You turn on your faucet and suddenly—ugh! That rotten egg smell! You may have hydrogen sulfide in your water. Hydrogen sulfide is a compound that occurs naturally in wells with inadequate wellhead protection but can also enter water supplies in runoff from sewage treatment and other manmade processes. The jury’s out on what the long-term health effects are at low concentrations, but we do know that hydrogen sulfide corrodes your plumbing, tarnishes your silverware, stains your laundry and fixtures, and keeps your water softener from working right. Luckily, there are many options for getting rid of it. Call Angel Water today, and we’ll help you get rid of that gross swampy smell!
There Are Water Treatment Solutions For Your Swampy-Smelling Water!
Phew! There’s that rotten egg smell again, wafting out whenever you run your water. Where’s it coming from, anyway?
The answer may be hydrogen sulfide. This is a compound which occurs in many people’s water supplies across the country. In higher concentrations, it’s known to be the cause of that familiar noxious rotten-egg smell, but in smaller concentrations it can lurk in your water without being detected.
So, what is hydrogen sulfide and where does it come from? What are the negative effects of having it in your water, including health risks? And what water treatment options are available to you so you can make sure your water is safe and healthy for you and your family?
Here’s a rundown of the need-to-know basics of hydrogen sulfide.
What Is Hydrogen Sulfide?
The first step, as in most things, is to understand what it is you’re dealing with.
Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas that occurs both naturally and from manmade processes. This gas isn’t water soluble, but underground it gets trapped in water and stays there until the water is exposed to the air, at which point the gas is released. This is what makes your water smell once it comes out of the tap.
It occurs when plant and animal material decomposes in low-oxygen environments, or bacteria reduce sulfate in low-oxygen environments.
In nature, hydrogen sulfide occurs in swamps, sulfur springs, undersea vents, volcanoes, stagnant bodies of water, and crude petroleum and natural gas. It can also be found in well water when the well has inadequate wellhead protection, because surface water carries decomposing organic material underground. There, bacteria in the groundwater feed on this material and consume oxygen until a low-oxygen environment is created and hydrogen sulfide starts to form.
It also forms as a result of a variety of manmade processes. Some of the manmade sources of hydrogen sulfide include sewage treatment, manure-handling and swine containment, paper and pulp operations, petroleum refineries, natural gas plants, petrochemical plants, coke oven plants, food processing plants, and tanneries. Runoff from these operations can contaminate groundwater that then gets into wells.
However, even if you don’t drink well water, hydrogen sulfide might be getting into your water right under your nose. One of the most common sources of hydrogen sulfide is the magnesium corrosion control rod or anode in your water heater. In this case, the smell may only be noticeable in hot water.
In low concentrations, hydrogen sulfide smells swampy like rotten eggs. People can smell this when the gas is in the air at concentrations ranging from 0.13 to 30 parts per million (ppm). Once it gets to higher concentrations though, above 100ppm, people lose the ability to smell it because of how it paralyzes your olfactory nerves. Luckily, these concentrations don’t typically occur in water, and if they did the water would be too foul to drink much of, so it’s mostly only a concern as an occupational hazard for people who are exposed to it in the air in their line of work.
Effects of Hydrogen Sulfide
So, what are the consequences of having hydrogen sulfide in your water? Aside from the smell, that is.
OSHA and NIOSH have standards in place for acute levels of exposure as some might experience in their lines of work. The health hazards of these levels of exposure have been well documented, ranging from “spontaneous abortion” at 2ppm, to vomiting and trouble breathing at 10-50ppm, to shock, convulsions, coma, and death at 50-200ppm.
Your drinking water will almost certainly never have hydrogen sulfide with those concentrations though. And, as we said, water with high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide is so unpalatable that you probably wouldn’t drink enough of it to get the nausea and stomach pain that it would cause. Instead, you may be exposed to constant low levels of the compound.
However, there’s much less research on chronic exposure to low concentrations of the compound. Studies and recommendations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), World Health Organization (WHO), and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) have all pointed toward hydrogen sulfide being toxic at long-term exposure below the threshold where you can smell it, but the details regarding what concentrations exactly are harmful and how are fuzzy.
Health risks aren’t the only negative consequences to consider, though. Hydrogen sulfide can also be a nuisance in other ways.
Not only does it make your water smell bad, but hydrogen sulfide also corrodes your iron, steel, copper, and brass plumbing, leaves a coal-black tarnish on silverware, cause yellow or black stains on your laundry or bathroom fixtures, and discolor food and drinks made with water containing it. It can even keep your water softener from working correctly, which is problematic considering the valuable function it serves.
So, even if you aren’t explicitly worried about the health risks of hydrogen sulfide, you’ll probably want it gone.
Water Treatment Options for Hydrogen Sulfide
So, what’s there to be done about this nuisance of a chemical? There must be water treatment methods for getting it out of the water, right?
The particular water treatment plan you need will depend on where the hydrogen sulfide is coming from. If, for example, you’re using well water, then one water treatment option you may need to consider is repairing or renovating your well so that surface water no longer has a way to get in.
However, the hydrogen sulfide could also be coming from your water heater. To determine whether it’s in your source water or coming from some other part of your water system, you should have a water treatment professional perform certified water testing.
Regardless of how you get your water though, another water treatment option available to you is chlorination for your well or plumbing system, particularly shock chlorination. This will kill the bacteria that allow for hydrogen sulfide to develop.
But shock chlorination is only a short-term water treatment solution and doesn’t always work. A more permanent solution is a filtration system. If you don’t have a filter in your home, then your body itself is acting as a filter and storing contaminants from your water. You have to be careful what sort of filter you get though, as not all remove hydrogen sulfide.
To filter hydrogen sulfide out, you need a system that puts it through an oxidation, aeration, or catalytic carbon filter.
That’s why, when selecting the right water treatment system for your home, you need a professional that will provide you with options that actually perform the processes you specifically need. Angel Water, Inc. has been the premier provider of water treatment in Barrington, IL and greater Chicago area for years. We can test your water, discuss what your options are, and install and maintain any water treatment equipment. Give us a call at (847) 382-7800, and we’ll help you make your water clean, healthy—and free of that rotten egg smell.
Angel Water, Inc.
28214 West Northwest Hwy
Barrington, IL 60010