NEWSplash!: Is IRON Harmful?

Is IRON Harmful?
Iron Can Be a Case of What You Can See Can’t Hurt You

The scientific abbreviation for iron is Fe. Compounds that contain iron are commonly called ferrous or ferric compounds. Iron is a very abundant mineral in the earth’s crust. In fact, it is the fourth most abundant mineral. We are practically surrounded by iron. It’s in iron castings, it’s also found in steel, even in our blood. Most cars are primarily iron, and many bridges and buildings are full of iron. Without the use of iron, our lives would be very different, and without iron in our blood, we could not survive.

Iron is frequently found as a naturally occurring element in well water. Iron in well water does not cause any adverse health effects to healthy individuals. An iron disorder known as hemochromatosis is an exception to this rule. In fact, iron is considered an important part of everyone’s diet. However, when iron gets into your well water, it may cause unbearable problems around the home. Clothes washed in water that contains elevated levels of iron will often come out dingy looking, rusty colored, or have rust colored spots on them. The inside of the dish washer will become rusty colored. Toilet bowls become severely stained, and light-colored fixtures in the home get rusty colored marks on them. The stains from iron are difficult to remove.

Iron is a problem that the lab seldom has to point out to a person. Since iron is so objectionable, an individual will usually complain about an iron problem before the lab even does the test. The lab results are needed primarily for determining what kind of treatment is required. A quick test for iron can be done by taking a tall, clear glass, filling it with water, then placing it on a white piece of paper. After about 30 minutes has passed, look down through the water for a rusty color. If any rusty color is apparent, most likely the sample will fail the iron test.

FORMS OF IRON Iron comes in several forms. The most common forms are clear water iron (usually ferrous iron), and red water iron (usually ferric iron). With clear water iron, the water initially comes out of the tap looking clear and later, after being exposed to the atmosphere, turns rusty colored. On the other hand, with red water iron, the water comes out rusty colored and stays that way. Finding a combination of the two kinds of iron is common. Less common forms of iron are bacterial iron and colloidal iron. Bacterial iron is a living organism that feeds on iron and is often recognized by a stringy, slimy growth inside the water closet of a toilet tank. Colloidal iron is made up of very fine, suspended particles that are very difficult to filter out.

WHEN TO TREAT IRON The Environmental Protection Agency lists iron as a secondary contaminant with a maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 0.3 mg/L. FHA also uses 0.3 mg/L as a maximum allowable level. Usually, FHA recognizes that iron is not a health hazard and may allow the buyer of the property to sign a release form rather than installing an iron filter.

HOW TO TREAT IRON Ferrous iron, or clear water iron, will readily pass through a mechanical filter, whereas ferric iron, or red water iron, will not. The small cartridge-type paper sediment filters found in some homes will remove small quantities of the red water iron but will not remove clear water iron, A water softener will remove clear water iron but usually does not do well at removing red water iron. Colloidal iron will often pass through ordinary iron treatment systems virtually unaffected. A knowledgeable water treatment professional should be consulted for iron removal, as each type of iron is often controlled differently.