Eco-Complete Planted Substrate--pH Problems
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Old 01-30-2006, 10:15 AM   #1
jshmehr
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Eco-Complete Planted Substrate--pH Problems


I have a 100Gal Tank in which I put ~160# of Eco-Complete Planted Tank Substrate. Except for a few fish, a few plants, and 2 pieces of wood, there's nothing in the tank, besides the substrate. I plan to have a fully planted Amazonian Tank with the pH in the neighborhood of 6.0. No UGF. 800W Titanium Heater. 150W undergravel heating cables.

I use RO/DI water which is pristine. I use this same water for my 200Gal Reef Tank.

I am having a problem with the GH, KH, & pH creeping up. I have done several water changes which, of course brings all 3 down. I also add an Acid buffer which temporarily lowers the pH & KH. This tank has been running for almost 2 months now.

While the packaging states this product contains Calcium & Magnesium, I purchased this product instead of Laterite with the understanding that this product would not affect the pH.

Why is this happening? Has anyone had similar experiences? Maybe the Calcium & Magnesium are going to lower thru further Water changes & Buffer??? With almost 200# of this stuff, how long is that going to take?

Thanks,
jshmehr
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Old 01-30-2006, 10:57 AM   #2
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There are two notable possibilities here.

First, your wood could be leaching something out into the water. It's worth a shot to remove your wood for a while to either confirm or eliminate this possibility.

Second, there was a bad batch of Eco-Complete. From what I understand, the base material is mined, and this batch was contaminated with some mineral which lowered pH. So they attempted to salvage it by adding a phosphate buffer to the substrate, hoping it would cancel out.

Unfortunately, it didn't work as planned. This has caused a lot of problems for people who used Eco-Complete from this batch. Symptoms are inexplicably rising pH, high phosphates, and unusual cloudiness for a while after the new substrate is added.

If you're certain this is your problem, I hear the manufacturer is replacing the substrate at no charge.
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Old 01-30-2006, 12:35 PM   #3
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If you dumped the Eco-Complete directly into the tank the water it's packed in has some buffering ability. Normally a few water changes will correct this.

Now on to the real problem. Why RO water? It's not good for fish. You have to add kH and gH into it to make it so fish can live in it. RO water is much to pure to support fish.

How high are the kH and gH going up?
Why are you trying to maintain a pH of 6.0? And for what "reason"? Stop adding the acid buffer. It's hurting more than it's helping.

A basic chemistry lesson is in order here. Eco-Complete is a natural substance. If you put it in an acidic environment it will slowly dissolve. And when it dissolves it will leach out minerals. Trying to maintain and extremely low pH of 6.0 is going to hasten this process. As is adding acid to the tank.

If you want a low pH then use CO2 to lower the pH.

All the contaminated Eco-Complete is or should be out of the system. Carib-Sea made a huge effort to replace all they could. Are there white chunks in your substrate? Where did you purchase it from and how long had they had it?
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Old 01-30-2006, 12:50 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkCobra
There are two notable possibilities here.

First, your wood could be leaching something out into the water. It's worth a shot to remove your wood for a while to either confirm or eliminate this possibility.
Typically, wood can leach tannins and humins into the water which would lower pH, not raise it.


Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkCobra
Second, there was a bad batch of Eco-Complete. From what I understand, the base material is mined, and this batch was contaminated with some mineral which lowered pH. So they attempted to salvage it by adding a phosphate buffer to the substrate, hoping it would cancel out.
The bad batch of Eco Complete contained high levels of calcium carbonate that would raise pH, not lower it. In addition to adding a phosphate based buffer (the wrong choice) to lower the pH, they also added a clarifier in an attempt to precipitate the calcium carbonate out. This made the usually clear water in the bags appear a thick milky color. If you have a bag of the bad stuff, it will have this milky color.


Quote:
Originally Posted by jshmehr
I am having a problem with the GH, KH, & pH creeping up. I have done several water changes which, of course brings all 3 down. I also add an Acid buffer which temporarily lowers the pH & KH. This tank has been running for almost 2 months now.
Hopefully the product you are adding is a carbonate based buffer like Seachem Acid Buffer. This will lower KH (and therefore pH) by converting it to CO2. Phosphate buffers will add a lot of phosphate to your tank and will also invalidate the KH/pH CO2 chart, since the chart assumes nothing but carbonates in the water chemistry.

