NOTE: The following is a transcript from an interview that re-aired on August 15, 2018, between John Christopher, host of National Public Radio’s “Real Life,” and Steve Kenny.
John Christopher: Welcome back to Real Life and this is your host John Christopher, and today I have as my guest Steve Kenny, the owner of SRK pool services. Hi, Steve, how are you today?
Steve Kenny: I’m doing well, thank you, John.
J: Great. I’m so happy you got here. I understand you had some difficulty, some conundrums getting here with the traffic but otherwise you’re here now, and before we start talking about pools and water quality, did you grow up here?
S: I did, yeah. I actually was…my family, my mom grew up here and her father on the Chez Labbat East Hampton, which is on Main Street back in the fifties and sixties.
J: So what was it called again?
S: The Chez Labbat. The Chez Labbat is a French restaurant on Main Street in East Hampton, and we were always in the food business, the whole family.
J: Now, do you have a French background or was it just because…
S: Half French.
J: Oh wow, oh cool, that’s great.
S: And half Irish.
J: Oh, what a great combo.
S: And I went to Springs School.
J: And you went to Springs, so you know this area quite well, and what’s going on with the pools? What led you to become one of the top experts on pool water?
S: That was nice of you to say that, but I was at the culinary institute for many years, for about two years…
J: Oh, you studied…
S: the CIA culinary arts…
S: And I really was a fan of the action and reaction when you’re dealing with baking or cooking, and it really fascinated me on how I could actually apply that to water. And I’ve always been drawn to water, there’s something about water that has this huge, you know, one of those powerful…
J: Well, we have plenty of it out here, right?
S: Yeah, absolutely.
J: But most people don’t want to go out there, they want to go in pools.
S: Yeah, that’s true.
J: So you started in restauranteur working. So how does one segue out of one into…
S: Well, it was an interesting story, and it all started with when I was doing both. I was working in the restaurant and doing pools. I was taking care of pools during the day and I was working with my dad and two brothers, and then one brother went into the law and the other one went into film and my dad slowly retired. And we grew the business together slowly. It was all of, you know, a Volkswagen bug with no front seat. That’s all we could afford for the time to keep going and get it going
J: So was your dad your mentor?
S: In a way but not as much so as Jordon Glasser was. He’s a distributor, a vendor, and every time I had a question I would ask him the question and he’d give me enough information that peaked my interest to look into it more. He never really gave me the answers, because he knew but he didn’t really know how to apply it. And I just had this burning desire to figure it out.
J: Right and you did.
S: Oh yeah, it took twenty years to figure it out.
J: Well you know a lot of people aren’t aware that chlorine, when they smell that in a pool, it’s not really a healthy thing. Can you elaborate on that?
S: Well, elemental chlorine is an odorless and tasteless compound until it bonds with ammonia or nitrogen so when you’re swimming in a pool and you start to sweat or perspire, that’ll bond with chlorine and that’ll create chloramines, and that’s the byproduct of chlorine and that’s the harmful part of chlorine, that’s what you smell. A lot of people associate that sweet smell of chlorine with summer, you know, happy days and this is the way I’m supposed to smell. A lot of people say, well, that’s just too much chlorine in the pool and in fact there’s not enough so we also use chlorine to break that bond between ammonia and chlorine, we call that shocking. And the only way you can really break that bond, we can get into that a little bit later with those.
J: Chloramines, how are they unhealthy?
S: Well, they’re known to cause asthma in children and in adults as well. If you’re exposed to it, you’ll have cough attacks, you’ll burn your eyes, sinus problems, ear infections, it’s just an inactive form, it doesn’t really kill anything. So in order to get free available chlorine, and that’s what you’re really looking for is the free available chlorine, you have to break that bond between ammonia and chlorine so it’s free and available to fight bacteria so if it’s busy with ammonia, it’s never going to be able to do its job. So that’s something that, it’s multifaceted, not just one thing, it’s not just chlorine, it’s not pH, calcium or alkalinity, or micro filtration, all of them have an important role for each other and all of them hold hands, so to speak, and so understanding the parameters of what you’re working with is just as important as if you were baking in the restaurant. Everything has to have its perfect temperature, perfect amount of this and that in order to make it perfectly leaven and that’s something that chemistry’s all about.
