Dubious water-treatment schemes

Junk science in the marketplace

On this page:

This page profiles water-treatment schemes other than those involving permanent magnets or magical "catalysts". All of these I consider "dubious" in the sense that there is no credible evidence in the reputable scientific or engineering literature that these devices work, and in most cases there is no reason, based on present scientific knowledge, to believe that they even can work. This does not mean that they don't work, but that the way they claim to work is not supported by or consistent with the known laws of chemistry and physics. Anyone contemplating the purchase of any such device should be extremely cautious and insist on an ironclad performance guarantee.

Some engineering studies

In a Technical Paper presented at the 2004 International Water Conference in
Pittsburgh, PA, Chemical Engineer Timothy Keister of ProChemTech International says that

In contrast to the testimonials common to NCD [non-chemical devices] marketing literature, the many controlled studies undertaken by various government and industrial organizations have resulted in a consensus opinion that NCD are not capable of producing the effects claimed in the literature. In general, the theories advanced by the NCD suppliers to explain operation of their devices show a lack of agreement with accepted scientific principles. In spite of an extensive history of installation failures, findings of no effect in controlled studies, and no acceptable theory of operation; new NCD are accepted in the market on a routine basis, often obtaining significant sales before the inevitable disasters result in that particular device being discredited.

In a several very detailed case histories, Mr. Keister concludes that in every instance, the observed reduction in scaling could be attributed to changes in operating procedures or to other aspects of water chemistry, particularly the presence of phosphates.

One of his Web pages contains links to other detailed studies on a variety of alternative devices.

 

 

Electromagnetic water treatment

For the sake of brevity, the general comments and literature references to magnetic methods of water treatment for scale control that appear on this page that deals mainly with permanent-magnet devices are not repeated here, but should be consulted by anyone who is interested in the electromagnetic devices described here.

The devices profiled in this section generally employ an external solenoid coil through which alternating or pulsed currents are passed. The process is claimed to cause the scale particles to precipitate within and be carried along with the water, rather than forming adherent layers.

Young I. Cho, a mechanical engineering professor at Drexel University, has published a number of articles on this subject as it applies to heat-exchanger systems in which scale precipitates out from water in contact with the heated surface. One particular article (Int. Communications in Heat and Mass Transfer 32 (2005) 861-71) describes an experiment in which the fouling resistance (a measure of scale build-up) remained constantly low for over 800 hours, while in the untreated system, the resistance increased gradually for 600 hours, and then rapidly thereafter. Examination of precipitated crystals captured in a filter suggested that they were built up by aggregation of very small crystals formed at multiple nucleation sites. Cho speculates that these sites are likely small protuberances on the metal surface where the effects of in induced electric field on the hydration shells surrounding the ions being precipitated would be magnified.

This suggests that electromagnetic water treatment might be effective under the right conditions, but what these conditions might be is still unclear. But comprehensive engineering studies of actual industrial installations of these devices (such as those outlined above) generally fail to support their utility. And the fact that so many "inventors" can discover a phenomenon that remains unknown to the legitimate chemistry community cannot be a hopeful omen.

The best advice I can give at this time is to choose a product for which actual performance data is available, and which offers a guarantee of sufficiently long duration that its efficacy can be tested in an actual installation. One should be wary of vendors who make over-hyped or scientifically unfounded claims for how their devices work. In this respect, it should be noted that

  1. Most ionic motion in water is due to random thermal motions; in an electric field of 1 volt/cm, only 1 out of about 100,000 jumps will be non-random.
  2. Oppositely-charged ions tend to form neutral ion-pairs anyway, but they are so loosely-bound that they are continually dissociating and re-reforming, and are not believed able to grow large enough to serve as precipitation nuclei.
  3. Some devices claim that they act on "calcium bicarbonate" (example). Although both kinds of ions can exist in solution, solid Ca(HCO3)2 itself has never been isolated.
  4. A possible mechanism might involve the displacement of the electric double layer surrounding an ion (or a pair of ions) in such a way that makes the formation of a precipitation nucleus within the water more likely.
There is some evidence in model systems that electrostatic or magnetic fields can promote carbonate nucleation; see here for a summary. What seems to be lacking are credible independent studies showing that devices using these methods can serve as a generally reliable means of controlling scale in actual water systems.

"What experts Say about Water Condiioners" is typical of the junk-science that is frequently invoked to support these devices. This one appears to come entirely from the author's imagination.

Some typical products and their claims

Most of these manufacturers are able to cite successful installations of their products, but few if any offer detailed performance data that show their range of applicability in terms of water hardness and flow rates.

