Do not rely on Seachem to decide what your reef needs

Randy Holmes-Farley

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As part of an effort to rid the reefing world of false claim products, there is now a lengthy thread in the Chemistry forum where I am documenting efforts to put pressure on manufacturers and vendors to clean up their act.

In some cases, the company responses are noteworthy and I don't want them to get lost in a very long thread.

in this case, the response is from Seachem about the product Aquavitro Balance, and it clearly shows that they lack any chemical understanding of their own products.

I'm certainly not saying that no Seachem product can do what it claims, but this one is a no brainer, and demonstrates a serious lack of understanding of what their own product can and cannot do, which leads to false claims by Seachem.

FYI, Brightwell has a similar problem product, Boost pH +, but they have not yet responded to my contact.

Here's what Aquavitro says about the product:


"Raises pH without affecting calcium and alkalinity"
" balance specifically targets pH only by re-establishing the proper bicarbonate/carbonate ratio by using a hydroxide blend to raise pH without having an impact on KH, calcium or magnesium levels. "

I have bolded the obvious issue: hydroxide boosts alkalinity. Many folks use kalkwasser for the hydroxide in it to add alkalinity, and folks also use a DIY two part using hydroxide for the alk part. There is no uncertainty or debate about this. Hydroxide adds alkalinity instantly upon addition. Hydroxide is even included in the formal definition of alkalinity.

Here's my request sent to Aquavitro/Seachem through their online support request function on the Aquavitro web site (I mistyped the product name when I first sent it)):

"Can you clarify why you claim that the hydroxide in your Balance product does not boost alkalinity?

Of course hydroxide instantly provides alkalinity. No chemical additive can boost pH in seawater and not boost alkalinity. That's the basis for supplementing alkalinity with kalkwasser.

It is properly called a high pH alkalinity supplement, not anything else."


Their response:


Support FD
(Seachem Laboratories)
Dec 6, 2023, 17:41 AST
Hello! Thank you for the email.

The hydroxide blend in Balance will bind up acid sources in the tank, thus raising the pH. It also interacts with the carbonate and converts it to bicarbonate. Ultimately, it does not raise alkalinity, but rather is re-organizing the balance of the existing buffers".

Best regards,
FD

There are numerous issues with that response, but most importantly, it is just factually incorrect. I'll provide a detailed explanation of the issues below, but nonchemists should not think this is some esoteric chemistry discussion that might only be understood by people in ivory towers or might be open to debate or different interpretations. It is among the most clear black and white false statements one can make in chemistry.

I'll ignore what is likely just a typo that it converts carbonate into bicarbonate (it converts bicarbonate into carbonate). Such a thing, if it happened, would lower alkalinity and pH. It is what an acid does.

Here's what does happen to bicarbonate:

HCO3- + OH- --> CO3-- + H2O

That's great. It does the rebalancing that Seachem mentions. Unfortunately for users expecting no alk increase, carbonate provides 2 units of alkalinity while bicarbonate provides only one.

This is the definition of alkalinity in seawater:

TA = [HCO3–] + 2[CO3—] + [B(OH)4–] + [OH–] + [Si(OH)3O–] + [MgOH+] + [HPO4—] + 2[PO4—] – [H+]

One can see that not only is OH- included, but that CO3-- adds double the alk of bicarbonate.

The reaction of bicarbonate with hydroxide shown above is an alkalinity neutral process. Lose one OH- (-1 alk) lose one bicarbonate (-1 alk) and gain one carbonate (+2 alk).

OK, let's turn to other aspects of the Seachem statement.

The hydroxide blend in Balance will bind up acid sources in the tank, thus raising the pH."

Sure. That's what happens to the acid source bicarbonate, but that conversion adds alk.

In fact, ANY acid source that adding hydroxide to seawater "binds up" will add alkalinity. That is just a simple chemistry fact.

Any acid converted to its conjugate base by adding hydroxide will have to be reacidified in an alkalinity titration to get down to pH 4.3 or so. I could show lots of examples, but let's take biggest one off the alk definition: borate/boric acid. Most boron is actually present as boric acid in seawater at pH 8. The hydroxide can react with it, forming borate, which is in the alk definition and gets detected:

B(OH)3 + OH- --> B(OH)4-

The same is true of ANY acid that is impacted by adding hydroxide to seawater, including any organic acids that might be impacted by the hydroxide addition.

Thus, folks should not accept Seachem claims about this product, and, of course, it makes one skeptical that they have an adequate chemical understanding to design any chemical product.

Happy Reefing
 
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Ron Reefman

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Randy,

I have long considered a number of aquarium chemicals on the market as either misleading, or worse, just plain old 'snake oil'. I, for one, completely support your efforts to bring some of this information to light, even if it doesn't change the company's false or misleading advertising!

I very rarely use aquarium additives. I've used Dow Flake, Mag Flake, Epsom Salt and swimming pool sodium-bicarbonate as my primary chemicals to keep Ca, Mg and alk in line. In 20+ years in the hobby, I've never had an issue using these chemistries.

Thanks for all your efforts. I have great appreciation for all that you do!

Ron Reefman
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jft

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I totally agree with you. As an aside I remember Albert Thiel telling me on a visit to see my aquariums back in the early 2000s that he could pee in a bottle and place a pretty eye catching label on it and he could get people to buy it .Sadly, Albert has passed but at least he was being Honest about the manufacturing and MORES0 the Marketing Practice.
 
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Randy Holmes-Farley

Randy Holmes-Farley

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Seachem has responded again with a clarification and a more detailed response. They understand the processes involved (such as the conversion of bicarbonate to carbonate), but do not yet accept that this raises alkalinity. Not sure how that's a tricky one... I followed up with a detailed response (mostly what is in the thread I posted in the main forum today), and will post the results of the ongoing discussion once it reaches a conclusion.
 

jhadaway

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I may not understand all of this but I can clearly see Randy does. I am on board! This hobby is expensive enough without being misled or downright lied to. -and I just found the recipe for NeoPhos. It seems I've been paying a lot for water and not much Phos. The Nitrate dosing is next. I owe Randy a drink or six.

Thanks,
JOe
 

Ron Reefman

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Ron-any concerns with impurities in the pool bicarbonate?
I've been using pool bicarbonate for 15 years in various tanks with mostly sps and lps corals and some delicate inverts that I have collected in the Florida Keys and I've not had any issues that I can trace back to my Ca, Mg or alk chemistries.
 

Thales

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I like this approach far more than hobbyist buying whatever product over and over again to test it at their own expense to have evidence that claims are incorrect.
 

AKReefing

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Seachem has responded again with a clarification and a more detailed response. They understand the processes involved (such as the conversion of bicarbonate to carbonate), but do not yet accept that this raises alkalinity. Not sure how that's a tricky one... I followed up with a detailed response (mostly what is in the thread I posted in the main forum today), and will post the results of the ongoing discussion once it reaches a conclusion.
Could they be attempting to save face when confronted with proof of their false claims (intentional or not) by responding with their own "expert analysis"? Perhaps they're afraid of the possibility of thousands of users demanding refunds?
 
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Randy Holmes-Farley

Randy Holmes-Farley

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Could they be attempting to save face when confronted with proof of their false claims (intentional or not) by responding with their own "expert analysis"? Perhaps they're afraid of the possibility of thousands of users demanding refunds?

I do not know. I sent them the experimental work from the thread in the experiment forum a few days ago, and have not heard back. I also sent the same info to Brightwell, and Jack kent responded that they are looking it over.
 

Ron Reefman

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Stay on them Randy. IMHO the aquarium supplement market is flooded with 'snake oil'.
 

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