A Phoenix retailer is embroiled in a legal battle with the city fire department over the storage of calcium hypochlorite, a powerful Class 3 oxidizer.
“I’m trying to get them to see the big picture, and
their response was to go after my business with a vengeance,”
said Dale Howard, owner of B&L Pools. “If they’re going to make
and enforce these rules, they need someone there who understands
Cal hypo is no stranger to controversy. Despite its benefits as
a pool sanitizer, the chemical has been cited in a handful of fires
and emergency incidents in the past several years. Most notable was
a March 2004 blaze at a BioLab warehouse in Georgia that burned for two days and forced the
closure of a major Atlanta interstate.
In many cases, the end result was an increase in regulations among
But Howard alleges the Phoenix Fire Department is bringing undue
pressure on his business, and selectively enforcing fire prevention
codes while leaving some competitors comparatively untouched.
Since 2001, B&L Pools has been cited continuously for
failing to obtain the permits required to store and display certain
chemicals. One shop alone has been inspected nearly a dozen times,
But a number of big-box stores, including The Home Depot,
Wal-Mart and Fry’s, have not been subject to the same requirements as
B&L Pools, Howard claimed.
The city is seeking $12,000 in unpaid permit fees, which an
arbitrator recently upheld. In response, Howard filed a
counterclaim seeking $200,000 for lost business after he was forced
to permanently close one of his stores that was deemed
“It’s hard to go against the fire department,”
he said. “But my fear is that we’re going to start
getting sick kids because there isn’t enough chlorine in
Assistant City Attorney Michael L. Law, who represents the city
of Phoenix, declined to discuss the case, and fire officials did
not respond to requests for comment.
In one instance, Howard said he was cited and directed to lower
store shelving to 6 feet. After making the requested
accommodations, Howard was visited by the same fire official, who
cited B&L Pools again, this time for failing to house its
products below 6 feet.
In another case, one of Howard’s five stores was cited for
failing to maintain a 20-foot separation between five distinct
types of chemicals — cal hypo, muriatic acid, liquid
chlorine, dichlor and trichlor. When he told the fire official it
was impossible to comply with the separation requirement in his
2,000-square-foot store, the official’s response was,
“Move the business,” Howard said.
Whether the case goes to trial, the debate over cal hypo and its
benefits vs. risk likely won’t end with a clear-cut verdict.
Some retailers believe the product, in its more concentrated form
of 65- to 68 percent chlorine, eventually will become extinct due
to the risk in handling and storage.