabilizing pH.

But if carbonates are exhausted, used up, or lacking in the water, the forces which drag pH down such as:
carbon dioxide formation by fish, algae and plants,
Hydrogen ions liberation from ammonia reduction, etc.
…will drag down the pH until fish fatalities result. So, carbonates are all that stands between you and the loss of your fish.
Symptoms of a low pH:

  • Slimy skin
  • Lethargy
  • Clamped fins
  • Surface breathing – piping at surface

As a sidebar: Here are the symptoms of Chilodonella (ciliated protozoan parasite) infection:

  • Slimy skin
  • Lethargy
  • Clamped fins
  • Surface breathing – piping at surface

Notice something? Yeah the symptoms are identical. So a test of the PH will help distinguish between parasites or water quality as the cause of the SAME SYMPTOMS

how low ph is too low for fishThe “pH Crash” can occur very rapidly once the carbonates are finally exhausted in a system. In warm water, green water (lots of algae or plants) or heavily stocked tanks and ponds, you will find pH crashes can achieve 100%-mortality status very very quickly.
My fish, once thriving in 6,000 gallons and green water at about seventy five degrees Fahrenheit were all killed while I was away for scarcely more than a day.

The carbonates were exhausted because the pond is 100% liner and no rock or ornamentation in contact with the water. Carbonate support was purely man made and I had been neglectful in it’s application and I had not tested the carbonate level (total alkalinity) in weeks. The pond was warm, green and crowded. In scarcely more than 36 hours all the fish died and sank to the bottom.
I was not there to see the piping or surface breathing they do when the pH falls. Sunday morning, April 20th I woke to find the first few floaters, drained the pond to fine the entirety of my collection dead.
Take-home concepts:
Always, regularly, add a pH buffer OR better still always check your carbonate levels (total alkalinity test) weekly to make sure there are sufficient reserves. (This would be at LEAST 40 ppm TA)
Always have some Baking Soda on hand for emergencies, it’s the fastest way to raise the pH.
When crashed, the pH should be raised as QUICKLY as possible. Increased aeration and water circulation helps stabilize a pH crashed environment as well.

Here’s a video on pH Crash.

PH in Aquatic Environments Is a Key Element to Success

To keep things really simple; pH is basically just a “test” you run to get a result you need to have. And you need to run it. That bears repeating. You need to run pH tests periodically in the care of your fish pond.

One of the most common water quality problems in ponds is a “low pH”. You don’t typically want your ponds’ pH to drop below 6.8 and frankly, when the pH is below seven, it should serve as a warning sign that your pH is at risk to “crash”.

“pH Crash” is a sudden drop in pH which kills a lot of fish in this hobby every year. If you do not buffer the carbonates in your pond, you will experience this phenomena sooner or later.

Here’s a list of things which drag your pH in a downward (acidic) direction.

  • Fish and plant respiration produces carbon dioxide which forms carbonic acid, which lowers your pH.
  • Animal, food and plant wastes decay and release carbon dioxide.
  • Reduction of the primary fish waste product; Ammonia releases hydrogen ions which reduce pH quite a bit.

So you might ask; “What ever is it that supports or keeps pH from falling?” The answer is “carbonates”.

Carbonates (also called buffers) will equalize or neutralize all those elements which drag down the pH. When the carbonates are used up, the pH proceeds in its downward direction and the fish die.

“Where do carbonates come from?”

Commercially available “buffers” supply the needed carbonates. They are chemically formulated to do it intelligently without wild swings in pH. They are formulated to raise the carbonates, which supports the pH but not too high. Some contain phosphoric acid to keep the pH from climbing too high. An equilibrium is engineered into the product. Pretty cool.

You can use Baking Soda, but I’ve found this to be a really short-lived “fix” and it an push the pH too high. Baking Soda is poorly sustained in the water. You’ll be adding it often. Buffers are formulated to last longer.

“Can you add too much carbonate?” Yes, you can. We don’t want carbonate alkalinity levels over 300 ppm. Now, it’s not an emergency if you have numbers that high, the real question would be if those numbers were consistent, then you would see gill problems.

I guess this would be the appropriate place to mention that pH has a critical relationship with Ammonia. You can read more about Ammonia shortly. When the pH of the water is high, or higher than seven, you should be aware that Ammonia accumulations are more toxic.

This means that you might have some low level of ammonia in your pond and because your pH is quite high (like nine) the Ammonias are very toxic.

Your neighbor has a higher Ammonia level than your pond has, but his fish are fine! The reason is that his pH is lower, making the Ammonia less toxic even though it’s in higher accumulations.

Do NOT raise your pH rapidly in the presence of Ammonia accumulations.

Better to do a major water change and remove the Ammonia, and let the replacement water raise the pH. Then you could use a pH Buffer to support the PH where you want it.

“What is pH Crash?” This is a really common situation which kills a lot of fish every year. People fail to realize that the pH is “just a number for the moment” supported in real life by carbonates. They keep checking their pH and it shows “fine” so they dismiss it. After a while, the carbonates which actually create and support the pH are used up (exhausted) and the pH crashes down to 5.5 very suddenly, killing a lot of the fish.

The person assumes it’s a parasitic problem and starts adding medications without checking the pH because the pH has been “fine” for weeks. When they finally realize the pH is crashed, they don’t raise the pH fast enough, and kill the rest of their fish. When your pH crashes, raise that pH at once!!!

SHORT AND SWEET: Always use a “pH Buffer” regularly. If you’re feeling “advanced” you can start testing for and record your carbonate alkalinity so you can predict the eventual behavior of the pH which it creates and supports.

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