You have filled up a glass from the tap and discovered that it is tinged red. What is going on, and should you drink it? Most likely, your water has iron rust in it. It only takes a tiny amount of rust to turn water a brownish yellow or red. Is drinking rusty water dangerous? Here is what you need to know.
Is Iron Safe to Ingest?
Iron is an essential nutrient that we need very small amounts of in order for our red blood cells to function properly. So, the rusted iron debris in water may not be harmful. Typically, the EPA considers small amounts of water in rust to be more of an aesthetic issue than a health and safety issue. Rusted water may smell and taste very unpleasant at levels above 0.3 mg/L.
However, there is such a thing as too much rust in the water and iron in your diet. For one thing, it may be unsafe to drink large chunks of rust as they may cut you. In addition, high levels of microscopic rust may cause iron poisoning.
Symptoms of Iron Poisoning
While it is much more likely that you get iron poisoning from supplements than from drinking water, it is still possible to drink too much iron. Therefore, you may want to know the symptoms of iron poisoning. They include:
- Low blood pressure
- Fast or weak pulse
- Shortness of breath
- Fluid in the lungs
- Greyish or bluish skin
Iron poisoning typically takes a few days to become serious, but at that point, it can cause death by liver failure or circulatory system shock. If you suspect that you have been exposed to too much iron, you should seek medical treatment right away. Doctors can remove the iron from your digestive tract and the rest of your body if necessary.
How Do You Fix Rusty Water?
While you’re unlikely to see health effects from iron in your water, it may still look, smell and taste unpleasant. You can get this problem fixed. Typically, in order to stop the rust, you need to remove the old iron pipes that are causing it. Or, you may need to control the pH in the water to prevent the early wear of pipes and the production of rust.
Sometimes the source of the rust is not within your own home’s pipes but within the pipes of the municipality’s water supply. In this case, you may need to petition your local government to replace the pipes. Although, it is possible that they already have a pipe replacement in the works.
Unfortunately, pipe replacement can be expensive from a city’s perspective. It is estimated that in the next 20-30 years, California alone will need to invest $250 to $350 billion just to replace the pipes in the ground now, never mind the expense of adding in new ones.
Your local plumber can investigate the source of the rust in your pipes and come up with a plan that will best solve your specific situation.