well water, sulfur smell

Hello,
I was curious if anybody could provide some feedback with a well water question. I've read other posts, but they don't quite answer my direct questions. I've got a gravel well with a water softener, all about a year old. The well's hardness was quite high, around 22 if I can recall correctly.
We are getting a slight sulfur smell in both bathroom sinks (when faucet is first turned on... it goes away after a minute or so), as well as with water directly from the well. And also, the dishwasher sometimes has a fishy smell after a cycle. Is there anything that can be added to the softener to take care of this, that is safe to drink??? I've been told there is salt that is made for problem water. I'd rather not buy a filter, but if it would be necessary, what would be a recommended system to get????
I really appreciate all information. Thanks, -- Chris
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snipped-for-privacy@groupinfo.com (Chris Szilagyi) wrote:

For sulphur, you want aeration. Plenty of aeration lets the sulphur air-oxidize into sulphur dioxide (the stink of rotten eggs) gas, which blows away on the breeze rather than lurking in your pipes to slap you across the face when you turn on a spigot.
The setup we used in Florida was a *BIG* (something like 250-300 gallons - this thing would have swallowed 4 or 5 regular 55 gallon drums and had plenty of room left over) fiberglass tank, with several spray nozzles across the top as the inlet, and a pipe at the bottom as an outlet. The tank was covered, with a foot or so of standard window-screen type material around the top to allow *PLENTY* of airflow. The nozzles ran across the top, spraying downward. The whole thing was controlled by a "toilet tank" float valve that opened the spray nozzle pipe (which was fed directly by the well pump). The outlet went to an intermediate pump that fed into the softener, which was followed by the main "put it under pressure" pump feeding the system's expansion tank.
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minor point here...'rotten eggs' is Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S)..which is one of the more toxic gasses around...and only weakly soluble in water. You *DO NOT* want H2S around...as it's lethal in fairly low concentrations...and quickly numbs the nose to the scent of bad eggs. Basically, if you can smell it, it's dangerous.
Oxidize it to Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), and it's readily soluble in water...but forms Sulphuric Acid (H2SO3) aka battery acid...which can cause other interesting problems if the concentration is very high...
ck country doc in louisiana (no fancy sayings right now)
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Thanks Chaz... I guess I either got it explained to me wrong, or I misunderstood the explanation. And of course, you're right about H2S. Let's chalk that mixup to a brain-fart.
Either way, the aeration system was what we used down in Florida, and it made a *HUGE* difference.
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Before we unnecessarily scare folks with H2S in their well water..... Every day water treatment dealers all over North America are called into many homes and commercial establishments using well water containing H2S. They remove it without problems. The volumes involved are not considered dangerous by the Dept of Health or environmental folks. On the other hand, confined space work areas such as manhole access, oil or gas wells, sewers etc., yes there's a serious danger. But not with the amounts found in private well water and thereby in the buildings served by that water.
Gary Quality Water Associates
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wrote:

In general I'll agree with you...but I believe that there have been cases where the H2S in the water has been enough to be worrysome...like the shallow wells some areas of Central Kansas.
as long as your aerator is working ok..then things should be fine...personally, I'd want a vent fan in any basement where that kind of treatment was going on.
ck country doc in louisiana (no fancy sayings right now)
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The rig I described sat outside, right next to the well-house.
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They work very well. I've used the indoor version for high levels of methane but I use air pump systems for H2S.
Gary Quality Water Associates
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Air pump and air injection systems can vent outdoors if needed and the indoor version of the multiple spray head atmospheric aeration (mentioned by someone else) has a 60 cuft/minute exhaust blower that must be vented outside. Naturally the outdoor version doesn't need the blower.
Gary Quality Water Associates
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Have you tried pouring Clorox down the well? Start with a cub full and if the smell is still there pour 2 cups down the well and keep increasing the amount until the smell goes away. Now you have the right amount to add each time the smell comes back, or you can just add a chlorinator to your system.
BTW, there are some underground water supplies in the Southeast across to the Southwest that have high sulfur content and filters are the only thing that is a cure.
Tom J
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On 25 Jul 2003 11:54:59 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@groupinfo.com (Chris Szilagyi) wrote:

