Taste & Odor in Water

May 18, 2020 - Nathan Olszak

Taste & Odor in Water

Taste and Odor in Water

The most common use of the absorption process in commercial water treatment is the reduction and removal of taste- and odor-causing substances in water. Certain compounds and organisms in water, while they have no bearing on the hygienic safety of water supplies, are nevertheless, offensive to either taste or smell–or both. some persons have greater sensitivity t smells and taste than others. Basically, there are four categories for taste: bitter, sweet, sour, and saline. Since human taste buds and olfactory organs generally function in unison, it is difficult to separate the two. One way to distinguish taste from odor is by holding the nose and swallowing a sample of water. Out-of-town visitors often recognize off-tasting water that local residents have long been accustomed to and no longer notice.

Numerous labels have been given to odors in water, among the 20 or so identified ones are cucumber, earthy, fishy, grassy, and sulfur. The cucumber flavor in drinking water has been identified as trans, 2-cis, 6-nonadienal produced by an algae growth beneath the ice in the Cannonsville Reservoir, which supplies the Baxter Plant of the city of Philadelphia, Pa. In the absence of any official quantitative measurement of taste and odors, it is quite common to have a panel of several persons in a laboratory determine the presence or absence of taste and odor in a given product, including water supplies. One erroneous comment often quoted is that “hydrogen sulfide gives water an awfully bad taste,” whereas, in reality, it is the hydrogen sulfide (H2S) gas odor (rotten egg) that is being detected. It is said that the human nose is 100 times as sensitive in detecting threshold odor values as the best analytical apparatus available today.

Undesirable taste/odor characteristics in water supplies emanate from several sources. First are the results of chemical disinfection. Second, are those arising from the presence of certain organisms (nonpathogenic) usually found in such water supplies as rivers and lakes. Third are those due to man-made conditions, such as chemicals, solvents, and pesticides will impart a distinctive odor to water supplies, several others have n telltale taste or odor, so their presence in drinking water can be more subtle. A fourth category includes odors associated with dissolved gases, such as the “sulfur odor” where hydrogen sulfide exists.

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Taste & Odor Removal

Water delivered from public/municipal utility systems often possesses a characteristic known as “chlorine condition”. The taste (which many call an “off” taste) is more apparent in those that treat their water from surface sources. This is often due to the higher levels of disinfection that are usually needed because of a higher percentage of organic content. Chlorine or chlorine plus ammonia are used as oxidizing agents in the process and tend to leave excess chlorine or chloramines in the product water. However, the introduction of these disinfectant agents also creates new by-product contaminants. One of the most common contaminants are trihalomethanes. The excess chorine and chloramines from the disinfection of drinking water can affect the taste of food, fruit juices, coffee, teas, and also some dispensed beverages. Tank-type adsorption filters for water quality improvement are often installed at restaurants, beverage bottling plants, and food- and meat-processing businesses.

Removal of the chlorine taste/odor from commercial water sources can be completed in several different ways. The most popular solution is to process the water through activated carbon filters. Many use systems that contain granular activated carbon to provide chlorine-taste-free water.

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