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Sulfur Smell in Water: Signs There's Sulfide in Your Water
Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Does your water stink of sulfur — rotten eggs? If so, you may have problems beyond the nasty smell and taste.

The source of sulfur smell in water is the colorless gas hydrogen sulfide, which comes from the breakdown of organic waste. It can damage customers' plumbing as well as your storage, treatment and distribution systems.

Here's what you need to know about hydrogen sulfide. We'll cover how it gets in water, signs it's in your water and what you can do to address it.

How Sulfide Gets in Water

Hydrogen sulfide comes from the decay of organic matter, as well as chemical reactions with rocks and soil. Bacteria that love low-oxygen environments can produce it.

Common places to find hydrogen sulfide include:

  • Wells, especially in acidic rock such as sandstone and shale
  • Wastewater collection systems
  • Residential plumbing

Water softeners or residential water heaters can also produce hydrogen sulfide. Sulfides have commercial and industrial uses that can impact water supplies. Pollution such as sewage also produces the gas.

Signs of Sulfide in Your Water

The human senses are very sensitive to sulfide, so people can smell and taste the gas at low levels. Customers may be the first to complain. Field employees may also detect the scent and should report it.

Hydrogen gas may be present at high levels if you see corrosion or scale on pipes and metal components of your distribution system. You may see red, brown, black, grey or white slime from bacteria. Customers can complain about black stains marring plumbing fixtures and silverware.

If customers say they only get the rotten egg smell when they use hot water, this is likely an issue limited to their building. You can suggest they check their water heater for a magnesium rod. If so, a plumber can help them replace the rod.

Why Sulfides Are a Problem

It's important to avoid exposing your employees and customers to hydrogen sulfide because it is a threat to both health and safety. The poisonous gas in the air can cause symptoms ranging from mild (headaches and nausea) to death (at extremely high levels). It's also flammable, explosive and causes burns.

Hydrogen sulfide can stink up your reputation and facilities by causing:

  • Taste and odor complaints from customers
  • Smelly treatment facilities
  • Damaged concrete in wastewater collection systems
  • Production of additional bacteria
  • Slime that clogs wells, plumbing and irrigation systems
  • Corrosion, scale and stains on customers' plumbing, fixtures and clothing

What You Can Do About Sulfur Smell in Water

The first step is to improve your sulfide monitoring. Consider purchasing a dissolved sulfide monitor with a high sensitivity level.

A monitor with a gas phase approach allows you to continuously monitor sulfide without keeping the sensor in water. This prevents damage to the sensor, prolonging its life.

Useful features to look for include:

  • Multiple power options
  • Control relay options, including time delay
  • Automated sample line cleaning
  • Digital communications choices

Once you're seriously considering a monitor, you may want to read the manual to see whether the model will be a fit for your system.

Step up Your Sulfide Monitoring

Having a sulfur smell in water is more than a minor nuisance. It can corrode your system, clog customers' plumbing and cause a lot of complaints.

If you're ready to bring better sulfide monitoring into your system, contact us today to learn more.

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