Despite the advertising, Eco Complete is a mined set of minerals. Any time you use an uncoated substrate in your tank, it will affect your water chemistry to some degree for some time. Eco Complete will definitely raise GH in a new tank. The product does contain some degree of calcium carbonate... it varies from batch to batch... so it will raise your KH and therefore PH to some degree in a new tank. (They really should clarify this point in their literature.)

The good news... after a while, it will stabilize, and the product will stop affecting water chemistry to a significant degree. I myself use the substrate and I would say it took around 3 to 6 months and weekly 40% water changes for my water chemistry to stabilize. Again remember it varies somewhat from batch to batch.

You can continue to add Seachem Acid Buffer to lower KH in between water changes. If you're using a phosphate based buffer (in the Seachem product line, their phosphate based buffers are called "regulators"), I recommend you stop using it.
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Old 01-30-2006, 12:59 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rex Grigg
If you dumped the Eco-Complete directly into the tank the water it's packed in has some buffering ability. Normally a few water changes will correct this.
It can take more than a few water changes, as he said he already did several, and for me it took several months.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Rex Grigg
Now on to the real problem. Why RO water? It's not good for fish. You have to add kH and gH into it to make it so fish can live in it. RO water is much to pure to support fish.
What on earth makes you think that? I use RO/DI water, and my fish and plants are perfectly healthy. I think it's pretty much assumed that you need to remineralize it. He said he has a reef tank so I think he's well aware of this.



Quote:
Stop adding the acid buffer. It's hurting more than it's helping.
If he has fish and plants that prefer a low KH and the Eco Complete is raising it too much, he can lower it by adding Seachem Acid Buffer. It is very important to point out the difference between phosphate based and carbonate based "buffers" - Seachem Acid Buffer really isn't a buffer but a carbonate based "KH down" product. You immedietly jumped to the conclusion that he's using a phosphate based buffer.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Rex Grigg
A basic chemistry lesson is in order here. Eco-Complete is a natural substance. If you put it in an acidic environment it will slowly dissolve.
I feel I need to call you on this statement. You yourself said in previous posts that you do NOT support the myth that Eco Complete will slowly dissolve over time. Now you are doing a 180 and saying the opposite. I have a tank with Eco Complete in it that's three years old now, and all of it's still there. My pH is below 7 when CO2 is on for 11 hours daily.
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Old 01-30-2006, 09:53 PM   #6
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Rex Grigg,
I have studied College level Chemistry for several years & would have become a Chemical Engineer if I would not have changes courses in my young life. Your statements are not accurate. I respect your opinion but you should be polite & let everyone else know that it is you're opinion. That being said, I did not take offense at your comments & I do appreciate the fact that you chimed-in to help me out.

Naturally in Central America, SE Asia, (& several other parts of the planet) the pH of the stream and river courses is as low as 5.4 (from what I have seen).

It is my desire to replicate this and other conditions to the best of my ability for the sake of the plants & creatures which would normally inhabit those parts of the world.

Tap water in my city (Fresno, CA) has a GH of ~9dKH (161.1ppm) and a KH of ~7dKH (125.3ppm). This alone, makes it IMPOSSIBLE to replicate a pH of below ~6.7 without significant supplimentation, whether CO2, peat, or a buffer.

I have not invested the money into an adequate CO2 injection system, but will shortly. I used to use a Sugar/Yeast CO2 system in which 4- 2L bottles were employed. This fed into a simple manifold. The manifold then injected the CO2 into a Canister filter which was on a timer...During the day CO2 was injected by the Canister filter running & at night it was bypassed by the CO2 escaping & not being injected into the Tank. Although very crude & not-so-healthy for the fish, this worked very well to lower the pH to ~6.6. I noticed that the fish had a hard time breathing at 6.4 & I wouldn't dare inject more to bring the pH down further.

