Sulfur is a naturally occurring substance and in its normal crystalline state, it is tasteless, colorless and not harmful. The problem occurs when iron and sulfur bacteria that are present in ground water change sulfates into hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas, which has an unpleasant smell similar to rotten eggs.
H2S in household water is normally at very low concentrations and is not a health risk. However, it does smell unpleasant and, in gaseous form, can be flammable and poisonous. When dissolved in water, H2S can corrode metals such as iron, steel, brass and copper, can darken silver and cause discoloration in copper and brass. It is, therefore, a problem that needs to be dealt with.
Well water concentrations are normally 1-5 parts per million (PPM) compared to the 100 PPM levels that can cause sickness and death. However, even limited exposure at the lower levels can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory system while prolonged exposure can cause eye inflammation, insomnia, headaches, tiredness and digestive disturbances. Higher concentrations can result in more severe conditions such as nausea, vomiting, breathing problems and worse respiratory and eye irritation.
Identifying Sulfur in Well Water
H2S is often found in wells, especially those drilled in sandstone or shale, or near oil-fields, coal or peat, and can also enter surface water via springs. Before dealing with it, however, you need to be sure of the source.
If your hot water has the distinctive rotten eggs smell but your cold water does not, the problem is probably with the water heater. This may have an anode rod that reacts with the sulfate to produce H2S gas. Replacing the anode rod with an aluminum version could fix the problem.
If your cold water smells, then the source of the water — the well — is the problem. A rotten egg smell indicates sulfur while other smells are due to various different contaminants such as manganese or iron. You should conduct a test to analyze the content of the water, so you know how to treat it correctly. We can run water into a bucket as a sample and test it for pH levels, manganese, iron and hardness as well as sulfate and hydrogen sulfide.
When the water causes red or black staining, this is an indication of iron or manganese in the water. This will also need a well water filtration system designed to remove the iron and manganese.
If the water smells of rotten eggs, well water purification will depend on the extent of the problem and if there are other contaminants in your well water:
- For relatively low levels of sulfur, we can use a whole house water filter that has no chemicals added and no filters to change. The house water filter lasts for several years and peroxide can be injected to clean the carbon, so it lasts even longer.
- When the sulfur gives out extreme odors, it’s best to look at installing a whole house reverse osmosis system. This will not only stop the extreme rotten egg smell but also give you bottled water quality to drink at your kitchen sink. You will want to get the water professionally tested to see what your levels are at.
- If there’s rust staining due to iron or manganese in the water as well as sulfur, we can design one hydrogen sulfide removal system and another well water filtration system designed for iron and manganese.
By correctly identifying the problem and treating it with a mixture of chemicals and filters, you can sort it out quickly and cheaply. The result is well water that has no smell, tastes great and is perfectly safe to drink and for all other uses. If you’re looking for a water filtration system designed to remove sulfur, with the least amount of maintenance, go here to see our system.