Note: quoted portions of promoters' claims which I consider to be nonsense, misleading, meaningless, or false are indicated by purple print.

Water King According to the technical description, this product, unlike most electromagnetic treatment devices, injects a 1-10 kHz (ULF radio) signal into the plumbing system,  so water both upstream and downstream is treated, even when water is not flowing through the device. 

The implication that this signal promotes nucleation of carbonate solids has, to my knowledge, never been demonstrated in the scientific literature.

On a slightly different tack, the promoter of this "Digital Water Treatment" device makes the ridiculous claim that it

changes the Ionic state of the molecules in the solution being treated. This physical ionic change repels Silica, Alumina and Iron which normally act as binders and make scale form. Free electrons are generated which allow Ca (Calcium) and Mg (Magnesium) to dissociate from CO3 (Carbonate), SO4 (Sulphate) and HCO3 (Hyrdocarbonate) and assume their neutral atomic states, thus stopping scale forming and removing scale deposits. [link]

Clearwater Systems' "Dolphin" device subjects the water to a time-varying magnetic field that is pulsed in a special way, and they claim that these pulses interact with nucleation sites to prevent coagulation into scale-foming particles. The process is supposed to be more effective when the water is recirculated through the treatment coil, making it suitable for industrial applications such as cooling towers, but not, presumably, for ordinary domestic water treatment. They also claim a bacteriostatic effect: any bacteria unfortunate enough to be trapped within the particles as they form are unable to multiply. Their Web site contains links to some fairly convincing reports relating to cooling tower applications.

A review of the Dolphin product entitled Non-Chemical Water Treatment for Cooling Towers appeared in the April 2005 issue of Environmental Building News. It mentions a number of large-scale installations, but provides no information on performance. A detailed case study on a cooling tower installation is described here.

In contrast, three engineering evaluations of the performance of this device in industrial settings [1, 2, 3] have failed to confirm the efficacy of the Dolphin "Hytronic Series 1000" device.

The Scalewatcher purports to operate on the impressive-sounding principle of "DDMF - Dynamic Disturbance of Molecular Forces" (whatever that is supposed to be!)

The principles of Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) are applied by passing Scalewatcher's patented signal through a coil wrapped around the pipe to be treated. The signal consists of a frequency modulated (FM) wave form within the audio frequency (AF) bandwidth. This inaudible sonic frequency signal sets up a dynamic field around and through the coil, pipe and water, and modifies ... the nature of the electrical charges and this ionisation effect thus alters the growth rate and pattern of the crystals in general and on specific planes. [link]

Nobody apparently has told these people that MHD phenomena have only been demonstrated in plasmas (ionized gases), not in water. They claim that it not only makes lime scale precipitate out of solution before it can coat the pipe, but it causes existing scale to dissolve. Unfortunately, the UK Advertising Standards Authority (the British analog of the U.S. FTC) disagrees:

"The Authority told the advertisers to remove claims from their advertising that stated or implied Scalewatcher could eliminate lime scale" [link]

H2O [mis]Conceptions

H2O Concepts invokes a mysterious "AMP Force" that

sends "computer-controlled" pulses through the water to change "calcium bicarbonate to calcium carbonate and into non-adherent crystals".

And Ach du Lieber! All this is certified by STEINBEIS-STIFTUNG FüR WIRTSCHAFTSFöRDERUNG, despite the fact that no such solid as calcium bicarbonate is known to exist (the only known bicarbonates are of the alkali metals).

Yet another manufacturer claims that their water treatment system is "new and revolutionary", but it appears to be just another solenoid coil wrapped around a pipe through which mysterious electronic signals magically remove water hardness. The device

uses Molecular Surface Energy Realignments to neutralize the dissolved calcium carbonates that cause hardness. MSER ingeniously uses the resonant energy forces that are developed on charged particles, the dissolved ions, moving in electromagnetic fields to alter the molecular surface energy states. ... ionic calcium carbonate is treated sothat electrically neutral aragonite is formed rather than calcite ... one causes hard water and the other doesn't. Now, soaps will really bubble ... and the water is silky soft, not oily or slimy as salt-softened water commonly does. [link]

There is of course no reason to believe any of this, but they do offer a performance guarantee of sorts (but read the fine print!)

Freije / Easywater Treatment Systems for scale control. They claim that

EasyWater treatment causes the minerals to fall out of solution and combine together with each other... and causes the water to be unsaturated. EasyWater breaks these hydrogen bonds and causes the water molecule clusters to become individual molecules, which re-dissolve the existing scale deposits.

