Hot Water Heater Question

Hello,
I have a question regarding a 2001 GE 60 Gallon (natural gas) hot water tank. I recently noticed that the tank had becoming discolored (burned?) around the drain pipe near the bottom of the tank. It was superficial, as it came off with a rag and water, but now I'm noticing that the white rubber ring that surround the plastic drain pipe is warping due to heat in the area. It seems that the tank is getting really hot near the very bottom of the tank - likely to the point where it is slowly melting the rubber ring. I cleared out the pressure release valve at the top without issue, and the tank is working fine, but this is making me a bit nervous. I just added a new dishwasher about 3 weeks ago, but otherwise, haven't touched the system other than turning the main supply on and off a few times. I also haven't flushed the tank since I moved in in 2003. Anyway ideas/suggestions on what might be causing this? I'm planning on contacting a service company tomorrow or possibly replacing the sytem, even though it is only 5 years old.
Thank you in advance.
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Mineral content of water varies enormously- yours may well have buildup on the water-side. Or, you may simply have a very slow leak. Mineral buildup will generally result in a kind of popping/burping sound a bit after the burner lights.
At the very least, were I you, I'd prepare to replace the anodic-protection rod inside the heater. Which is probably mostly gone after 5 years. This may be a problem if you don't have room above the heater.
HTH, J

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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Long shot: If in fact that area is overheating, it's possible that the chimney is not drafting properly and hot flue gases are escaping past the baffle plate to scorch the bottom of the heater.
Or....the discoloration may be normal.
Jim
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