Iron bacteria are not specifically regulated by a drinking water standard, but their growth can result in creating situations or problems that can then violate a primary or secondary drinking water standard. Therefore, I tend to call these types of organisms nuisance bacteria, because they tend to create a nuisance problem before they create or facilitate a problem associated with a health concern or impact. Iron-reducing bacteria are chemotrophs, which get their energy from electron donors like iron and manganese. These non-pathogenic (not health-threatening) bacteria occur in soil, shallow aquifers, and some surface waters.
Iron-reducing bacteria can cause the water to have a metallic sheen, can create slimy coatings that appear yellow, brown, red, and or black, and can produce a brown foam in the water. These bacteria can create a nuisance and in some cases the biofilms have been associated with microbiologically-induced corrosion. Iron-reducing bacteria are also associated with elevated levels of iron, manganese, arsenic, and, in more extreme cases, metals associated with corrosion by-products like aluminum, copper, lead, and zinc.
At this time, we are not aware of any specific health risks from iron-reducing bacteria, but if this bacterium is abundant in the groundwater and/or well, it is more likely the water may have an aesthetic problem. Iron-reducing bacteria can result from the premature failure or poor performance of water treatment devices and other appliances and can increase the levels of aluminum, iron, and manganese in your water; the reduced forms of iron and manganese are more soluble in water. In more extreme cases, the bacteria may cause microbiologically-induced corrosion and result in elevated levels of copper, lead, zinc, and other metals found within the piping and components of the water distribution system.
Biofilms and coatings caused or associated with nuisance bacteria may interfere with the effectiveness of disinfection systems, reducing the ability of the systems to inhibit the the formation or regrowth of other bacterial agents in a water distribution system or other water treatment devices.
There are no specific standards for iron-reducing bacteria, but there are standards for other groups of bacteria. There is a standard for total coliform bacteria (it should be absent) and a standard for "standard plate" count (< 500 colonies per ml). It can be inferred that iron-reducing bacteria are indirectly regulated because a regulated water can not pose a nuisance or have a specific aesthetic problem.
There are warning signs of a potential problem with iron-reducing bacteria. These warning signs may include a water that has a metallic odor/taste, metallic films, very high levels of iron and manganese, and "slimy" coatings.
Level 1 Testing is done with simple observations that an individual can make with their own senses such as sight, smell, and taste. These observations can be readily apparent or can be observed as they change over time. In addition, accessible related information about the home can also be used to narrow down the cause of your water issues.
The first place to help screen your water for iron-reducing bacteria is to look in places where your water sets, such as the inside of the toilet tank. Another sign is that there is an increase in the iron and manganese concentration of your water with time or you experience periods of reddish-brown (iron) or black (manganese) water when the water is not regularly used.
You might suspect that there is a problem with iron bacteria, if you notice the following:
Level 2 Testing is Do-It-Yourself testing that can be done in your own home using a Testing Kit. After you’ve done Level 1 Testing, Level 2 Testing can confirm if your observations are correct. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment (see below) or continue to Level 3 Testing.
Low-cost screening tests for iron-reducing bacteria are not readily available, but the primary warning signs would be discolored water, increased levels of iron/manganese, or water that has a metallic taste/odor. There are in-home screening tests that include iron, manganese, and bacterial quality. If the water is positive for bacterial contamination, it may be advisable to conduct a shock disinfection of your private water source before conducting any additional testing.
Level 3 Testing is done through an accredited Water Testing Laboratory. With Level 3 Testing, you can order a testing kit that is used to prepare your sample and submit it to the lab. By utilizing a lab, you have the assurance that a certified water expert had analyzed your water sample. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment options (see below) or continue to Level 4 Testing - Certified Testing.
A Level 4 Certified Test Test uses chain-of-custody with a water professional coming to your home to prepare the water sample and then works with an accredited laboratory in order to certify your test results. This type of testing not only gives you the highest level of assurance in the accuracy of your test results, but can also be used as a document in legal cases. For Baseline Testing, we recommend that you use Certified Testing.
Certified water testing is available for iron-reducing bacteria, but this evaluation should most likely include a wider range of microbiological agents. If you need assistance with finding a certified laboratory, please Contact our team.