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Sulfates & Sulfides in Well Water

What are sulfates/sulfides?

Sulfates are part of naturally occurring minerals found to influence the chemical makeup of groundwater in Indiana. They are not a health hazard, but more of an aesthetic issue that many families find bothersome. Hydrogen sulfide is a natural gas that can also create water quality issues. These minerals and gas often give off a rotten egg smell and bitter taste.

How sulfates/sulfides get into your well water

Sulfates are already naturally found in soil and rocks. As water seeps through soil and rock the sulfates leach into groundwater that provides source water for nearby wells. Hydrogen sulfide gas can be generated  in many ways, including rotting plant material or as a by-product of sulfate consuming bacteria.  In addition, wells may contain hydrogen sulfide if drilled in sandstone or near coal fields.

How to detect if you have too much sulfates/sulfides

Private well owners are responsible for the quality of their drinking water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not regulate private wells. Homeowners with private wells are generally not required to test their drinking water, but if they choose to do so should use a state-certified lab to test the water. The EPA limit for sulfate is 250ppm, and  there is currently no standard for hydrogen sulfide.

Problems caused by sulfates/sulfides

Elevated sulfate levels may have a laxative effect that can  lead to the body lacking in fluids. This is mostly the case for infants and not adults. Those on low sodium diets may be exposing themselves to more sodium than intended when using water to cook with or drink. Sulfates are most known for their bitter taste due to scale buildup in pipes. Hydrogen sulfide gas is not typically considered a health risk, but does cause rotten smells, bad taste, and corrosions to metal utensils and piping. Smell and bad taste can also be signs of wastewater pollution which is why well owners should also consider testing for bacterial contaminations.

Reducing sulfates/sulfides

Best treatment to reduce the amount of sulfates and sulfides will depend on the concentration within the  well water. It is important to determine the concentration of sulfates and sulfides BEFORE purchasing a water treatment device.

  • A whole-house treatment system if levels of the substances are high
  • A point-of-use treatment for drinking and cooking usually installed at the kitchen sink
  • Buying bottled water
  • Installation of a new well

If hydrogen sulfide is a result of sulfur bacteria in the pipes, using a shock chlorination treatment with bleach could be a temporary solution. If the smell only occurs with the presence of hot water, then  the odor may be due to a magnesium rod in the water heater. Replacing the magnesium rod with an aluminum rod, or removing the rod completely should solve that issue.