Dr. Frederick M. Hueston, PhD

I had just recovered from a mild case of COVID and was chomping at the bit to get out of my house. Being cooped up for 10 days had been driving me crazy. I missed my mornings at my favorite greasy spoon and even hearing the Admiral’s same old stories. It’s funny how you miss things you never thought you would. I still felt a little weak, but my last COVID test was negative, so off I went to see Flo, the Admiral, and enjoy a good cup of joe.

Just as I was about to hop into the old Woody, my cell phone rang. In a weaker than normal voice, I answered with my usual response, “Stone Detective here. How can I help you?”

It was a man with a very deep voice. He went on about a marble fountain they had in a lobby that was deteriorating. He kept referring to the fountain as their “Fountain of Youth.” That’s odd, I thought, but later I would find out why. He continued to talk about how they had several experts come in, yet no one could determine why the marble was disintegrating. Fortunately, for him, I’ve had my fair share of fountain inspections over the past 35 years. I was sure I could figure this one out. I hung up the phone and made my way to the diner.

I walked in, and Flo looked at me, holding her arms to her heart, and said, “Oh my goodness, we were all worried about you. Where have you been?” I took off my fedora and just said one word: “COVID.” She backed away from me, and several customers sitting nearby got up and moved away as well. I stood up and said, “It’s okay, folks, I tested negative.” They all seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. I was half tempted to start coughing, but I wasn’t in the mood for that.

You know, it’s funny – we used to cough to cover up passing gas, and today we pass gas to cover up a cough (LOL). I finished my breakfast, told Flo and the Admiral that I was going to the Fountain of Youth, and they might not recognize me when I got back.

I arrived at the office complex where the Fountain of Youth was supposed to be. I parked the Woody and walked toward the door. As I approached the building, I noticed a large sign on the front. Now I knew why the caller kept referring to it as the Fountain of Youth. The name on the building was “Johnson’s Geriatricians Center.”

The soft water was eating away at the marble, causing it to spall and pitI walked through the front door, and there it was – a large marble fountain right in the center of the lobby. It was clad in white marble tiles, including white marble below the surface of the water. The first thing I noticed was a strong chlorine smell. I walked closer to the fountain and noted that the marble just above the waterline was spalled. My initial impression was that the water chemistry was off. I was prepared and had brought my test kit to measure the pH, hardness, chlorine, and a few other parameters. I took out my test kit and felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around, and there was this giant of a man. In a deep voice, he said, “You must be the Stone Detective.” I extended my hand to shake his, but it was wet. I apologized, and he ignored the gesture, starting to give me the history.

One of the many things I’ve learned over years of doing these types of inspections is to listen carefully. Often, the client will reveal something that offers a clue to the cause of the failure. This case was no different. I let him go on and on, and then he said something that raised my eyebrows. He mentioned they had brought in soft water for the fountain to prevent these white scale deposits from forming on the sides. He was proud to say it worked and solved the white buildup.

I let him finish, and with a deep breath, I told him that was the problem. I continued to explain that marble is made of calcium carbonate, which is soluble in water. The soft water was eating away at the marble, causing it to spall and pit. “What the heck are you talking about?” he said. I went on to explain the following: Marble is primarily composed of calcium carbonate, and its interaction with water lacking minerals can lead to a process called “leaching” or “dissolution.” Soft water, being low in minerals, can slowly dissolve the calcium carbonate in marble, causing the surface to deteriorate and potentially leading to etching, pitting, and other forms of damage over time.

He just stood there, saying nothing. He looked like a little kid who had just been caught doing something wrong. I told him that the marble was likely irreparable but he would need to drain the fountain, replace the deteriorated marble, and use the proper water. Another case solved. I guess I won’t try to take a drink from this Fountain of Youth – after all, it didn’t make the marble any younger.

The Stone Detective is a fictional character created by Dr. Frederick M. Hueston, PhD, written to entertain and educate. Dr. Fred has written over 33 books on stone and tile installations, fabrication and restoration and also serves as an expert for many legal cases across the world. 
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