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Common water quality problems and their methods of treatment

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Lab ImageThe following chart is intended to serve as a general guide for consumers in determining the cause of problems with their water that can be felt, smelled, tasted, or seen. In some cases, these symptoms may indicate a serious problem -- in others, only the taste and smell of tap water (its aesthetics) may be affected.


A. Sense of Feeling

Impurity or Contaminant Symptom Cause Health Effects Means of Treatment
Hard Water Soap curd, and scum in wash basins & bathtub. Whitish scale deposits in pipes, water heater & tea kettle. Calcium (limestone) and magnesium salts. Aesthetic only. However if consumed, could lead to kidney/ bladder stones Cation exchange water softener or reverse osmosis.
Grittiness Abrasive texture to water when washing or residual left in sink. Excessively fine sand, silt in water. Various -- sand could trap contaminants Sand trap in ultra-filtration.

B. Sense of Smell

Impurity or Contaminant Symptom Cause Health Effects Means of Treatment
Odor Musty, earthy or wood smell. Generally, harmless organic matter. Aesthetic only Activated carbon filter.
Chlorine smell. Excessive chlorination. Could occur from formation of disinfection byproducts Dechlorinate with activated carbon filter.
Rotten egg odor - tarnished silverware.
  • Dissolved hydrogen sulfide gas.
  • Presence of sulfate reducing bacteria in raw water.
Various effects
  • Manganese greensand filter - constant chlorination followed by filtration/ dechlorination.
  • Constant chlorination followed by activated carbon filter.
Hot water, rotten egg odor. Action of magnesium rod in hot water heater. Various Effects Remove magnesium rod from heater.
Detergent odor, water foams when drawn. Seepage of septic discharge into underground water supply. Disease-causing microorganisms may be present
  • Locate and eliminate source of seepage - then heavily chlorinate well.
  • Activated carbon filter will adsorb limited amount.
Gasoline or oil (hydro-carbon) smell. Leak in fuel oil tank or gasoline tank seeping into water supply. Fuel components may be toxic or carcinogenic No residential treatment. Locate and eliminate seepage.
Methane gas. Naturally occurring caused by decaying organics. Various effects Aeration system and repump.
Phenol smell (chemical odor). Industrial waste seeping into surface or ground water supplies. Various -- compounds may be carcinogenic Activated carbon filter will adsorb short-term.

 

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