A common quality of water which contains dissolved compounds of calcium and magnesium and, sometimes, other divalent and trivalent metallic elements. The term hardness was originally applied to waters that were hard to wash in, referring to the soap wasting properties of hard water. Hardness prevents soap from lathering by causing the development of an insoluble curdy precipitation the water; hardness typically causes the buildup of hardness scale (such as seen in cooking pans). Dissolved calcium and magnesium salts are primarily responsible for most scaling in pipes and water heaters and cause numerous problems in laundry, kitchen, and bath. Hardness is usually expressed in grains per gallon (or ppm) as calcium carbonate equivalent.

Iron (Fe)

A very common element often present in groundwater in amounts ranging from 0.01 to10.0 ppm (mg/L). Iron above 0.3 ppm is objectionable in water because of staining of laundry and plumbing fixtures caused by the oxidation and precipitation of iron in the water. Iron can also give a metallic or distorted flavor to beverages.

Ferrous Iron: A divalent iron ion, usually as ferrous bicarbonate [Fe(HCO3)2] which, when dissolved in water, produces a clear solution but when exposed to the air oxidizes and becomes a yellow or red solution. Is usually removed by cation exchange water softening. Also called clear water iron.

Ferric Iron: Small solid iron particles containing trivalent iron, usually as a gelatinous ferric hydroxide [Fe(OH)3] or ferric oxide (Fe2O3), which are suspended in water and visible as “rusty water”. Ferric iron can normally be removed by filtration. Also called red water iron.

Manganese (Mn)

An element sometimes found dissolved in groundwater, usually in combination with–but in lower concentrations than–iron. Manganese is noticeable because in concentrations above 0.05 ppm it causes black staining of laundry and plumbing fixtures. It can also have obtrusive odor to it from rotten eggs to a sewer smell.


A natural nitrogen compound (NO3-) sometimes found in well or surface waters. In high concentrations, nitrates can be harmful to young infants or young livestock. Oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is reduced as a result of a reaction with nitrite (NO2-), which changes the healthy hemogloblin to an inactive methemoglobin form. As a result of the higher ph conditions in the gastrointestinal tract of infants and newborn animals, nitrate (NO3-), which is consumed in food or water, can be transformed into nitrite more readily than would occur with adults.


A natural groundwater contaminate in local areas in western United States. Other sources are from industrial waste from electroplating and herbicides containing arsenic entering the water source through field runoff. Arsenic in drinking water at to high of a level can bid up in the human body over time and create serious medical problems.

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