Remove the anode rod from your water heater.
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Option 1: Anode rod in water heater gone bad. How to test: the smell will be only in hot water. Fix is to replace anode rod.
Option 2: Bacteria in well (or in water pipe, or in holding tank, or in pressure tank, or anywhere else in the water system). If you suspect that, have your water tested by a testing lab (look in the yellow pages for chemical, water, soil or agricultural testing labs). How to fix: Chlorinate the well. Depending on how deep the well is, and depending on whether it is cased or not, and depending on the diameter of the well pipe, you may need to use different techniques. In our case, we use special well shock chlorinating tables (which are very small, about 1/4" diameter). Given that our well is cased, very deep (750') and has 300' of water standing in it, we need to use a heck of a lot of the tablets (I vaguely remember throwing maybe a pound or two of them down). It might also help to throw some diluted chlorine bleach down the well housing (but it might also massively hurt the wiring or pipe, some plastics might not like bleach). Ask an expert, like a well maintenance company what to do (yellow pages under wells). They can also sell you the shock chlorinating tablets.
Option 3: The acquifer you're in happens to have H2S (hydrogen sulfide, rotten egg smell) in it. Often happens with acquifers that have a little methane in them. Can be a natural feature of the water (in particular if the soil is metamorphic rock containing some organics, ours happens to be former ocean bottom from hundreds of millions years ago), or can be caused by sulfur bacteria living in the water layer (not in your well). This can get better or worse with seasons; in our case, it gets somewhat worse in the dry season (summer and fall). How to test: Talk to neighbors, or to a well expert in the area, or maybe your county or city water or septic department.
In this case, mixing the water with oxygen or ozone is the easiest defense. If you already have a holding tank for the water, it might be sufficient to just make sure that the top of the tank has enough air holes. Old wooden water tanks in our area often have screened openings near the top, just for this reason. You can also let the water run through sprinklers or shower heads into the tank. Or run an air pump and inject air into the tank.
We use an ozone injection system. It works excellent for us; takes care of all the H2S smell, and also happens to knock most of the iron and all of the manganese out of the water (confirmed by testing before and after installation). In this area (northern California), you can buy them from Triple-O and from Diamond Technologies. Both are small manufacturers. They only work if you already have a reasonably sized holding tank, and the ozone needs a lot of contact time with the water. On our case this is not an issue, as we already need a 5000 gallon tank for fire protection.
The last resort is an actual filter; I vaguely remember that greensand filters charged with potassium permanganate take care of iron and of sulfur smells, but I'm not sure on that. The reason this should be the last resort is that it is the most expensive option, can reduce or impact water flow, and requires regular maintenance.
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It could be naturally occurring H2S or you're developing a sulfate (or iron or manganese) reducing bacteria problem in the well and plumbing. A trace amount of H2S in the well water will migrate to the highest point in the plumbing after the water has been sitting for some time. Or to the most infrequently used faucets. The bacteria is not harmful, nor is the H2S unless you have an awful high amount of it although you can smell a very small amount and it will tarnish silverware etc..
There are many types of treatment for H2S and IMO an air pump system is best if the rest of your water analysis would be conducive for one.
Chlorinating the well can in some cases, make the situation worse if there are any slime forming bacteria present. They cause a protective layer that can eventually form a hard encrustation that will protect bacteria under it and will not be penetrated by chlorine. Chlorine is only good as a disinfectant in the right pH range, which is in the low end of the pH range.
If you can't or wouldn't want to install equipment yourself, you need a water treatment dealer. In the mean time sanitize your softener by using non-scented household bleach, one cup poured into the water in the salt tank and do a manual regeneration. If you get any on metal, rinse it off with fresh water. Only do this every few months, chlorine shortens the life of resin. Kinda like driving uses up brakes no biggie if done 'right', which in this case is not done more than needed. So if that doesn't improve the odor problem, don't continue to do it.
Gary Quality Water Associates
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My local Sears tested my water for FREE.
Maybe yours will do the same for you?
PJ
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I had exactly the same problem. Called water conditioning company (Reynolds water conditioning, it's in Michigan, I am not sure if they are local). They installed additional filter of the kind that is self cleaning and doesn't need replacement. Results were remarkable: no more smell and actually it helped with the iron (and I got rid of the filter I had to change every couple of months).
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It sounds as if you had a disposable cartridge ("whole house") filter and now have an automatically backwashed filter, which would be the right choice for H2S, iron and manganese problems.
Gary Quality Water Associates
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