Why Is pH Important?

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pH is important for a wide range of industries from aquaculture to wastewater treatments that require an accurate pH reading, especially when it comes down to human safety. 

Potential for hydrogen, or pH, is a measurement to quantify the chemical conditions (the number of hydrogen ions) of an aqueous solution and is vital in a wide variety of industries and applications. pH derives from the Latin “pondus hydro genii”, “pondus” meaning pressure, and “hydro genii” meaning hydrogen. 

pH measures how acidic or alkaline/basic a solution is, with a numeric scale ranging from 0-14 with 7.0 being neutral, <7.0 acidic, and >7.0 is alkaline or indicates a base. 

pH is how we measure how acidic or alkaline an aqueous solution is. 

Pure water has a pH value of 7.0, however, not all water solutions are set at this value. Many contributing factors affect the pH of a solution which is why it is so important to constantly monitor pH levels in a variety of industries. 

What Industries & Applications Need Accurate pH, & Why?

Certain industries require pH to be stable, therefore the use of pH monitoring is huge, ranging from wastewater treatments to the food and beverage industry. 

Wastewater Treatments

Whether it be for drinking water or wastewater treatments, pH plays an important role in water quality to remove heavy metals, organic compounds, and other toxic materials. 

Drinking water should have a pH of 6.5-8.5 for safe human consumption. When the pH becomes acidic, it can damage pipes and allows toxic metals (copper & lead) to build up and leach into the water system. When the pH levels increase and become more alkaline, the water changes, leaving an unpleasant taste, and the use of disinfectants such as chlorine becomes less effective. 

When dealing with industrial or sewage waste, pH testing is used to control the amount of microbial or chemical properties in the water. The pH must be monitored and adjusted by an operator to ensure the water is pure and safe after the cleaning process. 

Aquaculture & Aquatic Systems

Being a multi-billion dollar industry, aquaculture is an industry that requires close pH monitoring. pH levels that are too acidic or alkaline, can have detrimental effects on marine life, especially on the worldwide demand in supplying seafood to consumers. 

Most fish and other aquatic animals have a pH threshold of 6.5-9.0, so most aquatic systems will add buffers to the water such as bicarbonate to prevent pH fluctuations. 

If pH levels drop too low, it allows toxic chemicals and trace metals to enter the water system, reducing metabolic processes in fish and other aquatic life. When the pH of water in aquatic systems drops below 5.0, it can interfere with the fish’s reproductive system, often causing fish death. The early stages of aquatic organism’s development are when they are most sensitive to pH fluctuations. If the pH reads below 6.5, it can inhibit the growth of the aquatic organism. 

When the pH increases above 9.0 ammonium ions are converted into ammonia, which is lethal to fish. Growth rates slow down between 9.0 and 10.0, and if the water has a pH greater than 11.0, it will kill the fish. 

Swimming Pools & Spa Maintenence

Whether it be at home or in a public area, the pH of water in swimming pools and spas must be closely monitored for human safety. 

This means the pH range is very small, 7.2 to 7.8 is what you should always aim for. If the pH rises, the use of chlorine becomes ineffective, allowing algae, bacteria, and viruses to thrive. If the pH becomes too acidic it will irritate human skin and eyes, and corrode metal and plaster, which can leak harmful properties into the water and maintenance will be required to ensure it is a safe swimming environment again. 

Hydroponics: Agriculture & Gardening

In hydroponic systems, pH levels are extremely complex because of microbial activity, fungal development, access to nutrients, and root growth. 

Toxic metals can leach into the plants when pH levels are acidic and essential nutrients can be degraded. On the other end of the scale, if the water conditions become more basic (alkaline), a deficiency in nutrients required for growth can occur. 

Plants thrive in pH conditions of 6.0 to 7.0, where nutrient availability is at its highest. However, some plants have different requirements such as rhubarb (4.5-5.8) or broccoli (6.5-7.5). To stabilize pH levels in nutrient-rich waters, acidic or basic compounds can be added. 

Food & Beverage Industry

Monitoring pH levels in the food and beverage industry are extremely important because of human consumption. 

In the food industry pH is used for many reasons: 

  • Test the quality 
  • Control microbial activity
  • Control taste 
  • Increase shelf life

In the food industry, pH levels depend on the type of food. With meats, for example, pork, the stress level on the pig can be determined by the pH – a pH below 5.6 could indicate it had a stressful life. pH also plays a part in bacterial growth in food. Other meats such as salami must have a pH below 5.3 to ensure no bacteria has grown on the consumable. High pH levels indicate decayed meat, so close monitoring is required. 

pH plays a large role in dairy products such as milk and cheese. pH determines the softness or hardness of cheese, how sour milk will taste, the sweetness of butter, and the microbial content in yogurt. 

Similar to monitoring microbial activities in yogurt, pH is also important in brewing beverages, especially brewing beer. When brewing beer pH determines the behavior of enzymes in the liquid – the desired pH level is 5.3 to 5.8. 

Another popular beverage is wine. In the wine industry, the pH level should be low to reduce bacterial growth which can degrade the end product increasing spoilage during production. If you taste wine, you will notice some are more acidic and dry than others, this is down to pH levels. pH levels of wine range between 3.0 and 4.0, with red wines, generally having a slightly higher pH than white wines. 

How To Measure pH?

Measuring pH can be separated into 2 main categories: colorimetric methods and electrochemical methods. 

Colorimetric Methods

  • pH Indicators
  • pH Litmus Test Papers

These methods are simple to test pH, but are more prone to errors, and cannot be used to test the pH of high-purity water. 

Electrochemical Methods

  • pH Meters (Metal-electrodes, Glass-electrodes & Semiconductor sensors)

The development of electrochemical pH meters has become the most convenient way to measure pH in a wide variety of industries. The use of electrodes allows hydrogen ions in a solution to flow past a selective barrier, resulting in a detectable potential difference proportional to the pH of the solution. 

pH meters come in different types, depending on what industry or application you will use them for. 

When it comes to electrochemical sensing, it can be confusing what components are needed. A pH kit gives you everything to measure high accurate and interference-free readings. For measuring the pH of microfluidics and small applications, a micro pH kit is recommended. 

To measure the pH in simple monitoring systems with a basic analog, a gravity analog pH kit can be used. If you work with a PLC, then an industrial pH kit is the perfect measuring tool for highly accurate readings and interference-free readings with a PLC. This pH probe can be used for any industry from batch process chemical production to wastewater treatments. 

Summing Up Why pH is Important

pH is important for a wide range of industries from aquaculture to wastewater treatments that require an accurate pH reading, especially when it comes down to human safety. 

For industrial purposes, measuring pH is important to determine the quality of the product and/or the chemical property of an aqueous solution’s acidity or alkalinity. 

Whether it be for wastewater treatments or the food and beverage industry, measuring pH levels is important, especially when it comes down to human safety. 

If you would like to know more about pH and the pH kits we have to offer, feel free to reach out to one of our staff at Atlas Scientific, part of our world-class team. We look forward to answering any questions that you may have. 

pH Probes & Sensors

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