By using RO/DI water the KH & GH which would normally resist the acidic pH is eliminated whereby the pH can be lowered much more easily without a high CO2 concentration. Some KH & GH is reinserted in the remineralization process.

Seachem's Acid Buffer is a Carbonate Buffer (as I would not dare to add a single Phosphate into the tank except what may be in the Fish's food, & in trace amounts in the Plant supplaments). I do remineralize the RO/DI. To neglect this step would RO the minerals out of the fish & plants to create a chemical equilibrium between them and their surrounding water.

Hypancistrus,
Rex Grigg may have a point as to the Eco-Complete 'dissolving' over time. However, this must be stated with respect to time and not simply use the word/term 'slowly'.

Based on the intended pH of my System (6.0), the amount of Acid Buffer I have been adding, the rate of pH climb, the reputation of Carib-Sea in respect to quality of material...I'd have to agree with Rex Grigg on this one...I'm guessing I have ~750 years before a very noticiable amount of this product had dissolved. This is in my estimation & no mathematical or chemical formulas were employed to come to this conclusion...But I'm sticking to it!!!
Very few white specks in my Substrate. i hope that is not what several other posts in this thread are implying. Where did you guys find this info? Links please?

Thank you all very much,
jshmehr
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Old 01-31-2006, 12:52 AM   #7
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You are both wrong. Seachem Acid Buffer IS NOT A CARBONATE BASED buffer.

Directly from the Seachem MSDS.

Acid buffer, contains bisulfate salts. No mention of carbonates.

In your original post you made no mention of adding minerals to the water. So I figured you were using straight RO water. People have done that in the past and will do so in the future.

The reasons you find pH so low in those SA waters is due to organic acids in the water. They also have low conductivity and TDS. And they are brown or black.
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Old 01-31-2006, 06:04 AM   #8
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Rex Grigg,
I’m new to this Forum, and as such you really should moderate your comments to a much more couth tone. Especially considering you have sooo many posts below your name & I have so few. Btw, thanks for the warm welcome!

Ok, here’s a little chemistry lesson for the professional chemist that you’ve proven to be.

Carbonate Buffers have the tendency to raise not only the KH, but also the GH which is not ideal for the waters where the fish in my tank are from.

Seachem’s Acid Buffer when added to tank water converts KH into CO2 (actually Carbonic Acid) which reduces the pH. (full chemical equations below)

Seachem’s Acid Buffer alone, is not a true buffer, but rather an acidifying additive. However, the powder itself is NOT an acid such as citric, acetic, hydrochloric, or sulfuric acids. When used in conjunction with alkaline buffer, a weak buffering solution is produced. Thereby, a constant pH is achievable. This is accomplished by raising the Carbonate Hardness (KH) while also raising the H2CO3 (Carbonic Acid) levels. This combination can be thought of as a ‘2-part’ Carbonate Buffer. This balance (a true buffering solution) prevents dramatic pH swings.

Seachem’s Acid Buffer can be thought of as ½ of a Carbonate buffer:
If there is any Calcium or Magnesium in your system it acts EXACTLY the same as a Carbonate Buffer would!!!

Buffers typicially work in the following manner:
The Anion (basic) resists the tendency of the pH to drop.
The Cation (acidic) resists the tendency of the pH to rise.
The buffer’s pH can be adjusted by adjusting the anion:cation ratio:
Increasing the Anion will raise the buffer’s ph while lowering the Anion will lower the buffer’s pH.


Carbonic Acid Equilibrium: HCO3- ↔ CO3-- + H+

2 common bisulfate salts:
Potassium bisulfate Salt: KHSO4 ↔ HSO4- + K+
Sodium bisulfate Salt: NaHSO4 ↔ HSO4- + Na+

Ionicially, Sodium and Potassium are so soluable they remain in ion form in the tank water and make no further reactions but are 2 key electrolytes. This leaves a Hydrogen Sulfate (bisulfate) ion free. The Hydrogen Sulfate ion quickly becomes a Hydrogen ion and a Sulfate ion. Just as Potassium & Sodium, Sulfate is highly soluable and remains in solution, producing no further reactions. For the sake of simplicity I’m only going to use Potassium bisulfate. The entire chemicial equation is as follows:


K+ + HSO4- + CO3-- ↔ CO2 + H+ + SO4-- + K+

Simplified:
HSO4- + CO3-- + H2O ↔ HCO3- + H+
Bisulfate + Carbonate (KH) + Water ↔ Carbonic Acid (low pH)

Note: H+ is also recognized as H30+ and is refered to as a Hydronium ion.