... which, if true, would appear to violate several laws of physics!

HydroDumb

This Australian company claims to use "some of the latest advances in physics research" by applying "resonance frequencies" that "stops chemical bonding" (and thus, presumably scale formation.) Such "resonance frequencies" are unknown to chemical science, and make one wonder about the veracity of their other claims. The company provides a long list of users and lab-test results, none of which appears to be easily verifiable. (An earlier version of their Web page claimed at the device breaks "gravitational attraction" between molecules, so it appears that they are beginning to learn some physics.)

Water Changer wackiness

The Water Changer is an "electronic multi-wave radio pulse generator with a high negative ion and plasma production." This latter bit strikes me as nonsense, since a) negative ions cannot be generated without forming an equal number of positive ions, and b) only very intense electric fields can generate plasmas, and only in a gas. They go on to say that:

The basic principle is to change the ions in the water...The Water Changers Unit changes the two parts hydrogen to negative-charges. Now the oxygen and the hydrogen repel each other.

This change drops the minerals into suspension to prevent minerals from forming scale by releasing the hydrogen and oxygen in the water. Now, the computer can spread the molecules, allowing identification of toxic molecules while enhancing other molecules to correct your individual water problems.

The promoters claim a wide variety of agricultural applications, but their obvious ignorance of basic chemistry should warn anybody not to bet the farm on this device!

Nano Resonance Nonsense

Ever thing from shoe polish to diet pills seems to align itself with "nanotechnology" nowadays, so it's not surprising to find this outfit using the word to flummox science-naive consumers with a "technology" that "treats fluids to enhance their performance." And not just water! By "re-structuring" liquid and gaseous hydrocarbon fuels, they claim to improve energy efficiency! It even increases the efficiency of refrigerant liquids such as Freon! How does this work? This technology

alters the molecular structure of fluids that changes the energy state of the molecule. This change is accomplished through the square wave frequency principal modulating the carrier. [link]

And it works right down at the atomic level:

NRT Technology alters the molecular structure of the atom and the result is the elongation of the electron orbit without being released from the atom. This creates a tremendous amount of energy

What was that again? Don't worry: they offer no evidence or scientific support for any of their ridiculous claims.

"Reduces bacteria by 95%! Breaks down scale! Keeps calcium bicarbonate in solution! Preserves waters organoleptic [??!] properties!" ... or so says the breathless promo for the GoGreen Sonical Water Treatment System, without offering a scintilla of supporting evidence. And while you're at it, get their Sonical Fuel Charger whose electric fields produce "molecular cracking" that increases power and reduces emissions! Utterly ridiculous! One part of their site claims to kill bacteria by encrusting them with scale, another claims electroporation. All this presumably supercedes their former claims about a so-called "Matrix Enabled Particulization" process, in which "atomic sized nucleation sites on the surface of small polymer beads convert dissolved hardness into microscopic crystals." What will they think up next?

For your garden...

Vi-Aqua is an electronic device you are supposed to attach to a watering hose. It generates an electromagnetic signal

that will energise your water through altering the hydrogen content, thus simulating photosynthesis and ... making it easier for the plant to absorb moisture... up to 25% increased crop growth

As usual, no credible supporting evidence is offered for the benefits of this "proven" device, said to have been developed in Ireland by two Limerick University professors, but more likely by a troupe of leprechauns. For more of this malarky, see this "news" article Wave goodbuy to global warming, GM, and pesticides.

Electrolytic water treatment

Electrolysis refers to the breakdown of water by an electric current. One of the products of this is hydroxide ion, which reacts with the bicarbonate present in hard water to form carbonate: OH + HCO3 → CO32– + H2O. The high local concentration of carbonate ions near the cathode then precipitates CaCO3 and MgCO3. Although this does happen, I am not aware of any reports showing that is an economical or practical approach to scale control.

Devices that depend on electrolysis require that the water be fairly conductive, something that is not always the case in many carbonate-containing waters. This, together with the lack of any validation of such processes in the technical literature, makes me rather skeptical.

Of course, the claims by most vendors about their devices are pure crackpot chemistry that have nothing to do with the process I describe above.

It should be noted that there are legitimate water-treatment methods that make indirect use of electrolysis, most commonly to create oxidants such as hypochlorites or, through use of sacrificial anodes of iron or aluminum, to produce flocculating agents ("electroflocculation").<

Electrolytic production of hypochlorite for water disinfection

Sodium hypochlorite is readily produced by the electrolysis of salt water, and it is an effective and widely-used disinfectant. Ordinary laundry bleach is a concentrated form that will attack almost any organic substance; a dilute (2%) solution can be used to disinfect vegetables.  Hypochlorite ion, and its more-effective acidic form hypochlorous acid, are the active agents in municipal water chlorination processes and in many products intended to disinfect swimming pools.