J: Right. Now, you developed and designed a system, right? What’s that system called?
S: We call it the Hydrozone 3 system and it stands for three layers of protection. We use a trace amount of chlorine for bather to bather contamination, so if you’re swimming in the water and you sneezed or spit, or something else might’ve happened, you, at least you’re protected there. So the ozone will actually help to oxidize the bond between ammonia and chlorine so that a little trace of amount of chlorine is free and available to fight bacteria And then we have another part which is the UV which will help sanitize the water, which ozone is good at sanitizing but not as good as the UV. So I have all three layers of those, and they all work together and they all help each other.
J: Now, is it difficult to find the balance of that or is it…?
S: No, no, once you figured out what you’re doing, once you set it up, but I mean what we’re working on more now is an advanced oxidation system where we’re putting ozone into the UV chamber and that’s creating hydroxyl radicals and that’s a very potent way to kill pesticides and all sorts of things in the water and the sewage treatment plants are using it as well so, there’s a lot of, we’re doing a lot of testing in my shop for that.
J: Chlorine doesn’t necessarily kill all the pathogens?
S: Not at all. No, it’ll kill germs and prevent athlete’s foot and things like that, but it won’t kill Cryptosporidium, which is our biggest concern in the industry right now.
J: And what is that?
S: It’s a parasite and it’s become immune to chlorine because we’ve overused chlorine. I mean, back in the, I guess it was Roosevelt that got polio… And they thought that he was, he came down with polio because of chlorine, and the story about chlorine is that he was going away for the summer and came back with polio, but they just attributed it to swimming in a pool so a lot of the pools were drained back then and they closed all the pools because they thought chlorine was causing this. When, in fact, it was the chlorine that was killing polio, so that’s what they found that the chlorine was actually killing the polio so then they brought chlorine back into the industry, and then in the sixties chlorine just took off. And that was the main source, just keep pumping chlorine and it’s turned into, we’ve overused chlorine for that reason.
J: Right, and it’s not good and not really healthy
S: It’s not healthy and the problem is that now that that parasite is immune to chlorine and about twenty years ago, there was a symposium that I went to and all these Ph.D.s were talking about this big problem with Cryptosporidium becoming immune to chlorine and how we’re going to kill it, and we’re there now. This is a big issue.
J: Now, does your system handle that?
S: Yes. Well, it’s CDC approved to actually; ozone is approved by the Centers for Disease control to kill crypto and UV, so either one. I use both because I like to have more than one layer of protection in my water.
J: Now you’ve done some high-end pools, in fact, you did the pool at the Maidstone, right?
J: What was the issue there?
S: Well, the same thing, a lot of the clients that we build the pools for locally are Maidstone members, and they loved the water at their homes. They were not happy with the Maidstone water, and a lot of them won’t swim there, and they finally all came together and we got a system installed there, and it took a while because, you know, the politics, and also getting involved with the health department. It’s the first one in all of Long Island to have both ozone and UV so it was a big accomplishment to get that knocked out.
J: I used to be on the Harvard committee, and one of the things that they were always promoting was to go with saltwater, but saltwater’s not necessarily the saltwater we think that’s from the ocean.
J: It’s actually salts.
S: The total dissolved solids in saltwater pools are very high for if it’s coming from the ocean, like a Gurney’s type of thing, but a regular sodium salt pool that you know of that we’re talking about in the industry is taking electrolysis and sending the electrolysis into the water and charging the particles of salt into sodium hypochlorite which is still shock, it’s liquid shock.
S: So it’s a higher pH.
J: So it’s a different form.
S: Right, and then you start playing with the index and the water’s ability to scale and corrode, and that’s a very, very important part of this whole equation, and that’s why I came up with the Hydrozone 3 system.
J: Right. Well how can people get information on SRK pool services?
S: Well, the website’s being worked on now but we have a website that’s a static page for now.
J: And what is that?
S: Oh, it’s srkpools.com. It’s Modern Pool Solutions.
J: Fantastic. Well, Steve, it’s been a delight having you on the program.