The following is from wikipedia:
Buffer solutions usually consist of either a weak acid and its salt or a weak base. The resistive action is the result of the equilibrium which is set up between the weak acid and the salt:
HA(aq) ↔ H+(aq) + A-(aq)
(Where HA represents the weak acid, H+ the hydrogen ion component of the dissolved salt and A- the anion component of the salt.) Two assumptions are made about the composition of this equilibrium:
1. All the A- ions result from the salt. This is valid due to the acid's weakness - it supplies very little anions compared to the salt.
2. The HA acid remains unchanged. The high concentration of A- and H+ ions means the equilibrium lies very much to the left.
If an alkali is added to the solution, hydronium ions mop it up. These ions are regenerated as the equilibrium moves to the right and some of the acid is broken down into hydronium ions and anions. If an acid is added, the anions simply combine with the substance and once again pH is restored.
When writing about buffer systems they can be represented as salt/acid, or conjugate base/acid.
[END WIKIPEDIA]


Tannic Acid (C76H52O46) is produced by the decomposition of organic materials, primarily vegetative debris. This can be replicated many ways. Some of which are: adding peat, driftwood, ‘black-water extracts’ (which are usually complex tannic acid compounds which slowly break down into pure tannic acid). The color of the water is primarily a result of the presence of these organic acids and is otherwise totally irrevelent to the chemical composition of the water, especially in the context of the original post.

The low conductivity and low pH are both results of the low TDS. The low TDS is what is attempted to be replicated by the use of RO/DI water with the re-mineralization adding the essensial electrolytes but not too many of the unfavorable TDSs (primarily Calcium & Magnesium).
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Old 01-31-2006, 07:37 AM   #9
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jshmehr:

Rex can be a little rough but we keep him around because he wrote a nice little guide (rexgrigg.com)

Now the desire for low pH/low TDS water can be traced back to the natural environment of the fish in question but you many very well find that fish can live in "unnatural" waters. Ie neutral pH for acid fish. The fish might not breed (although domestic Blue Rams are now breeding at higher pH) but the adults will do fine. (I need a discus keeper to clear this).

So in reference to Chuck Glads pH/CO2/KH chart with a KH of 3 (lower risks pH crash) and ~30 ppm expect a pH of ~6.4
http://www.plantedtank.net/forums/sh...ad.php?t=23531

I use potassium bicarbonate to raise KH. Does not effect GH...
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Old 01-31-2006, 07:57 AM   #10
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FWIW, there was a nasty batch of Eco complete which Caribsea said was the result of a subcontractor hitting a vein of calcium carbonate in the volcanic rock which they mine for EC. Personally, I think it was all the hurricanes... Caribsea use to keep their substrates outside in a yard-- hurricanes=contamination central IMO.. I had a bad bad batch (180 lbs) which tremendously raised the GH/KH and was a royal PITA. I eventually replaced the substrate with half gravel (a mistake) and half new uncorrupted Eco complete. Caribsea sent me a $100 for lost "livestock" which really didn't do much for me, but made me feel better??
And they sent me about 14 bags of EC (uncorrupted and their mistake for over shipment!). I didn't complain at the time.

That said, I hope you didn't end up with either some of the corrupted batch which was before their 2nd batch "cure" with a phosphate buffer "pH up" which was possibly or rather comparably worse than the super hard "inert" substrate. Go figure? But some corrupted EC is possibly floating around in LFSs to this day. I would take some substrate out and test to be sure. FWIW, Rex is very helpful and sometimes abrupt.If you have any regulator CO2 questions, he is THE MAN. Welcome to the forum. bob
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Old 01-31-2006, 09:13 AM   #11
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Blue Ram,
I still want to stick with a pH in the neighborhood of 6.0. I may end up going a little higher, but I've seen so many tanks whos #s are in the neighborhood of 6 that I know it's within reason to get mine there too.

