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Using clams and mussels as a swimming pool filter

Image credit: UF/IFAS Solutions

Darko Savic
Darko Savic Jul 22, 2021
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The idea is to construct a swimming pool filter that doesn't use any chemicals. Instead, the filtering is done through a large tank filled with filter feeders such as clams and mussels.

The filter would be complemented by a wetland filtration system and a pump that circulates the water through all the stages. From the swimming pool, the water flows into the mussels/clams tank, then through the wetland filter, and finally back into the swimming pool comes clean water.

Wetland (bog) filtration systems are not new. They do leave the pool surfaces dirtier from all the biofilm accumulation. There are natural swimming ponds that use a variant of the above-mentioned wetland filtration system. No chlorine or chemicals. They have become quite popular in Europe.

The downside to them is that the water is not crystal clear. It's clean but tends to look like pond water. Filtering via clams and mussels proposed in this idea would remove more nutrients from the water and leave the surfaces cleaner.
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A hybrid system to address microorganisms - include UV or Mineral Sanitizers

salemandreus Jul 23, 2021
As @Povilas S mentioned, the filtration system would take care of smaller organic waste (although you would likely still need a basic filtration system for collecting larger debris like leaves and twigs that fall into your pool, and also pumps to maintain pool circulation, which is also important in helping to keep it clean), but it would not address the other concern which is disinfection of microorganisms to prevent waterborne diseases and infections.

Wikipedia has a handy breakdown on what is involved in pool sanitation, in terms of various methods and the different sanitation concerns.

If you want to avoid harsh chemicals and also incorporate the clams and mussels for filtration you would need a hybrid approach to take care of the other concerns. Some of your best options would be:

A) UV systems:
In terms of how they work (detailed here):

"The water goes through the pool’s filtration system first, and then through the UV rays. The water flows through graphite housing where a UV light destroys bacteria, algae, viruses, and other microorganisms by attacking them through their cell walls.
Most pools with this system also use chlorine (just so the rest of the pool stays clean), but even then, they use much less than swimming pools that rely on chemicals alone. [...]

The UV light doesn’t leave the graphite chamber, which makes this a secure and safe way to clean your pool. In other words, you’re not going to be exposed to the light. Almost the entire process takes place within the system itself, and as an added bonus, it doesn’t need much maintenance."

In this case you would be replacing the chlorine with the mussels and clams for the general cleaning as well as the finer levels of the filtration and rely on the UV for killing the microorganisms, and a larger filtration system just for the twigs and leaves, etc.
The same way swimmers would be safe from the UV light it would also not harm the clams and mussels unless they were located in the same chamber.

B) Mineral sanitizers - This would help in avoiding harsh chemicals.
This link mentions these minerals in particular and their purposes:

"Silver and copper are well-known oligodynamic substances that are effective in destroying pathogens.
Silver has been shown to be effective against harmful bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi.
Copper is widely used as an algicide.
Alumina, derived from aluminates, filters detrimental materials at the molecular level and can be used to control the delivery rate of desirable metals such as copper. Working through the pool or spa filtration system, mineral sanitizers use combinations of these minerals to inhibit algae growth and eliminate contaminants."

Note: Don’t use salt pools if you want to avoid chlorine
It looks like traditional salt water pools would not be an ideal solution (despite clams and mussels being used to ocean salt water) as not only are the salt water generators expensive to install and maintainence a constant battle with corrosion they they also still contain chlorine as they are cholorine generators via electrolysis, though many people do not realise this and assume it is just salt due to the salty taste because they did not add the chlorine to the pool themselves. (Although they do have significantly less chlorine, for those considering a salt pool). Here is a useful breakdown of some pros and cons of salt pools for anyone curious about them.
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Povilas S
Povilas S3 years ago
Very useful summary of relevant information salemandreus, thank you!:)
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What about microbial contamination?

Povilas S
Povilas S Jul 22, 2021
Sorry If I'm poorly educated on this, but isn't chlorine added to virtually every swimming pool to get rid of bacterial and other microbial contaminations? Clams and mussels are perhaps too big to filter out unicellular microorganisms, for that you'd need something like this. I've read that they do filter out bacteria. But even using microscopic filter-feeders like the latter might not eliminate some pathogenic bacteria, cause I believe they are selective to certain microorganisms and not others. Using filter feeders and chlorine at the same time would probably kill or damage the former.
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salemandreus3 years ago
Povilas S A primary concern. I've responded with clean solutions to address this in a CC proposing UV systems or mineral sanitizers in a hybrid system.

Although I have to say, Darko Savic I think your solution of natural swimming pools won my heart if I ever have the option to set one up! Although the one in the video looks expensive! After watching your video I saw this one (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Chbu5jQSOwE) which explains a bit more about how they work, for anyone interested, and encouragingly features a smaller pool which is converted from a chlorine pool, and I see the ecosystem section does not have to be as large as your video's one and can be more just functional - for those of us with limited space, a pre-existing pool and also more on many people's affordability horizon than that luxurious design (although I am immediately saving your link to Google Keep as part of my dream house design!).
It looks surprisingly easy to maintain based on what the video says. You don't even have to worry about removing the leaves! 🤔
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 years ago
There are natural swimming pools that use a variant of the above-mentioned wetland filtration system. No chlorine or chemicals. They have become quite popular in Europe https://youtu.be/Y59J2UWnJN4

The downside to them is that the water is not crystal clear. It's clean but tends to look like pond water. Clams and mussels could be the missing component that fixes it.

If there was still a specific bacteria that needs to be controlled it could be solved by finding a bacteriophage virus species that target it.
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General comments

jnikola3 years ago
Nice idea! I am excited about how mussels have become a revolutionary tool for the general clean-up :) This guy suggests using the mussels in aquariums (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fspDHXquAm0).

What I am interested in is
- if the swimming pool will have enough food to keep the mussels alive?
- if the mussels excrete (poop) anything and if yes, can it pollute the swimming pool?
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 years ago
Juran the sand filter catches their poop. There would probably be some trial and error to dimension the clams/mussels tank properly so that the amount of nutrients is just right for them
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