One might think that a device that generates hypochlorite solutions electrolytically and injects it into a water supply line as required would be a practical way of providing point-of-use disinfection drinking water for homes and businesses, but as far as I know, there are no reports of such products in the technical literature. The major reason for this, I suspect, is that this would require that the level of chloride ion in would have to be sufficiently high to render it un-potable.  (See here for the theory.) 

I have come across only one product that claims to do this:

ClearGold's Water Activator employs a computer-controlled electrolytic cell to generate hypochlorite and what they mistakenly call "hypochloric" acid from whatever chloride ions are present in the water. In my opinion, the concentration of hypochlorous acid that results will be far to small to provide reliable disinfection, especially in the coastal Pacific Northwest, where much of the water supply comes from mountain snow-melt, has low conductivity and low chloride ion.

What bothers me more about this product is their claim that their technology creates

"structured water or 2H20. 2H20 is water that has been treated electronically to pre-condition the water molecules to become active ... One molecule of pure water consists of two hydrogen and one oxygen atom. Structured active water consists of two hydrogen and two oxygen atoms."

Anyone who has passed high-school chemistry will immediately see the absurdity of this statement, as well as that of the ridiculous "2H2O" structure they illustrate at the top of the page. ClearGold's obvious deficit of chemistry chops should be sufficient warning to prospective customers.

In common with most promotions of this kind, they also make the usual unbelievable claims: "increased hydration", "detoxification", "cell nourishment", "moisturization of skin". The stuff under their heading "100% Cell Destruction",  with its emphasis on enzyme distruction is largely nonsense.  Finally, their "Testing" section and the "Test Results" are so poorly documented and vague to be believable.

The Water Energizer is described as a self-powered electrolytic cell which, in the presence of dissolved ions in the water passing through it, will "reduce its free energy" by generating "an internal electric field which modified the degree of polarization and energy content of the water and the substances dissolved in the water within the system." All this (whatever it is supposed to mean) is claimed to "decrease the interfacial tensions between solids" and to inhibit corrosion. As someone who used to teach electrochemistry, this all sounds highly dubious to me. And the claim that hardness ions are precipitated instead of being allowed to form scale is unsupported both by thermodynamics and published experimental evidence.

One company which markets a device to prevent scale formation on swimming-pool walls has claimed the following impossible chemistry:

Impulse technology uses 2300 to 3000 low voltage, high frequency electrical impulses per second to break down the calcium bicarbonate and magnesium bicarbonate crystals and change them into a powder form (carbonate). This powder form does not stick to the pool tiles or rock surfaces.

Sorry, guys, but neither calcium nor magnesium is able to form solid bicarbonates. These bicarbonates exist only in solution; when they form solids due to heating or evaporation, they change into ordinary carbonate scale. There is no scientific evidence that electrical impulses can have any effect on this.

Other electrolytic processes, completely off-the-wall

One typical company markets a system that appears to be basically a water-electrolysis process, the idea being that this yields atomic oxygen which is capable of oxidizing all impurities (including microorganisms) out of existence. Their poorly written"Science Summary" is a compendium of unsupported claims, irrelevant tables, and chemical nonsense. Such gems as giving the formulas of calcium bicarbonate as CA(H(CO³)² and hypochlorite ions as NaCL² make one wonder if anyone at this company has even completed a high school chemistry course. These units are offered for home (for drinking water, pools and spas,) industrial, and agricultural uses.

Some of the dubious claims found on this site:

 The hype

 The science

"Water purifies from the water molecule itself. OH hydroxyl ion, and atomic oxygen (01) are generated in gas form within the sealed pressure line to oxidize the water"

 OH and O are not gases and cannot exist in water; if they are formed during electrolysis at all, they are highly transient species that disappear before they can move away from the electrode.

"generates more oxygen radicals in one minute (20gr to 80gr) than most ozonators can generate in one hour (1/3 gram to 50 grams)"

This ridiculous claim, if true, would require a current of over 1000 amperes to pass through the essentially-nonconductive water.

By means of copper electrodes, "Double positive charged ionic copper (Cu++) is kept at .4 to .7 ppm" Although copper ions are efficient at controlling bacteria and algae, they are also toxic to animals in more than trace amounts: the EPA limit is 1.3 ppm.

"calcium is kept in the soft bicarbonate form in standing pressure lines, and at fixtures. The heat point required to precipitate calcium in the carbonate form is increased substantially."

