Iron Filters, from Green Sand to Oxygen
In my last column, I wrote rather extensively about green sand iron filters in domestic use. If you got the feeling after reading this column that these units were really not very successful and, in fact, a pain to regenerate, you’re right. The manufacturers in the water conditioning industry had long realized that a successful filter had to get the iron from solution, or invisible, to suspension, or visible, iron. How to do this seemed to baffle everyone for a long time. We had the green sand filters which, if properly maintained (and they usually were not), worked well, and not much else.
One of the first attempts I experienced as a non-green sand filter was one that used a catalyst bed. When it came out, this was supposed to be “the” way to convert iron to a filterable form. I think I only sold one of these units, and it was not very effective. As I remember, this type of filter was only on the market for a very short time. About this time, pretty much the whole industry — that is, manufacturers, suppliers and installers — figured out that we had an unlimited supply of the oxidizer needed to change clear water iron to particle iron. This material, of course, is oxygen, which is part of the air we breathe. I realized this myself, not with a filter but with a Jacuzzi bathtub.
I built a new house in the very early 1990s and live in it today. Attending a groundwater convention, my wife and I were given a Jacuzzi suite in exchange for some mistakes by the hotel staff. (I am aware that Jacuzzi is a trade name but, frankly, it has become the name for generic hot tubs much like Jell-O is the name used for gelatin and Bush-Hog the name for rotary cutters used on farms and lawns everywhere. Jacuzzi. Jell-O and Bush-Hog are patented names, and I in no way intend to belittle or downplay the importance of these fine brands.) My wife, Shirley, and I were so impressed with this Jacuzzi suite that we just had to have a bathtub with the air jet system in our brand new home. So we installed a Jacuzzi brand tub in that home — one big enough for two people. If you didn’t know the person joining you really well when you got in, you would when you got out.
Having purchased this Jacuzzi direct from a supply house, I was advised to test it before putting it in its final place. Like any machinery, mistakes can happen, leaks occur and these are difficult to fix once a tub like this is installed. So I happily filled this tub with water from my well with the tub sitting out in what is now my backyard. I hooked up the circulating motor with a large extension cord and turned it on using the full air injection system. After a little while the clear water I had started with looked more like weak orange juice. And I realized that my supposedly iron-free well water was not. This fact had occurred to our industry, but how to get the oxygen in the air into the water? Well, several methods were tried, some that were problematic and others that were quite simple and effective.
The first iron filters that I heard about that utilized oxygen (or ozone) used some type of pump to add a small amount of air to the water. How one develops and uses ozone, I do not know. I never sold one of these units that used an air pump, but I understand they were very effective. I did sell several units that used an air injector system. This was sort of like a small jet pump that sucked in air when the primary pump was running, and then added it to the water supply. It was installed between the pump and the pressure tank. Of course the water in the pressure tank was pretty irony, and this could be filtered with a silica sand filter. The injector had to be adjusted just right so as to pull in the right amount of air, and this adjustment could change over time. I sold a few of these units. They work reasonably well and the silica sand filter could regenerate automatically.
Next time, I’ll discuss the two-tank systems that are currently, in my opinion, state of the art. But I’m now going to go off the track a bit onto another subject. You regular readers know that I tend to do this.
For many, many years at its annual convention, the Michigan Well Drillers Association — later to become the Michigan Ground Water Association — gave everyone a souvenir. These items varied rather greatly and included, among other things, coffee cups, letter openers, clip boards, thermometers, and all kinds of small items that members and guests could take home. Clipboards and letter openers were among the most popular of these gifts. MGWA no longer gives gifts or souvenirs.
Recently, I visited a supply house to pick up a water softener for one of my very best customers. Yes, I still do a job now and then. When I visit this supply house, I like to visit the sale representative I always deal with when making a purchase. She is a young woman whose late father was a well driller. Her uncle still is, and she comes from a family of well drillers. Heather is very, very good at what she does and is always pleasant and accommodating, whether on the phone or in person. After loading up the softener with assistance from the warehouse crew, I went to her office to chat — mainly to say hello and see how she was doing. Much to my surprise, on a shelf in her neat office was the souvenir from the 1974 MWDA Convention. This was a thermometer that worked like a car speedometer. It was really not that accurate, but made a nice looking paper weight. I use one for that purpose at the desk in my shop.
I mentioned to my sales rep that it was nice to see that people kept some of these old gift items. I also said that the real gem gift was a letter opener from the 1953 MWDA Convention. This was MWDA’s 25th convention and so the handle was a pearlescent silver color marking the special occasion. I know this because I open my mail every day with one of these. I mentioned to her that it would be nice if she had one of these letter openers. Much to my surprise, she pulled one off another shelf and says, “Well, John, I do have one — I think my grandfather got it that year.” I guess Heather and I are not the only ones who valued those gifts and remember fondly the so-called “good old days.”
I’m writing this column on just about the first day of summer and we have had the wettest, coolest, nastiest spring that I can remember for a long time. My infamous lawn continues to grow, grow and grow, and I get to mow, mow and mow. I understand the wet weather is not unique to Michigan this spring and some farmers in key agricultural areas are just not going to plant. The Great Lakes are at near record-level highs and only a few years ago our environmental friends said we were pumping them empty using groundwater. Maybe someday these people will realize everything goes in cycles and they don’t control the cycles. ’Til next time, work safe and try to stay dry.
For more John Schmitt columns, visit www.nationaldriller.com/schmitt.