Cyanuric Acid Regulation

Cyanuric acid (CYA) serves as a protection shield against sunlight for chlorine. Why protect chlorine from sunlight? Because the UV rays from the sun can degrade chlorine very quickly. Obviously, that can be a big problem for outdoor pools. Studies show that sunlight can be wipe out chlorine by 75-90% in a matter of two hours. The half-life of chlorine—when exposed to direct sunlight—is about 45 minutes. That’s astounding.

shutterstock_378638662So a stabilizer is needed, otherwise you will be using (and losing) chlorine all day, every day. Enter cyanuric acid.

The chemistry of cyanuric acid (CYA)

The cyanuric acid molecule is a hexagon with alternating Nitrogen and Carbon atoms. It allows for three molecules of chlorine to attach to the nitrogen atoms, forming a nitrogen-chlorine bond (N-Cl). Without getting too scientific, just know that this N-Cl bond is weak, which allows for chlorine to let go of CYA when it has something to oxidize or kill. When attached to CYA, however, chlorine is protected from sunlight.

Chlorines like dichlor and trichlor have CYA in their formulas. Because of this, they are known as stabilized chlorine, and used primarily in outdoor pools. Stabilized chlorines should not be used in indoor pools.

Pros and cons of CYA

cyanuric acid ORP chart

This chart from the CDC shows the relationship of ORP and CYA.

Obviously, the protection from sunlight that CYA provides is a huge benefit to chlorine. In fact, CYA can extend the life of free chlorine by as much as 8x. For outdoor pools, that’s a game changer. But like anything great, there is a limit. At some point CYA gets in the way of chlorine, and slows down its killing speed (measured as oxidation reduction potential, or ORP). Generally speaking, the more CYA you have, the lower the ORP.

Conventional wisdom in the pool business suggests an ideal range of CYA to be 30-50ppm, with a minimum of 10ppm and a maximum of 100ppm. That being said, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently changed their policy on CYA use. Pay attention pool professionals…this is important.

New CDC regulation on CYA levels: 15ppm maximum

From the CDC: In case of a fecal incident, close the pool, and CYA levels can no longer exceed 15ppm.

Here’s why: chlorine stabilizers (like CYA) slow the rate that free chlorine kills pathogens. Because of the slowed rate of sanitation, pools must have below 15ppm CYA when treating a fecal incident. That way, chlorine can sanitize effectively in a reasonable amount of time. Keeping CYA under 15ppm is really hard to do, especially since many pools have more than recommended anyway (like 50-100ppm).  So what can we, as industry professionals, do to comply with this new regulation?

It’s our opinion at Orenda that the CDC’s 15ppm limit—while it is a big change—offers an opportunity for new thinking. Pools have been operated the same way for decades; changing the way we think about water can be a good thing. IPSSA meetings are a great place to discuss these new ideas.