 The carbonate/bicarbonate balance is controlled solely by the pH and is not affected by electrolysis or electrolysis products.


Another device is purported to work in the following way:

As water, with dissolved hardness minerals, passes over the ... coil, a small electric charge is given off. The dissolved minerals, when electrically charged, change their ionic state. Negative charged ions become positive charged ions.  The altered state of all positive charged particles prevents the scale damaging minerals from sticking together and adhering to plastic and metal surfaces. [link]

The "chemistry" here is as crackpot as their punctuation! There is no way that this can happen; any attempt to decompose carbonate or bicarbonate ions electrolytically would decompose the water instead.

Incoherent nonsense for water reoxygenation

Do you have a sick pond or lake that is running out of oxygen? A solar-powered "Coherent Water Resonator" can put things to right with technology:

based upon electromagnetic physics and the coherent dielectric nature of water.  The electromagnetic field (EMF) produced by The Resonator™ results in liberating free-hydrogen from the water body.  In turn, oxygen is drawn into the water from the air-water interface and oxygen is formed naturally (insitu) through the self-ionization of water.  This process increases the Dissolved Oxygen level and returns the water to its natural high-energy state. [link]

Well, if this device works at all, it is not explained by the crackpot chemistry quoted above. This this nutty hype aside, I presume that the device is essentially an electrolytic oxygen generator. and As usual, there are no independent reports in the reputable technical literature that I know of, and the company provides no performance data to back up its claims. However, there is a favorable mention here. But see here for more completely goofy pseudoscience from this outfit.

Sounds simple...

Just stick in a couple of oppositely-charged electrodes, and watch the hardness ions such as Ca2+ and CO32– be magically drawn out of the water to be precipitated on the electrodes. Never mind such ions cannot be deposited from aqueous solution, or that the process would violate several laws of physics! But this vendor not only claims to overcome these difficulties, but says that the device can remove all kinds of other things, including "humic acids" (which other hucksters sell as a dietary supplement!)

Electrostatic scale control

Several devices on the market claim to use an electrostatic field to induce the precipitation of scale-forming ions within the water, so as to prevent its formation on heat-exchanger surfaces. I am not aware of any credible evidence that this can effectively prevent scale deposition. It is known that an electrostatic field can affect colloidal particles, including algae and bacteria. These particles carry a surface electric charge which attracts an outer cloud of oppositely-charged ions. Application of an electrostatic field distorts this cloud, inducing movement of the particles— a process known as electrophoresis. This has proven useful for removing colloidal particles from settling basins, and also, apparently, for controlling slime deposition in industrial cooling systems. Typical products are IonStick, ZetaRod, and ELECTROchem; the latter was the only one that seemed to offer performance data. A fairly good summary of the theory is available on this ZetaRod page..

Electrical impulse magic for pools

This one is claims to be based on "Impulse Technology" (a term that I thought usually applies to the equally dubious idea of pressure impulses described farther down on this page), but this one depends on the magic of electricity and is aimed at the swimming pool market. They claim that it

treats pool water by applying high frequency, low voltage impulses directly to the water to change the calcium bicarbonate form (hard crystals) to a carbonate form (soft crystals) at the molecular level. In the carbonate state, the calcium becomes easier to manage on pool surfaces.

... all of which may sound very "scientific" to a non-chemist, but to me it's pure jiggery-pokery.

Zap it with Zeta

The ZetaRod, mentioned above, has a page that claims, without any justification or evidence, that their product prevents scale deposition. It is difficult to see how this can be, since the scale-forming ions are not colloidal and don't tend to migrate rapidly in an electrostatic field.

Depressurizing for scale control

There are a number of systems on the market that operate by subjecting the water to rapid reductions in pressure. This is supposed to allow dissolved carbon dioxide to escape from the water, presumably rendering it more alkaline and thus causing any dissolved carbonates to precipitate out as finely divided particles that remain in the water but are not able to form scale deposits.

It is true that this is the mechanism by which stalactites are formed in limestone caves as pressurized groundwaters, saturated in carbonates, seep into the caverns. I doubt very much that this mechanism could be operative in a plumbing device:

More seriously, I have not been able to find any reports in the reputable technical literature that support these claims. Whether or not these devices actually work, I have no idea.

Free-Flo™ Hard Water Buster

This one is typical. A former incarnation of this link illustrated some very clueless chemistry:

Upon entering [the device], water undergoes a pressure drop and turbulent flow. This causes (among other things) dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) to become a gas in the water (much like bubbles in champagne). This changes the chemical characteristics of the water, producing a "saturated" condition with respect to calcium carbonate. ... Saturated water travels over the core in the FRE-FLO™ housing. The core promotes the nucleation or growth of scale crystals. ...The crystals are then carried out of the unit suspended in water.

