With more than 25 years experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Terry is a WQA (Water Quality Association) certified water specialist, LEVEL 3, as well as a WQA certified sales representative. Terry currently sits on EcoWater Systems (a Berkshire Hathaway Company) national Peers committee, as a water treatment expert advising other water professionals with less experience on best trade and technology practices. EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is one of the biggest water treatment and water delivery businesses in the state.
Water that contains hydrogen sulfide gas (H2S) has an unpleasant odor similar to rotten eggs. This can be very noticeable when hot water is running, and H2S can change the taste and appearance of water and foods cooked with it. If you have this problem, you may be curious about the source of this foul odor. Is it coming from your home, your well, or from another source?
Are There Health Risks Of Hydrogen Sulfide In Water?
It’s important to emphasize that H2S is more of a nuisance than an actual threat to human health. Although it is toxic, H2S gas would have to be present in very high concentrations to be harmful. Because of the nature of the odor it presents, this gas is detected long before it becomes flammable and poisonous. If left untreated, the concentration of H2S in your water will increase, causing health issues including nausea and even death in extreme cases. Should you suspect you have a hydrogen sulfide problem, you should seek professional assistance immediately.
The Damage Caused by Hydrogen Sulfide
When H2S is dissolved in water, it becomes corrosive, causing damage to plumbing metals such as copper, brass, iron, and even steel. This damage also extends to exposed metal parts of appliances that use the affected water. When H2S water corrodes steel and iron, it forms ferrous sulfide, which is sometimes known as “black water.” This darkens silverware and discolors any brass and copper vessels and utensils, causing significant damage along the way.
What is the Source of Hydrogen Sulfide?
Iron and sulfur bacteria that are present in groundwater chemically changes iron and sulfur to produce H2S gas. These bacteria use sulfur found in rocks, soil, and decaying plant matter for energy, and thrive in iron rich environments. In small concentrations they are harmless, but deep wells and associated plumbing systems that are oxygen deficient environments are ideal for their growth, ultimately providing an ample source of hydrogen sulfide.
How To Check Water for Hydrogen Sulfide & Odors
To check your water for hydrogen sulfide and other odors, you should run a cold water tap or hose bibb and fill up a five gallon container. If there is a strong odor of rotten eggs, you’re smelling hydrogen sulfide gas. If the water has an asphalt or oil odor, there could also be manganese present. A smell of sewage or cucumber means that sulfur and/or iron bacteria are present in the water.
Next, run the hot water from each tap in your home. If there is an odor in your hot water that wasn’t in the cold water test, there could be a problem with your water heater. Sulfur and iron bacteria can interact with the anode rod inside the water heater, creating hydrogen sulfide gas in your hot water. You may be able to solve this problem by changing the anode rod for a rod made from aluminum-zinc and then flushing out any sediment that has accumulated.
There are multiple filtration methods available for removing the unpleasant odor of rotten eggs from water that use different variations of activated carbon and manganese dioxide media to treat the water. A common solution for people on un-sanitized well water systems is to disinfect the entire water distribution system with a strong chlorine solution. Once this is done, a whole house UV (ultraviolet) light should be installed to control sulfur bacteria and prevent it from entering the home.
If you have concerns about hydrogen sulfide odors or any other strange smells from your well water, talk to your local water treatment expert. Always make sure that the water professional you contact has full WQA certification, as this will ensure that they meet and even exceed the latest water industry standards.