Well Water sulfer odor #152023 - Ask Extension


Well Water sulfer odor #152023

Asked September 10, 2013, 12:34 PM EDT

I have a home owner with a well constructed in 1977 and they have been experiencing a sulfur odor since a new subdivision is going in across the street, there has been six wells constructed most are 500 to 600 feet plus, is there a potential that the smell is related to the well drilling and/or fraction? I did ask about the potential that the water heater could be causing it, but it also has the sulfur odor with their cold water. BOH recommended a water test which was done, arsenic was detected  as it is in all the wells old and new. There is also a waste dump nearly 200 feet away that has been closed for 15 years and has been in the process of being capped off for the past three years and the well heads are monitored.  Kindly advise Thank You, Deborah A. Ketchen Health Agent 

Essex County Massachusetts

Expert Response

Drilling into groundwater can affect existing water wells nearby.  Often there will be temporary increases in turbidity (cloudiness or color).  There can be longer term changes if something about groundwater flow patterns has changed.  Wells may be mixing water from multiple layers in the ground and if the mix of water sources changes or the amount of oxygen in the water changes, this can change water quality.  It may be difficult to distinguish the impacts of local drilling from other groundwater changes due to drought or high precipitation if that has occurred recently.  Some additional information from the homeowner would be helpful.

Has anything about the yield (gallons/minute) of their well has changed or have they run out of water sometimes?  Is the subdivision using groundwater already, or just under construction?  When did the sulfur problem start vs. construction events?  Does the homeowner have any records about how deep their well is?

Was any water quality testing prior to the construction nearby?  What other water quality tests were performed recently?  Since hydrogen sulfide is a gas and varies over time, testing for it is not simple.  It is often generated by sulfur-reducing bacteria.  It is more of a nuisance chemical than a health risk, but it is often found along with other contaminants.  This publication from Penn State Extension has a lot of information about hydrogen sulfide and treatment options: http://resources.cas.psu.edu/WaterResources/pdfs/HydrogenSulfide.pdf
You mentioned arsenic was detected in the well but not the concentration.  Arsenic does present a serious health risk and testing should be repeated and treatment considered if the levels are over drinking water standards (0.010mg/L =10ug/L =10ppb; some states set a lower standard of 0.005mg/L).  There are several treatment technologies for arsenic removal based on the concentration and other water chemistry.

Without more test results or information, I can't speak to whether the "waste dump" would have anything to do with the water quality.  Has activity You may want to get more information from MASS DEP: http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/about/contacts/cleanup-of-sites-and-spills-contacts.html 
Amy Galford Replied September 17, 2013, 1:32 PM EDT

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