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Show Highlights

With the Float Conference coming up, Graham and Ashkahn are talking with lots of really smart people who will be presenting this year. It’s not every day that they get to ask molecular biologists questions about float tank sanitation, so they decided to take the opportunity to ask the experts the questions that the industry needs answers to.

Today Roy Vore is taking time to share some of his knowledge about microbiology and water sanitation, along with his work in the pool and spa industry.

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Transcription of this episode… (in case you prefer reading)

Ashkahn: All right, welcome everybody. We have a slightly special episode for you guys today. It’s me, Ashkahn, and I’m here with actually one of our Float Conference speakers, Roy Vore. Roy is a microbiologist and specializes in pool and spa sanitation, and we wanted to have him on here as well as our float conference podcast.

All right Roy, I just wanted to give a little kind of nugget, a little nugget episode here with you, and just kind of focus on one quick topic about the microbiology of float tanks. Specifically, we have talked, through hanging out and drinking beers at a number of conferences together, about you kind of turned me on to this concept of water activity, and how that may be relevant to the float tanks. I was wondering if you could just delve into that for a second, talk about what that is. What is water activity, and why may it be an interesting thing for us to consider when it comes to float tanks?

Roy: First thing, we know we’re somewhere between 70% and 80% water in the human body, and if you don’t have water you’re not going to live. Let’s put this in perspective a little bit. Let’s change our thought. Probably not everybody realizes how George Washington made his fortune. George Washington’s house there on the Potomac river, he was a fisherman. He caught thousands and thousands and thousands of pounds of fish every year, salted them, put them in barrels, and shipped them to England. If he hadn’t salted them, what do you think the fish would’ve been like when they got to England? What would they have smelled like? Well we all know what bad fish smells like. George Washington had a way to take something that was very easily spoiled, like fish, ship it all the way to England, sell it, and make a fortune. The reason it worked is, the salt absorbed the water out of the fish so that there was so little water, bacteria could not grow. The fish didn’t spoil.

The float tank is the same thing as George Washington’s fishing on the Potomac river. It’s got so much salt that most common bacteria don’t have a prayer in Hades of trying to grow. They do not have enough water to reproduce. Actually in most cases the salt, the epsom salts, just suck the water right out and slowly, over several days, most of the common bacteria associated with our body shrivel up and die. That is what water activity is all about. You have to have so much water to live; if you don’t, you’re going to die. We can calculate, based upon the type of salt, what the water activity is. We go to the published literature, we look at how much water does pseudomonas aeruginosa need to grow. You calculate it for a float tank, there’s not enough water activity, it’s called A sub-w, in there, pseudomonas cannot survive for an extended period of time, significant numbers, in a float tank. That’s the number one pathogen in swimming pools and spas, is pseudomonas aeruginosa. Float tanks, you don’t have to worry about it. No water activity.

Ashkahn: They use this a lot for food too, right? When I started looking up online this whole idea, it seems like this has been a big concept for food sanitation and food safety.

Roy: Absolutely. Some of the liquid materials that are put in bread, for instance, stop bacterial spoiling. They replace the water with the higher molecular weight glycols, and so there’s not enough water in bread for certain bacteria to grow. There is for fungi, and so you can calculate for different germs, whether it’s fungi or gram negative bacteria or gram positive bacteria, where you want your water activity, and you can modify the chemistry of the food to extend the shelf life. George Washington did it based upon historical things, we’ve been salting food for at least 10,000 years, but now we know exactly how to calculate it. We can look it up in a book, and you’re exactly right, that’s where I learned most about it, was in food science classes.

Ashkahn: I also see that it has a lot to do with a topic also very close to your heart, which is making beer. It seems like you’re calculating water activity in the brewing process as well.

Roy: Yes. Brewing is a little different on there. One of the factors in brewing is, you calculate the hardness and you calculate all the salt concentration, so it’s very impactful thing. But you have another impact there, and that’s, the alcohol actually permeabilizes the membranes of the germs in there. That’s why most bacteria have trouble surviving in beer, because the alcohol literally kills most of the pathogens. Beer doesn’t have pathogens because it has lower water activity. It also has a high amount of alcohols, so it’s serving as a preservative.

Ashkahn: Is there a certain microorganism back in the pool and spa world that has a particularly high resistance to this, or can just withstand very, I guess it would be low water activity?

Roy: There are germs that are associated with the human body that have a very high resistance to high salt concentrations. The one that comes to mind right off the basement is staphylococcus aureus. Somewhere about 5% of the population will carry that on their skin or in their nose, and we hear about that as community-acquired MRSA, methicillin resistant staph aureus. It can be carried, but it’s not associated with recreational water. It’s associated with more deck chairs and things like that. It might survive in there, but then that’s really the wrong mode of transmission in there so it’s not really a threat. Water activity is one aspect, but then is that the right mode of transmission, and are there enough of them present in the water to be a threat? With staph, no. But other germs, maybe crypto and giardia, they’re very resistant, so they could survive in low water activity. They survive for an extended period of time in all sorts of environments.

Ashkahn: Interesting. I think one of the things that interest me so much in this when you told me about it is, it just seems like this is something that we could just look up. We could figure out the water activity of the solution of the float tanks, and look up these different bacteria and microorganisms, and the kind of richness of data that already exists around this topic is so exciting to realize. I think this can tell us a lot about what’s going on in float tanks. Not all of that work has been done yet, but it does seem kind of like a promising thing for someone out there to look into.

Roy: There’s a lot of information out there. It needs to be applied into the system and understood and put in context, and that’s kind of where we’re lacking at this point, is we don’t have it quite in context yet.

Ashkahn: Right. Cool, excellent, very promising to hear what sort of information could be coming in the future. Yeah, thanks so much for hopping on our little Daily Solutions podcast, and we will see you at the float conference in a couple months.

Roy: I’ll see you soon.

Ashkahn: Awesome. Thanks, Roy.

That was Roy Vore, a little special episode. If you guys have some questions for us to answer here on the Daily Solutions podcast, you can always go to FloatTankSolutions.com/Podcast. And, we’ll talk to you tomorrow.

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