This system is apparently pitched toward industrial applications and they largely avoid the nonsensical claims that are so widespread in the direct-to-consumer field. They say that the calcite crystals are formed through epitaxial nucleation which, as I explain here, is doubtful as a means of scale control.

A detailed engineering study of this device in an industrial installation finds that it "has not controlled scale formation in the treated cooling tower system to any significant degree."

The makers of another "Scale Prevention System" tell us that magnetic treatment, to be effective, must be preceded by pre-conditioning of the water that only their system (which they claim to be patented) can provide. This is achieved by passing the water through a "Pressure-change chamber" which purports to reduce the carbon dioxide content of the water, thus reducing the solubility of calcium carbonate, causing some of it to precipitate out. A subsequent "Catalytic chamber" then accelerates the growth of these crystals. So far, so good, but then watch out:

... the water passes by some magnets which makes it possible for the calcium or "hardness" crystals to stay in suspension. ... This magnetic field reverses the natural phenomenon of like particles wanting to remain apart from each other. In scientific terminology, this is known as zeta potential

Yet another "salt-free water softener" made the claim in an earlier incarnation of this link that

Utilizing household water pressure as its energy source, the [product] converts hardness producing calcium bicarbonate into Calcite - an internationally recognized, environment friendly, sequestering (water softening) agent. The Calcite seeds attract calcium and magnesium, preventing these hardness minerals from forming scale and producing other hardness related problems.

Judging from the blurb above, these people are ignorant of much of the basic chemistry: there is no such compound as calcium bicarbonate; calcite (calcium carbonate) is not a water softening agent, but is in fact the major form of scale! It has no special tendency to attract other ions in more than trace quantities. Score: 0%, a nice fat "F" in my course! Would you be confident about purchasing a product from people (even if they are Canadian!) who spout this kind of crackpot chemistry?

This system utilizes an "electrostatic and cavitational process" to precipitate calcium carbonate directly into the water stream. The exact role of electrostatics here is not explained; a rather complicated-looking animated diagram suggests that a "dielectric activator" generates gas bubbles that cause the "cavitation" to occur. They offer no performance data, but claim over "50,000 installations."

Vibrations and vortices

Vortices and vibrations are a rich source of pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo, both in the health quackery and water-treatment-scams fields. for example, look at this goofy device that falsely purports to add negative ions to water— a favorite theme of Japanese-based hucksters.

One system employs a ring device mounted on a water pipe which operates on the principle of "oscillations and the manipulation of oscillation patterns" which are supposed to somehow be retained in the water and produce all kinds of benefits such as softening the water, controlling scale and corrosion, altering the chemistry of dissolved iron. etc. etc. The Promoters of this product give no useful details about the nature of these "oscillations" beyond displaying some animated graphical gobbledygook,nothing is said about the source of energy for producing the vibrations, and of course they offer no evidence to support any of these fanciful claims. Absolutely unbelievable! See here for a typical BS-filled sales pitch.

An even more weird product claims to set up some kind of weird "communication" with your water, utilizing an impressive-looking (from the outside!) "treatment unit" involving vibrations and vortices. They claim a number of agricultural, industrial, and waste treatment applications, as well as the usual pile of unbelievable health benefits.

"Chemical free water treatment for cooling towers" is the promise offered by this company that claims to use a kind of vortex-induced cavitation process that they say

  • Effects [sic] the lattice structure of water and the equilibrium equations of molecules
  • "Bonded trace elements like calcium carbonate" are "split away"
  • Controls bacteria and slime

For all I know it may actually work, but has anyone ever confirmed this independently?

Far-infrared fantasies

A number of promoters have attempted to cash in on the fact that water has a rich absorption spectrum in the far-ir region . Far-ir absorption is generally related to motions of entire molecules or groups of molecules within liquids and solids, and is hardly unique to H2O (but they don't tell you that!)

Some devices purport to use this radiation to break up the "clusters" of water molecules that they [falsely] claim inhibit the uptake of individual H2O molecules by the body's cells (as if a few billion years of evolution haven't managed to solve that problem!). There are even devices on the market that purport to do the same for gasoline so as to improve fuel economy; these often include magnets that are placed on the fuel line, and are of course completely worthless scams.

