Is it Safe to Drink Water with Hydrogen Sulfide?
Hydrogen sulfide gas is poisonous and flammable at high concentrations.
Fortunately, its presence in your drinking water is not enough to pose any danger. However, the smell of your drinking water may bother you, and you may find it unpalatable.
Hydrogen sulfide can cause corrosion and its presence in the air can tarnish silver in the blink of an eye. Having high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide is rare. In case your drinking water has such amount, you may fall ill, become nauseous, or even die.
Generally, the concentration of hydrogen sulfide in water is less than 10 ppm (milligrams per liter). However, it may go between 50 and 75 mg/l. The chemical compound is commonly found in well waters, although there are cases where surface water supplies have them too.
Detecting the Presence of Hydrogen Sulfide in Water
You can detect hydrogen sulfide in water using your sense of smell and taste. You don’t need to bring a sample to a laboratory to test it, except if you wish to know its amount.
If that’s the case, you may arrange to test your household water in a certified laboratory. Your state’s certification officer can give you the list of certified labs in your locality.
Follow the laboratory instructions carefully to prevent contaminating your sample. The amount of hydrogen sulfide in water can help determine the most suitable method to treat the problem.
The sample must be chemically stabilized without delay to get an accurate measurement of concentration. Hydrogen sulfide can be lost or easily escape from the water specimen.
It is important to ask the laboratory for proper instructions, chemical preservatives, and a sample bottle. If the suspected contamination source is wastewater pollution, prepare a separate sample for bacteria testing.
Most people can identify the presence of hydrogen sulfide in water that has 0.5 milligrams per liter concentration. A concentration of less than 1 milligram per liter emits a swampy or musty odor. A concentration of 1 to 2 milligrams per liter emits an odor similar to a rotten egg.
You may be able to detect the unusual odor when you turn on the water. The odor also escapes when hot water is running. The heat pushes out the hydrogen sulfide gas, which may give off highly offensive odor within a contained area.
The harm that Hydrogen Sulfide in Water Brings
Hydrogen sulfide can cause corrosion to brass, copper, steel, and iron. It can cause discoloration of brass and copper utensils as well as tarnish silverware. It can also leave black or yellow stains on bathroom and kitchen fixtures.
Using hydrogen sulfide contaminated water in preparing tea, coffee, juice, and other drinks can affect both flavor and appearance. Food cooked using contaminated water may deviate from their original taste.
Moreover, the presence of hydrogen sulfide in high concentrations can taint the ion exchange water softener’s resin bed. When the hydrogen sulfide was not detected in pretreated water and suddenly occurs in treated water, it is possible that the sulfate-reducing bacteria thrive in the treatment system.
Sulfates are usually the main culprit in scale buildup in pipes. It may also cause the water’s bitter taste.
Causes of Hydrogen Sulfide Presence in Water
Water has naturally occurring sulfates that provide nutrients to the sulfur-reducing bacteria, which produce the byproduct hydrogen sulfide. This is the most common reason for the compound’s presence in the water.
There are other several causes of hydrogen sulfide in water, and the most typical are the following:
- Decomposing organic matter underground deposits, such as rotting plant material, can generate hydrogen sulfide.
- Wells drilled in peat or coal deposits, sandstone or shale may act as a supplier of hydrogen sulfide.
- The magnesium rod in water heaters can prevent corrosion, but can also chemically turn the sulfates into hydrogen sulfide.
Removing Hydrogen Sulfide from Water
The best method to use in removing the unwanted substance depends on the detected form and amount of sulfates and/or hydrogen sulfide.
You may need point-of-use treatment or point-of-entry (whole house treatment). In severe cases, whole house treatment is the most prudent and practical. For quick or immediate solutions, you may opt to buy bottled water or set up a new well.
If sulfur-reducing bacteria are responsible for the problem, chlorinating the well may suffice. Take note that this is not a lasting solution though.
The bacteria can invade the same area again. If you are planning to buy a water treatment device, it is necessary to determine the amount of hydrogen sulfide first.
If the rotten egg odor can be detected only in hot water, you may only need to replace your magnesium rod with an aluminum one. You may also consider the following treatment options:
- Granulated Activated Carbo
If your household water has 0.3 ppm hydrogen sulfide, you may use an activated carbon filter to help reduce the nasty taste. However, it may not be able to completely absorb the unpleasant odor.
- Iron Removal Filter
You can use this filter for water with hydrogen sulfide concentration between 1 and 10 ppm. The filter contains manganese greensand. Manganese dioxide oxidizes hydrogen sulfide and forms particles, which can be filtered out. In case the manganese greensand is depleted, use a solution of potassium permanganate to recharge the filters.
This method is suitable for treating water with 2.0 ppm hydrogen sulfide concentration. The interaction between oxygen and hydrogen sulfide will generate an odorless, dissolved type of sulfate.
However, this method produces a strong odor of hydrogen sulfide near the aerator. This can cause an unpleasant experience when the aerator is near living spaces.
Getting Rid of the Sulfur Smell in the House
If your house has a sulfur smell and you can’t pinpoint the source, it may be wise to ask some help from your local fire department or gas utility to check it out.
Gas companies usually inject propane and natural gas with mercaptan, which gives off sulfur or rotten egg smell. This can alert residents when there’s a gas leak.
When you’ve identified the culprit for emitting such odor and found out that it’s your water, you may begin with the treatment. And while you’re doing that, you may try the following to get rid of the sulfur smell in your house:
- Use White Vinegar
This is a common deodorizing agent. Spurt some vinegar in the area that smells. You may even soak your clothes in a vinegar-and-water solution to get rid of the sulfur smell.
- Clean Your Appliances
You need to regularly clean your appliances that use water to get rid of the sulfur smell in your home, including the duct.
- Add some Baking Soda
Baking soda can erase odors. You can prepare a baking-soda-and-water solution and sprinkle some in the areas with the foul odor. You may use the same solution to soak your clothes that have a sulfur smell.
It’s Often a Fairly Straightforward Process
As you have learned, getting rid of hydrogen sulfide isn’t the most challenging thing to do. Just check for possible causes and choose among the various solutions listed here.
Although there’s a chance that you’ll be needing help from the pros, in most cases you should be capable of solving the problem on your own—without requiring complicated tools or procedures.