Sulfur water (or sulphur water) is a condition where the running water contains a high amount of hydrogen sulfide gas that escapes into the air when the plumbing line is opened, giving a distinct "rotten egg" smell.
Sulfur water is made out of dissolved minerals that contain sulfate. These include barite (BaSO4), epsomite (MgSO4 7H2O)and gypsum (CaSO42H20). It is reported that a notable change in taste to the water is found differently to the type of sulfate affecting the water. For sodium sulfate, 250 to 500 mg/litre, with calcium sulfate at 250 to 1000 mg/litre and magnesium sulfate at 400 to 600 mg/litre. A study by Zoeteman found that having 270 mg of calcium sulfate and 90 mg of magnesium sulfate actually had improved the taste of the water.
At the University of Wyoming in America, sulfur water was studied to see the effects it can have upon the performance of steers that are on a forage-based diet. Due to sulfur being a requirement to living things, as it contains essential amino acids that are used to create proteins, sulfur water, which is commonly found in Western States of America is a major contributor to sulfur in the herds diet. However, with a herd drinking high concentrate of sulfur water, ruminants may contract sulfur induced polioencephalomalacia (sPEM), which is a neurological disorder. Because of this finding, the study tries to reach the goal of finding a dietary supplement which can be used to counteract the negative health effects on the steers.
To reduce the extra sulfur in the ruminant’s diet, ruminal bacteria break the excess down, resulting in Hydrogen Sulfide, which is soluble in water, but as temperature increases, the solubility decreases, which leads to the hydrogen sulfide gas being reinhaled by the animal, causing sulfur induced polioencephalomalacia. The study attempted to resolve this issue by introducing clinoptilolite to the diet of the herd, but has found inconclusive evidence which requires more study of clinoptilolite effects on methanogenesis and biohydrogenation.
There is also believed to be great health benefits within sulfur water, with sulfur water springs being a common thing within many cultures
Cause and treatment
The condition indicates a high level of sulfate-reducing bacteria in the water supply. This may be due to the use of well water, poorly treated city water, or water heater contamination.
Various methods exist to treat sulfur in water. These methods include
- Use of a carbon filter (useful for very small amounts of hydrogen sulfide)
- Filtering the water through a canister of manganese oxide coated greensand
- Aeration of the water
- Treating the water with chlorine (can be used to treat large amounts of hydrogen sulfide)
Bathing in water high in sulfur or other minerals for its presumed health benefits is known as balneotherapy.
While humans have been able to adapt to higher levels of concentrations with time, some effects of ingestion of sulfur water has found to have cartartic effects on people consuming water with sulfate concentrations of 600 mg/litre according to a study from the US Department of health in 1962. Some adverse effects that have been found include dehydration, with excess amounts of sodium or magnesium sulfate in a persons diet according to a study in 1980.
According to The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drinking water with high levels of sulfate can cause diarrhea, especially in infants.
Levels of Sulfur in water around the World
The Global Environment Monitoring System for Fresh water (GEMS/Water) has said that typical fresh water holds about 20 mg/litre of sulfur, and can range from 0 to 630 mg/litre in rivers, 2 to 250 mg/litre in lakes and 0 to 230 mg/litre in groundwater.
Canadas rain has been found to have sulfate concentrations of 1.0 and 3.8 mg/L in 1980, found in a study by Franklin published in 1985. Western Canada in rivers ranged from 1 to 3040 mg/litre, with most concentrations below 580 mg/litre according to results from Environment Canada in 1984. Central Canada had levels that were also high in Saskatchewan, there were median levels of 368 mg/litre in drinking water from ground water supplies, and 97 mg/litre in surface water supplies, with a range of 32170 mg/litre.
A study conducted in Canada found that a treatment to reduce sulfur in drinking water had actually increased. This was conducted in Ontario, which had a mean sulfur level of 12.5 mg/litre when untreated, and 22.5 mg/litre after the treatment.
The Netherlands has had below 150 mg/litre concentrations of sulfur water in their underground water supplies. 65% of water treatment plants reported that the sulfur level of drinking water was below 25 mg/litre, as found in a study by Dijk-Looijaard & Fonds in 1985.
The US had the Public Health Service in 1970 to measure levels of sulfate in drinking water sources in nine different geographic areas. The results concluded that all of the 106 surface water supplies that were sampled had sulfate present, as well as 645 of 658 ground water deposits that were tested. The levels of sulfur that was found ranged from less than 1 mg/litre to 770.
Due to sulfates being used in industrial products, they are often discharged into water supplies in the environment. This includes mines, textile mills and other industrial processes that involve using sulfates. Sulfates, such as magnesium, potassium and sodium are all highly soluble in water, which is what creates sulfur water, while other sulfates which are metal based, such as calcium and barium are less soluble. Atmospheric sulfur dioxide, also can infect surface water, and sulfur trioxide can combine with water vapour in the air, and create sulfur water rain, or what is colloquially known as acid rain.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Drinking Water and Ground Water, Health Effects from Exposure to High Levels of Sulfate in Drinking Water Study[dead link], January 1999
- Cervin, Michael. "Sulfur Springs: To Soak or not to Soak?". Fox. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
- Countdown acid rain : future abatement strategies : summary report / report prepared by Air Resources Branch, Ontario Ministry of the Environment. [Toronto, Ont.]: Queens Printer for Ontario. 1992. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.23413. ISBN 0-7729-5986-2.
- van Dijk-Looijaard, Ir.A.M.; de Kruijf, H.A.M. (December 1985). "Legislation and policy for the protection of the drinking water supply in the Netherlands". Science of the Total Environment. 47: 59–82. Bibcode:1985ScTEn..47...59V. doi:10.1016/0048-9697(85)90319-5. ISSN 0048-9697. PMID 4089614.
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