Iron is one of the most abundant naturally occurring minerals on Earth. It makes up around 5 percent of the earth’s crust.
When it comes to our health, iron has a significant importance, since it’s an essential element that helps haemoglobin transport oxygen from the lungs to the cells.
But iron has many other roles as well: It is used as a common construction material, to create pigments in industrial processes, it’s used as a micro-nutrient in agriculture, and has many more applications across multiple other industries.
For all its uses and applications, iron has some detrimental effects too. The question is whether iron is toxic if consumed in drinking water and whether you should be worried about drinking water that has iron in it.
In this article we’re discussing the problems created by water with high iron levels and discuss about your options when it comes to removing iron from your drinking water.
Iron in Drinking Water
Iron dissolves in groundwater as rain filters through soil and surrounding rocks. This way iron leaches into water supplies including wells or aquifers, eventually making its way into your drinking water.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the presence of iron in drinking water cannot create serious health hazards.
Although iron toxicity is a real thing, it is extremely rare, so there is no need to be worried, the level of iron in your drinking water is too low to cause health related problems.
However, iron concentration has other non-health related effects that can raise concerns and cause problems in your everyday life.
How to Test for Iron in Drinking Water?
The best way to make sure iron levels are not too high in your drinking water is to test your water. Since water can be contaminated with a wide range of pathogens and chemicals, before you start treating your water against iron, do make sure it’s at a level that may raise concerns.
The simplest way is to contact your local water department to ask for advice how your water should be tested.
Alternatively, you may get an at-home testing kit or get in touch with a lab that offers water testing services.
Whichever option you prefer, don’t hesitate to ask help from professionals to test your water. Once it’s confirmed that there’s too much iron in your drinking water, you can immediately start the water treatment process, which typically involves water filtration or chemical removal.
What are the Accepted Levels of Iron in Drinking Water?
The accepted levels of iron in drinking water are set to be in balance with the human body weight. Typically, iron concentration in wells and aquifers is between 0.5 and 10 milligrams per litre, but with water treatment this number can be easily reduced to less than 0.3 per litre.
This means that if you’re consuming 2 litres of water per day, your iron intake by drinking water will be about 0.6 milligrams per day. This number is quite low compared to the iron intake from food, which can be 10 to 14 milligrams per day.
The average lethal dose for humans compared to the body weight is usually an average intake of 14 grams in case of a 70kg adult. This number is extremely high compared to the daily iron intake we are capable of in practice.
Based on this number, the chance of hazardous iron intake through drinking water is quite low, nearly impossible. In practice, iron deficiency is a much bigger issue than iron toxicity.
Can You Taste Iron in Drinking Water?
Yes, usually if the iron level is higher than 0.3 milligrams per litre, you will notice a strange metallic taste in your drinking water.
High iron concentration in your water is easy to notice due to the unpleasant changes in the taste and in the colour of your drinking water. Water discoloration can also be a reason to test your water.
The Effects of Iron on Household Items
High concentration of iron in your water can have some non-health related, but definitely unpleasant side effects.
The changes you notice on your household items and sanitary ware are usually the first signs of the high level of iron in water.
If you pay attention to the first signs, you will be able detect and treat the problem accordingly. Let’s see the problems high iron level can create in your household:
- As we’ve mentioned, the unpleasant taste and the discolouration are the easiest-to-notice signs of high iron level in your drinking water. So, if you notice rusty-red coloured water flowing from your tap, don’t hesitate to contact your local water supplier and get your water tested.
- High iron concentration tends to leave its marks on everything. It creates scales and stains everything including your laundry, silverware or bathroom fixtures. Since iron deposits on laundry as well, you will notice a change in the colour on your clothes. Don’t be surprised if you find yellow, orange or brown stains on your favourite white T-shirt.
- Your water system is probably the most at-risk by the side effects of high iron level. Iron deposits in the pipes blocking the water flow. This problem can lead to such serious issues as damage to your water tanks, which can be quite expensive to fix or replace.
How to Remove Iron from Drinking Water?
When it comes to solving this issue and removing iron from your drinking water, there are various methods that you can try or a combination of these methods.
Make sure that the method you’re applying when fighting high iron concentration is approved by professionals.
There are 3 main methods that help you reduce the concentration of iron in your drinking water:
- Check your water: Contact your local water department to help you get your water tested or hire a professional laboratory to check the iron level in your water. This part is the most important step since water treatment options depend on the concentration of iron in your water. This means that depending on the difference between the normal iron presence and the higher contamination you are dealing with, there will be different methods to address this problem.
- Water softener system: If the iron concentration in your water is 0.3 milligrams or less, install a mechanical water softener. Basically, this water softener system replaces iron with sodium through ion exchange. The only disadvantage of this method is that during this process sodium will be added to your water, so you may need an additional filter to remove sodium.
- Greensand filter: If the concentration in your water is between 0.3 and 10 milligrams, a greensand or oxidising filter is your best choice to lower high iron levels. Greensand filters are quite effective as well, since they use a green clay material to filter out the iron from the water.
- Chlorination and filtration system: If the concentration of iron in your water reaches the number of 10 or more parts per million, you will need to install a chlorination and filtration system. This method is a bit more complex since the system first adds chlorine to the water in order to kill iron bacteria. Chlorine also oxidizes the iron, pushing it into the filtration system, where is will be finally removed from the water.
If you have access to municipal water, iron is not something to worry about. If you’re sourcing water from a private well, iron concentrations may be much higher compared to municipal water and you will need to treat your water with professional filters that target iron.
As you can see, iron in water mostly creates unpleasant effects on your household items and plumbing system.
The average iron level in your drinking water is not likely to cause any hazardous health problems, so when it comes to water treatment, you should focus on protecting your water supplies and other household items.