Thus one company flogs a device which they say

"generates electronic waves of the longest wave length in far infrared rays. This stimulates the water molecules and are vibrated in such molecules. When he water consisting of a compound structure absorbs this energy, the molecules in clusters become smaller. The energy generated ... is changed to elecro-chemical energy .... that generates hydrogen and oxygen..."

Another wrinkle on far-ir comes from a Korean outfit (and is marketed in the U.S.), which flogs a magical fabric that you are supposed to wrap around your rheumatic joints:

"FAR-IR ... has a frequency that is close to the natural frequency of water. Since humans are composed of over 70 percent water, this invisible light is in harmony with the water found in bodily tissues." For good measure: "Bio-Energy fabric also contains a special ingredient that generates negative ions. These serve many purposes including acting as a deodorant as well as an antiseptic, both without chemicals. [link]

Far-infrared toothpaste?

One of the silliest and most scientifically erroneous promotions involving far-infrared can be found on this former dental care products site in which we are treated with gems of misinformation such as:

  • Infrared light has a low pH and less energy. Symptoms of infrared light are relaxation, loss of weight and paleness.
  • Infrared particles carry an inner extra positive charge that radiates electrons.
  • The way that oxidants inhibit bacteria growth is that the chemicals in oxidants electrocute bacteria to prevent them from growing.
  • Infrared rays are longer microwaves that sap the energy from resistant bacteria. The slow down in metabolism causes the bacteria to age and decay. ... Infrared vibrations lower the pH and kills the bacteria by frying the inside cell.
  • Think of odor as free electrons of gas fumes that rise in air. Infrared particles will neutralize the free electrons. Infrared particles catch the free electrons and secure the electrons so that the odor disappears.

These same hucksters are equally at-sea about magnetic fields and ionization:

Bacteria air resources carry energy from electric negative ions. The negative ions vibrate to trap the vibration from bacteria in an electromagnetic field. The illustration shows how opposite charges magnetically attract to form an electromagnetic field. Similar charges repel. Compete50 toothpowder has more magnetic attraction than bacteria to steal the gas away from bacteria. The nuclear power has such magnetic attraction that it attracts the bacteria to the nuclear powder to adhere and have no energy to grow. [link]

 

Other light-related bunk

Photonic Ionization

A Web site now thankfully departed claimed that their "Photonic Ionization" product that

if fluids of specific chemical compositions, flowing through transparent conduits, were exposed to electromagnetic(photonic) fields of specific field strengths, wavelengths, pulse widths, amplitudes and frequencies, their molecules could be substantially modified and separated out of solution. The primary application is supposedly water desalination, but the inventor suggests that this process can be used to produce a variety of altered beverage products , including types suitable for therapy, anti-oxidants, super-oxygenated, herbal, purgative, deacidifying and carbonated/non-carbonated applications.

"Photonic ionization", needless to say, is complete nonsense. I have been unable to find primary references to this process on the Web. Most references to this desalination process seem to point to "money shows" in which fund managers are invited to steer investors into great-sounding schemes. They usually mention that a major investor has committed to financing the construction of a pilot plant. The company behind this all appears to be one which, according to StockPatrol.com, was de-listed from the OTC exchange in 2000.

 

Water-borne light-wave energy (weird!)

Yet another now-gone site hawked a series of waters containing minerals which "are used to hold and carry electrically charged light-energy signals to areas of the body of animals and humans. Once the minerals have been fractionated to smaller components, they can be encoded with non-visible light waves. Different combinations of light waves are used in each ... formulation. Each product is coded to trigger specific responses according to the goals of a particular formulation" by means of "very subtle light wave energies that are obtained from nature." They go on to explain that "the entire body runs on light wave energies and senses their transmitted signals. If the signals are accurate and potent enough, the body responds favorably." In a bid to the believers in chiropractic, they offer a series of 26 formulations their snake oil, each carefully tuned to one of the 26 vertebrae and the ailments purported to be associated with them.

I won't even try to debunk this nonsense, since anyone who is credulous enough to take it seriously is likely too insulated from reason to even listen to rational argument.

 

Questionable Chemistry

Redox magic

Several companies market water filtration and treatment systems based on "oxidation-reduction" alloys, copper-zinc being a fairly common one. Perhaps the most widely-promoted filter media of this type is made by KDF. When I first described the KDF media a few years ago, I was put off by the large amount of impossible chemistry they adduced to support their claims of how this kind of alloy can remove sulfur and iron from water. Their current Web site has dropped all mention of the chemistry of their media.. They now offer several reports done by a commercial lab that sound impressive.