The link at the bottom is broken...I think.
Where do you buy Potassium bicarbonate? How much? Link?

I think as long as few other additives are added, Baking soda (Sodium bicarbonate NaHCO3) (the PURE, uncolored, unscented, NO additive kind) would work exactly the same as Potassium Bicarbonate. If other additives are added, the Sodium ion balance may get out of whack with too much Na ions floating around.
I'm not sure if maybe the plants need Potassium suplamentation, in which case the KHCO3 would be better. Just an idea, as the Baking Soda is what I use to raise the KH in my Reef tank when I need to and it is VERY cheap. 1 box costs a couple of bucks & lasts ~5 months in my 200gal Reef System. So maybe 5 years in a low pH Planted Tank.
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Old 01-31-2006, 09:23 AM   #12
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Betowess,
I have just recently been in contact with Carib-sea. Can you tell me what you told them or PM me a copy of your e-mail dialog with them so I can ensure I get a replacement. I have several plants planted so far but I have heating cables under the substrate so I really am not wanting to remove all my substrate. But I can't afford to keep putting an acidifier or put up with Phosphates. I just started noticing a 'slimy' algae growing on the surface of my water. you know, the kind you would see in a stagnate pond. It's a greenish to even a dark brown color. I guess as it grows thicker it also gets darker. It's growing along the edges.

Just tonight I did a 60 gal water change. I replaced it with PURE UN-MINERALIZED RO/DI!
Yeah baby! I can see the fish getting skinnier as we speak. The vital electrolytes and nutrients are getting SUCKED right out of their bodies!!!
j/k
But I did do the H2O change in hopes of lowering the KG, GH, pH, & maybe Phosphates. I've never needed a Phosphate test kit because I run PhosBan in a PhosBan reactor on my Reef Tank. When I did the 60g change I grabbed, scrubbed, & sucked as much algae out as I could.
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Old 01-31-2006, 10:17 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jshmehr
Blue Ram,
Where do you buy Potassium bicarbonate? How much? Link?
Expensive... Blue Ram probably knows cheaper options:

http://www.sciencelab.com/page/S/PVAR/10423/SLP1444

http://www.sciencelab.com/page/S/PVAR/10423/SLP2239 (the cheapest)

http://www.sciencelab.com/page/S/PVAR/10423/SLP5065

I myself have started using it a few weeks ago. Its solubility is excellent... dissolves almost instantly. Raises K and CO3 and the same time without adding all those sodium ions.

There's also Potassium Carbonate (K2CO3, "Salt Of Tartar"), which is even cheaper, but I haven't tried it however. I would guess even the non hydrated forms would be just as soluable (according to the MSDS anyway):

http://www.sciencelab.com/page/S/PVAR/10423/SLP3760

http://www.sciencelab.com/page/S/PVAR/10423/SLP5575 (the cheapest)

http://www.sciencelab.com/page/S/PVAR/10423/SLP4780

http://www.sciencelab.com/page/S/PVAR/10423/SLP1951

http://www.sciencelab.com/page/S/PVAR/10423/SLP4561 (hydrated)

http://www.sciencelab.com/page/S/PVAR/10423/SLP2752 (hydrated)

(you can order from them as an individual)
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Old 01-31-2006, 10:33 AM   #14
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Were they able to verify that you had a contamined batch?

If not, I'd suggest picking up a $6 phosphate test kit at your LFS to make sure this is really the problem.

Would kinda suck to change most of the substrate and still have a problem.
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Old 01-31-2006, 01:43 PM   #15
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jshmehr,

I don't claim to be a chemist. But when you start calling something a carbonate buffer that IS NOT I will call you on it. You also claim that Seachem Acid Buffer is not an acid. So I guess the warnings on the bottle that it's Corrosive and the international sign for acid is just a joke?

And I know how Acid Buffer works in relation with carbonates. But maybe some other people did not.
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