By Cindy Kerschner
The Times News, © 2003

April 5, 2003

Imagine someone hands you a drink. You take a sip. Ahhh, cool, clear water.

How did you know it was water?

You trusted your senses. Water should be clear. It shouldn’t have any noticeable color, smell or taste. Our senses are our first line of defense when it comes to analyzing water.

Sometimes excess minerals work their way into our water supply. You might notice reddish-brown stains in your sink. Maybe your water smells funny, like rotten eggs. Possibly your morning coffee has a metallic taste. But are these changes harmful?

Reddish-brown stains in your sink, tub, or toilet usually indicate a high concentration of iron. Extra iron in our water is a nuisance, but not a real threat.

Water percolates through soil and rock, dissolves the iron and carries it into the aquifer. When air hits this colorless mineral, it oxidizes and turns the familiar reddish-brown color.

Manganese is the culprit of those black, hard to remove stains. Using bleach or baking soda will only make the stains worse.

Manganese reacts with coffee, tea and alcohol producing a metallic taste. Like iron, manganese is not harmful in the levels found in water.

Both iron and manganese have bacteria that specifically feed on these minerals. This bacteria produces the slime that clogs toilet tanks and pipes.

Sulfur is another element that is more of a nuisance than a health risk.

Sulfur can cause yellow or black stains, and tarnish silverware. Sulfur also has associated bacteria to cause slime. Hydrogen Sulfide causes that rotten egg smell and taste. Sulfur is commonly found in wells drilled in shale or near coal fields.

Nuisance elements like iron, manganese and sulfur can be removed through various filtration systems.

The big problem with sulfur, is that it makes the water more corrosive. This could wear away your pipes and fixtures, leaching harmful minerals such as copper or lead into your water.

Copper leaves blue-green stains and a metallic taste. High levels can cause flu-like symptoms and stomach or intestinal distress. Replacing faulty pipes or treating at the faucet is recommended for copper problems.

No level of lead is acceptable by EPA standards. Lead accumulates in the body and can cause brain damage or even death. Lead gets in our water through pipe solder, older submersible pumps, well screens, and lead well collars. It has no noticeable color, smell or taste. If you suspect lead contamination, contact a licensed water well contractor.

The only way to know if your water is safe is to have it tested. This action uses your most important sense. Common sense.