It should be noted that there is little evidence that residual chlorine in water is harmful to humans, and that much of it is in the form of hypochlorous acid, which is even more difficult to reduce than chlorine. The main danger associated with chlorination of drinking water is the formation of reaction products of chlorine with organic material often naturally present in the water. These materials are most efficiently removed with an activated-carbon filter. There is no rational reason for trying to remove chlorine from shower water, despite the dire warnings on some huckster Web sites.

Older KDF sites describe how copper and zinc in the alloy can in theory remove heavy metals such as lead: Cu + Pb2+ → Cu2+ + Pb, but how the plated-out-lead can be removed by backwashing is difficult to understand. Similarly, they claimed that iron in the ferrous form (Fe2+) is oxidized to Fe3+ and precipitated as Fe(OH)3, the oxidizing agent is supposed to be O2 that is already supposedly present in the water. (The usual material employed to remove iron is manganese dioxide; if KDF uses this, they don't say.) Finally, they still say that the KDF media control bacterial and algal growth— and they present test results that apparently confirm this, but it is not at all clear how this is accomplished.

It should be noted that KDF media often form a part of other filter products for which highly dubious claims may be made.

Magnesium magic

Passing water over a chunk of magnesium metal, according to this company, will

  • descale plumbing and shower walls (purportedly changing calcite deposits into the "softer" aragonite form)
  • change "the dreaded chlorine into a harmless soluble chloride"
  • "produces smaller drops of water for better rinsing that makes you squeaky clean after showering" and makes your laundry turn out "clean and soft"

They especially tout agricultural applications, claiming that their device "neutralizes sodium", "softens the hard scale in the ground", and reduces water needs by up to 50% and the power for pumping water by 30%. Their rather ponderous Technical Page invokes some questionable chemistry.

A former Web page also informs us that "the Romans used magnesium in their aquaducts to keep the water free of scale". Well, their history is as crackpot as their chemistry: metallic magnesium was first isolated in 1755!

Other goofy processes and products

Grander water weirdness

Johann Grander is an Austrian inventor who claims to have found a way to "revitalize" water, changing its "inner structure" and returning "the water molecules to a highly ordered state, making the water more stable." (What "more stable" is supposed to mean is never made clear.) This transformation is supposed to be accomplished by exposing the piped water to an "information field" emanating from a sample of a perfected water that Grander prepares by an undisclosed method. Grander water treatment

involves a field effect generated by highly structured water ("information water") developed by Johann Grander... The information water passes structural information through its field to other liquids nearby. The water which passes near the information water takes on a new structure (is "revitalized").

This is supposed to work the usual magic of preventing scale formation (and even removing existing scale), as well as reducing water surface tension, killing bacteria and even improving plant growth, and increasing the solubility of substances in water, although no convincing evidence for any of these wonders is reported. How does this process work? According to one sales site

The subject liquid/water to be treated is channeled in an optimized direction of flow along metal, hollow cylinders containing Grander's water concentrate (obtained from one of the world's largest fresh water underground aquifers high in the Austrian Alps, dated at 5000 years old, and enhanced by means of an electromagnetic process). As the subject water moves through the unit, the laminar (rectilinear) flow is divided into individual, turbulently moving partial streams which, with intensive intermixing, improves the mean retention of the bio-magnetic fields sourced by the water concentrate. As a result, an optimal interaction is achieved between the special fluid and the liquid to be treated. This process allows the tuning fork effect to occur (one vibrating tuning fork sharing its vibration when brought into proximity to a second tuning fork), changing the liquids specific set of waveform characteristics. The Grander Water acts as a template for relational and organizational structure. [link]

This is of course pure meaningless claptrap that is likely to appeal only to the most science-challenged, of which there are unfortunately far too many. The Grander site summarizes a number of "research reports" of dubious quality, but provides no quantitative performance data or references to the reputable scientific literature that would support any of their fantastic claims.

 

A similarly weird "technology", now apparently just in the promotion stage, is offered by this Canadian outfit:

"AYUS' proprietary technology process permanently imprints information (Quantum Signatures) into metals, ceramics or glass, (Carriers) which then affect the water (or other fluid) it contacts with those Quantum Signatures."

Among other wonders, they claim to "eliminate lime scale and clogging from mineral deposits".

Betron Energy Cell

This was once hyped as a device for treating water that employed strange and almost-magical forces, but the current promoter has now toned down the hype. A 2008 engineering publication describes the "dissection" of this unit, revealing it is a worthless deception: "The Beotron unit is a PVC tube capped at both ends and filled with sand and a copper wire running down the center. The water does not flow through the tube, and none of the water comes into contact with the sand and the copper."