Our senses are a valuable tool when it comes to water contamination. If your drinking water smells like rotten eggs or tastes metallic, it could mean dangerous contaminants are present.
A metallic taste is often caused by rusty pipes that release metals into the water. These can cause health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney damage.
1. Cloudy Water
You get your glass of water, and it doesn’t look as clear as usual. You wonder if the water is safe to drink.
If your water is cloudy, it can be a sign of contamination from metals, minerals, or bacteria. It can also be a sign of high levels of total suspended solids. These are particulates that remain in water supplies after treatment and are made up of organic and inorganic sources such as silt, clay salts, and sand. These particles can contain microorganisms that can cause gastrointestinal issues.
A discolored water sample could indicate that there are dangerous pathogens or harmful chemicals in your drinking water. For example, blue or green water might be contaminated with copper. While copper isn’t bad for you in small doses, high levels can cause anemia and liver and kidney damage. Red or brown water might contain iron or tannins. While ingesting iron and tannins in small amounts is not harmful, they can damage your home’s plumbing.
A muddy tinge to your drinking water could also indicate the presence of sediment. This can be caused by natural disasters, pollution, or aging pipes.
3. Sulfur Smell
If your water smells like rotten eggs, you likely have hydrogen sulfide in it. This is a colorless and flammable gas known for its characteristic rotten egg odor, which is produced when sulfate-reducing bacteria in your well water decompose organic material. This bacterium is naturally found in groundwater but can also be stimulated by inadequate wellhead protection and warm environments such as water softeners and water heaters.
A foul odor doesn’t necessarily mean your water is toxic or unsafe to drink, but it should be addressed immediately. Contact a trusted water testing provider to determine the source of your odor problem.
4. Deteriorating Pipes
Many serious contaminants in water are stored in aging pipes. When those pipes break, they can spill fecal matter and bacteria into your home’s drinking water supply. They also can contain pharmaceutical drugs and pesticides. Some, like radon and radium, can have long-term negative health effects. Other, like perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used in everything from nonstick pots to stain protectants and firefighting foams, may not cause obvious health problems right away.
Fortunately, our senses can often tell us when contaminants are in the water. If your water tastes metallic or smells, you have reason for concern.
5. Personal Issues
Water contamination can occur naturally or from human activities, including chemical runoff from industrial factories. It can also be contaminated by naturally-occurring pathogens like bacteria, viruses and parasites.
Using contaminated water can cause a variety of health issues, from gastrointestinal diseases to nervous system problems and chronic conditions. The symptoms vary based on the type of contaminants, their concentration in the water and your susceptibility to them.
A rotten egg smell in your drinking water is a sign of sulfur, which is natural but can overpower the other flavors of your water and lead to intestinal distress and dehydration. Having your water tested can help identify the problem.
6. Neighbors Have Issues
A busybody neighbor can be annoying. They patrol your neighborhood and try to police others who aren’t following rules. For example, they may use unapproved exterior paint colors or have a dog that runs loose all the time.
Water utilities are required to test for germs and chemicals in public drinking water. However, sometimes unsafe levels of these contaminants get into private wells and can make people sick.
One sign of contaminated water is that it smells like a swimming pool. This is a result of chlorine that is used during the treatment process to kill bacteria in water. Chlorine can also cause gastrointestinal distress and other health issues.
7. New Physical Symptoms
If you are experiencing new health symptoms that you think may be related to your water, you should definitely consult your doctor. In many cases, contaminated water leads to a wide variety of symptoms including stomach or intestinal problems, neurological disorders, and even cancer.
For example, drinking water that contains arsenic can lead to a disease called arsenicosis, which damages the bladder, kidneys, and lungs over time. Other contaminants like chemical pollutants can cause a number of short-term diseases including eye issues such as trachoma and neurological issues such as ADHD.