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Exploding Marine Stealth Pro aquarium heater, a do it yourself (DIY) fish tank project run amuck. Thermometer recall.

Updated on October 15, 2012

      The vintage thirty gallon tank had waited patiently in storage for decades, its beveled wooden base was in dire need of moisture having endured temperature changes from zero to well over a hundred degrees year after year. My dad had purchased the tank in 1960 and it is one of the first tanks that incorporated sealing glass to glass, there is no frame other than the ornate wooden base. Must be over a year ago now that I mentioned getting an aquarium and thus became the proud owner of this relic. It took me a week of meticulous scraping to remove all the glue from the packing tape that had been wrapped around the glass securing the lid which houses a tray for food and accessories as well as a fluorescent tube and starter. Upon completing this task and bringing the wood back to life with various oils I placed the tank in the bathtub and filled it. Perhaps I should have left it there longer but I thought at the time if it was going to leak it would happen within a few hours. And so it began. Several hundred dollars later the “free” tank was looking great. I was now familiar with all the shops in town that carry aquarium supplies and had carefully picked what I thought to be the best accessories for it.

      The first day in my living room we noticed a small amount of water upon the stand on which it sat. Apparently it had held on for life, perhaps clenching its seams together against all odds, while situated in my bathtub.

      “Maybe it’s just residual water from filling it”, I told my wife.

      This was the first DIY mistake. The small amount of water quickly became a large amount of water saturating the wooden stand, the living room carpet and pad beneath as I baled the water from the tank. A week later the tank was ready again. I had carefully removed and replaced the old silicone from the seams.

      Although I had paid meticulous attention to every tidbit of wisdom I found on various websites, water temperatures, water conditioning and pH, filtering, aeration, my first three attempts with live fish were disastrous. They would look great and all would be well for a week at best until they would begin to drop off one at a time. Although I rarely if ever give up without success, much to my wife’s relief I put the tank and all of its accessories away for awhile.

      A few weeks ago I had the interior of my home repainted and new carpet installed. I reasoned with my wife that after all the money invested in our aquarium we should try again. Thankfully she was much more conducive to the idea this time around. It had been a year now since our last attempt with fish.

      I carefully cleaned the tank and everything that would be in it, filled it with water, and was waiting several days to make sure everything was stable. As I had purchased, a year ago, what I thought was the best heater Petco sold for my tank I didn’t bother with a floating thermometer. Mistake number two, thinking that my heater with the fancy LED and adjustable thermostat “guaranteed to hold within one degree” would be sufficient for temperature control. I noticed that the tanks glass seemed much to warm so I placed my fingers into the water and sure enough it felt like it must have been ninety degrees or so.

     Mistake number three, the big one!  I proceeded to remove the heater from the tank without unplugging it, just for a moment to get a better look at the adjustable thermostat. It was set at seventy degrees and the green LED was lit, that is to say that the heater supposedly is not currently heating as the water is at the correct temperature.  However the heater itself was very hot, the water was evaporating instantly as I reached for the cord to unplug it from the wall. In the few short seconds this entire process had taken just before I reached the outlet a waft of very acrid smoke came out and then BOOM and when I say BOOM that is what I mean.

      The heater had literally exploded in my face. Plastic and glass shrapnel covered my entire living room, later I even found pieces thirty- five feet away in my dining room. My shirt was embedded with endless pieces of shiny black glass and plastic. Although I had been wearing glasses I felt irritation in my left eye but attributed this to the smoke that came out just prior to the BOOM.

     I called Petco and briefly explained what had happened and they informed me that the Marine Stealth Pro heater I had purchased, or pieces thereof should be returned for a store credit or cash and that they had been recalled on February 11th 20011 and pulled from the shelves.  This prompted me to look online . I discovered that these heaters have been literally blowing up aquariums of all sizes since 2008. The first two sites I reviewed, Reef Central and Coral Rx had multiple examples in their discussion forums as well as a copy of the recall from United Pet Group Inc. I responded that I would in fact return the remains of the heater as soon as I knew my eye was going to be OK.

     As my eye continued to stay irritated I decided to have it looked at. I went to the clinic at the Veterans Administration hospital here in town. My wife and I then were escorted to the ER where I spent the next nine hours. They used a needle to break the heads of what they termed an unknown infection and prescribed Erythromycin ointment to be placed in the eye. A few days later the eye was much worse and swollen completely closed. I returned to the ER and was sent to a specialty eye clinic and diagnosed with both infection and an ulcerated cornea directly in front of the pupil. This clinic saw me on a daily basis for over a week to get everything under control. If you have ever damaged your cornea I’m sure you can relate to the pain level that goes along with this type of injury, if not be very thankful and NEVER buy an aquarium heater from Stealth Pro. If by chance you have one, IMMEDIATELY REMOVE IT!


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      Cheryl O 5 years ago

      I just did a search on these heaters and found this. My Stealth heater just went bonkers yesterday and cooked my fish! I'm not happy!!

      I've heard of heaters just dying but not over heating!