Ask the Expert
Dissolved oxygen, health and water issues
Question: What’s the role of dissolved oxygen, if any, in our drinking water for our health? Some water treatment guys are saying that distilled water is not good for health and may lead to osteoporosis over a long period of use. Is there any scientific basis for such alarmist statements?
Answer: There’s little role of dissolved oxygen in water for drinking beyond its role in reacting with other substances in the water. The importance of oxygen is for breathing and, in water, it typically will come to saturation upon exposure. The taste of water may be slightly altered; and, of course, certain microbes require oxygen, but others don’t. As for osteoporosis, that’s a calcium deficit—and, while there’s some folklore attached to drinking water with low TDS, the volume of water that people typically ingest would not have an important role whether pure or not. Typical water of 500 ppm TDS or less is 99.9995% pure in terms of minerals. The mineral contribution of water, with or without minerals, to the human body is negligible. Most mineral nutrients come from the food we eat. Supplements can assist you if your diet isn’t high enough in the proper minerals. Water won’t.
Revisiting iron in water
Question: Being a water softener rep, I’m constantly running into customers that have been told by competitors that they have “ferric iron.” Most of the time, there are no particles of iron at all. Could you please direct me to a source of independent information that explains just what this iron is and, more importantly, how to identify it?
Answer: Your question is one that’s confusing to many people, partly because the kinetics of iron oxidation in air are relatively rapid. Keep in mind—when iron is dissolved in water it is usually in the “clear” or ferrous state. When the iron is oxidized, it becomes a suspended solid and turns the water red. This is the ferric state. You don’t have ferric iron in clear water. The competitor who states there’s iron in the water is probably telling the truth, but it’s like saying the water is wet. Most groundwater is anoxic—that is, devoid of oxygen—and, as a result, the iron in the groundwater is predominately ferrous, or soluble iron. Ferric iron is formed when the iron is exposed to oxygen (or other oxidants such as chlorine). If the water is withdrawn, it’s surely exposed to air; but there’s air exposure in most wells through the vent hole. In some cases, although you don’t see particles as such, you may notice a slight discoloration to the water. You could probably notice an elevation in the measured turbidity. If you look at a sample of water with some depth, you may notice a tint of yellow or orange; but iron can have other colors, too. The easiest way to determine the difference is to filter the sample through a membrane filter (.22 micron is best, but .45 will probably do) and then measure the iron in the filtered sample. Provided that sample isn’t exposed to air, it should give you a relatively accurate reading of the ferrous iron. You could also take the sample and reduce the pH to below about 4 with an acid. This will reduce and redissolve the ferric iron into ferrous form. It is for this reason that most samples of water collected for iron testing have a small amount of an acid in the sample bottle. Iron can be present in other forms as well, for example, as complexes with organic molecules or tied up with microbes. It has been a few years since we did a comprehensive article on iron. It may be time for another look at iron in the not too distant future.
In the third paragraph of Lorna Badman’s article, “Water Matters: Proposed Changes to ANSI/NSF Standard 55—Ultraviolet Microbiological Water Treatment Systems,” (WC&P, June 2001), the dose measurement for ultraviolet light was incorrectly stated. One milliJoule per square centimeter is equal to 1,000 milliWatt-seconds per square centimeter.
An error occurred in the first sentence in Tom Hargy’s article (“UV: Evaluating Ultraviolet Light Reactor Performance—Utilizing Bioassay,” WC&P, June 2001). It should have read: “Ultraviolet light is known to be an effective disinfectant of most microorganisms by damaging an organism’s DNA, thus preventing the organism from multiplying and making it incapable of causing infection in a host.”