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Turbidity, Color, Odour & Taste

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In its passage from the clouds to the tap, water contacts many different substances, including gases, minerals and organic matter, and water has the ability to carry many of these substances as impurities which interfere with the use of water by man. Some of these impurities are in true solution, completely dissolved in the water, while other impurities are simply solid particles suspended in the water. Those materials which cause turbidity, color, taste and odor are obviously objectionable.

"Cloudy water" is due to the presence of turbidity or finely divided solid particles, which can absorb or reflect light. These particles may be inorganic mineral matter which does not dissolve, or organic matter, picked up as the water flows over and through the ground. The earth normally serves as an excellent filter, and thus it is unusual to find significant amounts of turbidity in water from deep wells. Surface water from lakes, streams and ponds usually has significant amounts of turbidity derived from surface water run-off, or from bottom deposits stirred up by movement of the water.

Turbidity is objectionable for several reasons. Most obvious is the fact that no one enjoys drinking "dirty water." We much prefer clear, sparkling water over that which is cloudy. The physical appearance of foods and beverages is a major factor in our enjoyment of these necessities.

If the turbidity is due to inorganic minerals, it can have an abrasive effect on a plumbing system, causing physical wear or erosion on pipe and fittings, and can score valve seats and washers. If the turbidity is due to suspended organic matter, it can cause stains of sinks and fixtures, and discolor laundered fabrics, much like iron.

Color in water is most often due to dissolved organic matter. It too makes the water unpleasant to drink, often contributes tastes and odors, and causes staining of surfaces and materials touched by the water. Surface water usually has some color, but in contrast to turbidity, color is sometimes found in well waters. This usually occurs in areas where swamps or bogs are common, and the water picks up colored substances extracted from the decaying organic matter.

Organic matter in water may not only contribute turbidity or color, but may also produce unpleasant tastes or odors. Even when the amount of organic matter is very low, "off" tastes and musty odors may be found. Again, these tastes and odors affect drinking water, as well as the foods and beverages prepared with the water.

Two special cases exist in the field of tastes and colors. The minerals dissolved in water do add taste to water, and at moderate levels, the tastes are pleasant. Distilled water which contains virtually no minerals tastes "flat" to most persons, and we do not enjoy drinking such water. On the other hand, too high a mineral concentration gives the water unpleasant "soda" or "salty" tastes, and interferes with the flavors of food and beverages.

The other special case occurs when hydrogen sulfide gas is present in the water. So-called "sulfur water" not only produces the obnoxious "rotten egg" odor, but is corrosive to plumbing metals and causes rapid tarnishing of silver. Even very low concentrations of hydrogen sulfide are detectable because of the strong odors.

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Turbidity, Color, Odor & Taste

Rotten Egg Odor (H2S Gas)

Unsafe Water?