©2018 Mahoning Valley Water Inc.  Taste, Odor and Color      We receive a lot of calls from people complaining of taste, odor and color problems in their water.  These problems are usually grouped together because they play a central part in determining the aesthetic palatability of water.  Palatability involves more than just being potable.  For drinking water to be palatable, it must be free of detectable taste, odor and color.       In reality, these three factors are often related to other common water problems as well as a variety of other underlying causes. Taste      Taste is generally described as salty, sour, sweet or bitter.  A common taste problem is a salty or brackish taste due to high mineral content or total dissolved solids (TDS).  Different mineral salts have different tastes, not all of which would be precisely described as ‘salty’.  Acids have a sour taste and alkalis tend to taste bitter or astringent in water.  And iron, manganese and copper impart a metallic taste. Odor      There are many different odors found in water.  Some of the more commonly encountered odors include grassy, musty, fishy, garlic and rotten egg.  Most odors are biogenic, produced as a by-product of the bacterial degradation or decay of vegetation or organic matter.  The metabolites of living organisms assisting this decay process can result in dissolved gases and other organic compounds in the water. Color       Color in water is usually classed in relation to the color and intensity of the contaminant particle causing the problem.  Various colors of microscopic particles may be present.  Ferric iron can look yellow to orange-red, tannins can look like tea and high copper content can impart a blue-green tint to water. Underlying Factors      Taste, odor and color issues can be due to both organic and inorganic contaminants in water, and either of these types of contaminant can be complicated by or associated with a microbiological component.  Since many taste, odor  and color problems are more frequently encountered in surface waters, their presence in a drilled well could indicate possible intrusion of surface water into the aquifer supplying the well. Confusing Taste and Odor       Distinguishing between taste and odor in water can be difficult due to the close proximity of the olfactory organs (the nose and tongue).  Some contaminants seem to impart a pronounced taste and odor to water (like sulphur or chlorine) while others may affect only the taste (like TDS).  There is also quite a range of sensitivity on the part of individuals in being able to detect taste and odor.  Not everyone finds the same levels to be offensive.      Some taste, odor and color problems can be more or less severe at times or come and go on a seasonal basis.  Again, variations of this sort can indicate a water source that may be under the influence of surface water.       For example, in colder climates, where icy roads are salted during winter months, road salt intrusion into wells located in close proximity to major highways can occur if there are problems with the well’s construction.  In coastal areas, wells that have significant seawater intrusion are often found.  Sometimes surface water bodies can influence nearby shallow wells and impart a fishy, musty, or pond-water type of smell.  Shallower wells tend to suffer more frequently, severely, and earlier on from surface sources or pollution like road salt, chemical spills and runoff.  Deeper drilled wells are theoretically more protected from the foregoing contaminants, but commonly suffer taste, odor and color problems related to high TDS, iron, manganese and hydrogen sulfide. Heed Warning Signs      It is wise to immediately investigate any changes in the taste, odor or color of your water.  These changes may signal the onset of new or different contaminants in the water that may be either .aesthetic or health related, or both.  For example, foul odor or taste and ‘sudsing’ or turbidity could be due to septic tank leaching into a well source.  Also note that for many organic compounds that are health threats, the odor threshold is well beyond the maximum contaminant level.  For instance, the maximum contaminant level for Trichlorethylene  is 0.005 mg/L but it can not be smelled by most people until it has reached 0.5 mg/L.      It is important to determine the root cause of taste, odor and color problems.  The average person assumes that if water looks, tastes and smells OK, it’s probably safe to drink.  A septic odor can be removed by activated carbon making the water look, taste and smell OK, but offers no protection against disease-producing microorganisms and, indeed, can help foster the growth of these bacteria.  In this case, the aesthetic improvement of the water’s palatability, through the removal of the septic odor, removes an important warning sign of a health related risk in the water, and may likely enhance the risk.      If you notice any change in your water, call your water treatment professional for help in determining the cause and possible solutions. MAHONING VALLEY WATER