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What is acidic water and why should it be treated?
Acidic water is extremely corrosive and can cause detrimental plumbing damages and incur astronomical repair costs. Furthermore, acidic water also leaches heavy metals from eroding pipes, exposing your water to copper, zinc, and even lead. For many well owners across the country, acidic water is a serious water quality problem.
What is acidic water?
Acidic water is any water with a pH value of 6.5 or less. pH is measured on a scale between 1 and 14, with 7 representing the neutral value. Acid water occurs naturally, as rain falls to earth soft and slightly acidic. As it absorbs minerals and dissolves solid materials, the pH of the water can rise. Water with a pH value higher than 7.5 is considered basic, or alkaline. Mineral-rich alkaline water is touted by many for its perceived health benefits and fresh spring water taste.
What causes acidic water?
Water becomes acidic when it combines with carbon dioxide during the process of precipitation. During the hydrologic cycle, water from sources like the ocean, lakes, and streams evaporate. As the moist air rises, it cools and condenses into water vapor, creating clouds. This process is a natural form of water filtration. When water evaporates, it is stripped of water hardness, bacteria, and minerals. The water distillation process mimics this principle to purify water. Since all of the minerals have been vaporized, this water is now soft and acidic.
When the clouds return the water back to the earth’s surface in the form of precipitation, like rain and snow, carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolves into the rainfall. This forms a weak carbonic acid and lends water a mild acidity. The average pH of rainwater is around 5.6. When it hits the earth and seeps through layers of rock and sediment, the pH will adjust depending upon the environmental conditions it encounters. If the rain is falling on calcium-rich limestone, it will absorb high mineral content and likely become hard water. However, if it seeps through a rock bed of something like granite, the water will stay acidic. Metamorphic and igneous rocks lack the calcium to buffer the pH and neutralize the acid in the water. This means many wells are likely to have acidic water, as they are often accessing shallow groundwater for their water supplies. Water can also become acidic if from chemical runoffs or mine drainage sites.
What does acidic water do to plumbing?
Acidic water is extremely corrosive and destroys household plumbing. The corrosive properties of acid water dissolve the copper out of your pipes, leaving blue-green stains on your drains, in your bathtubs and sinks, and around your faucets. This is an indication that serious damage is transpiring within your plumbing system, as the acidity of the water is eroding the copper out of your pipes. If left unattended, pinhole leaks can spring and cause water damage. If these leaks emerge behind a wall, serious flooding can occur, leaving you with considerable damages to repair. Replacing your household plumbing costs around 20% of your home’s value, so catching acid water before it brings ruin to your home is of great importance. If you have plastic water tubing in your home like PEX or PVC, the acidic water will have a less corrosive effect on plumbing. However, acidic water also wreaks havoc on water heaters and hot water appliances. The increase in temperature actually amplifies the corrosive characteristics of the water, leading to damage and premature failure of water heaters and appliances.
The other significant problem acidic water presents is leaching. As the acid water flows through the metal pipes, it leaches the metal ions from the pipes and introduces them to your water supply. This means the water can potentially contain levels of iron, manganese, copper, zinc, and lead. Drinking elevated levels of heavy metals can be toxic, especially lead. Iron and copper discolor water and leave unsightly stains on your plumbing fixtures and in your sinks and bathtubs.
Is acidic water bad for you?
If the acidic water is leaching heavy metals into your water, acid water can pose health risks. Exposure to high levels of zinc and copper leads to gastrointestinal upset, including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Extended consumption of copper-heavy water can cause serious health complications, like gallstones, kidney stones, neurological damage, and even kidney and liver failure. Lead is an extremely dangerous heavy metal to consume, especially for children. Children’s bodies experience accelerated growth and absorb contaminants more readily. Lead exposure can cause cognitive impairment, memory problems, stunted development, and seizures. In adults, exposure to lead can cause high blood pressure, kidney and nervous system diseases, miscarriages and stillbirths, strokes, and even cancer.
How do I treat acidic water?
The acidity of your water will dictate the method of acid neutralization required to raise your pH to a neutral value. There are several methods, each with varying strength, employed to eliminate acid water.
The most common way to attack acidic water is with a whole-house acid neutralizer. Acid neutralizers usually use calcite to raise the pH of the water before it enters your household plumbing and wreaks havoc on your pipes. Calcite is crushed white marble media that’s rich in calcium and very high in alkalinity. Acid neutralizer tanks are installed at the water’s point of entry into your home. The acid neutralizer’s tanks are full of calcite, and when the water enters the tank it makes contact with pH-adjusting media. Water is a universal solvent, and upon contact with the calcite media, it will begin to dissolve it. This introduces calcium and alkalinity to the water, raising pH and neutralizing the acidity.
In addition to being inexpensive, calcite is self-limiting. This means calcite only acts to elevate the acidic water to neutral, non-corrosive status and does not run the risk of overcorrection. However, calcite also has basic limitations. Its efficacy is heavily reliant on the amount of contact time the water has with the media. If water is churned through the tank at a rapid pace, the pH adjustment will be minimal. Additionally, because of it’s self-limiting properties, calcite can only effectively raise pH about one point. If your water has a pH value of around 6, calcite will appropriately boost your water’s pH level.
Other products such as Corosex effectively raise PH when the water is extremely acidic.