Have you ever walked past a sewer pipe that smelled like rotten eggs? While there probably isn’t a rotting egg in the pipe, hydrogen sulfide could be present, which can be very corrosive for sewer lines. In addition to a rotten egg smell, high levels of hydrogen sulfide could also smell musty or swampy.
Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable and highly toxic gas known for its pungent rotten egg odor. Many might recall the scene from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” when grandpa lights a cigar and drops the match by the storm sewer.
According to the United States Department of Labor, hydrogen sulfide is used or produced in a number of industries – such as oil and gas refining, mining, tanning, pulp and paper processing and rayon manufacturing. Additionally, it occurs naturally in sewers, manure pits, well water and volcanoes, as well as oil and gas wells. Because of their density, low-lying and enclosed spaces are attractive to hydrogen sulfide, which makes confined spaces (such as pipes) very dangerous. Prolonged exposure to hydrogen sulfide poses dangerous health risks, even at low levels – ranging from headaches, eye irritation, loss of consciousness, and the inability to smell to death.
A simple chemical test can help determine the levels of hydrogen sulfide to which you are exposed and can be obtained at most home improvement stores, from a local plumber or the health department. If water lines contain excessive hydrogen sulfide, a homeowner has three options for rectifying the situation:
- Find an alternative water supply, such as drilling a new well or contacting your local water authority.
- Purchase bottled water to use for food preparation and drinking; however, this is not a cost-effective measure.
- Remove the impurity. There are numerous treatment options available, which will be determined by the levels of chemical impurities in the water, the possibility of bacterial contamination and the volume of water.
The best advice is to let a professional handle any kind of chemical contamination because they have the tools, knowledge and experience to do the job properly