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Get Informed | Sodium

What is Sodium?

Many think sodium is the same as salt that can be found on your kitchen table, this is a big NO! Sodium (Na) is a "soft, silvery-white, highly reactive alkali metal". Sodium in combination with chlorine, is common salt (NaCl); sodium is an element, salt is a sodium compound. Sodium is necessary for the proper function of our nerves system, fluid management in our bodies, and muscle response. Excess levels of sodium have been associated with heart disease and hypertension. Sodium is naturally occurring, however, elevated levels of sodium can be found in drinking water and groundwater because of naturally-occurring salt deposits, saltwater intrusion, deicing agents, saline/connate/brine water, domestic sewage, urban runoff, road salt storage areas, cleaning products, salts from water treatment systems and processes, backwash from water treatment systems, landfills, and industrial sites. For the record, the sodium level in seawater is about 10,945 mg/L (Assuming a concentration of 10,679 g/kg and a density of 1.025 kg/L). Many sodium compounds, especially sodium chloride (common salt), are very soluble in water.

How Does Sodium Become a problem?

"Specific populations are more sensitive to the potential health impacts of excess sodium; these groups include individuals 40 years of age and older, African Americans, and individuals diagnosed with hypertension and/or other chronic health conditions such as Ménière’s disease. Individuals that fall within these categories are encouraged to restrict salt in their diet to prevent the development of sodium-related disease or to aid in the treatment of existing disease." In most cases, the primary source of sodium is not the drinking water, but food. (Source)

If the sodium is present with the anion chloride (Cl–), it is possible that at a concentration of 250 mg/L the water will have an off-taste and at a level over 400 mg/L the water will taste salty.

In addition to the health concerns, the elevated level of sodium in your drinking water can also be associated with chemical Corrosivity of metal piping, heat exchange units, appliances, and other fixtures in your home. Salt water is very corrosive because of its high concentration of sodium.

What are the Health Risks for Sodium?

Sodium is necessary for the proper function of our nervous system, fluid management in our bodies, and muscle response but excess levels of sodium have been associated with heart disease, and hypertension.

Note: "According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), the majority of Americans consume between 4,000 to 6,000 mg of sodium per day despite the current dietary guidelines of 2,300 mg per day provided by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention." (Source)

What are the Standards for Sodium?

Sodium is not directly regulated by the EPA drinking water standards, but the EPA has issued a health advisory for patients on a low sodium diet of 20 mg/L sodium in drinking water and Connecticut has a notification requirement when the level of sodium in drinking water is at or above 28 mg/L (Source). The only other drinking water standard that relates to sodium is the secondary drinking water standard for Total Dissolved Solids of 500 mg/L and the indirect secondary standards for Chloride and Sulfate of 250 mg/L.

As a point of reference: A 12 oz soda has about 40 mg of sodium per serving; this is equivalent to a sodium concentration of approximately 113 mg Na/L.

Get Tested | Sodium

It is not likely that the average water user would detect an elevated level of sodium in their drinking water until the concentration approaches 250 mg/L, but you may be able to observe an issue with sodium in your water if, when the water evaporates, there is a white or grayish coating. If this coating appears "fluffy, dusty, lumpy, or like frozen snow", it is likely sodium sulfate (gypsum). If the coating can only be removed with vinegar, it is likely a sodium carbonate/bicarbonate and if it appears like a clear white crystal that can be removed with hot water, it is likely sodium chloride. Another potential warning sign would be the presence or evidence of corrosive water. Your best course of action is to get your water tested and compile as much information as possible about your water supply source, well construction, surrounding land-use, and local geology.

Level 1 | Observational Self-Testing

Observations for Sodium

As previously mentioned, there are a number of potential warning signs of a potential problem with sodium or sodium salts:

  • You are located in an area with a history of salt mining, brine water management, or the area has saline groundwater.
  • You are located in an area with a history of salt water intrusion.
  • You are located in an area or near an activity with a heavy usage of "road salts and deicing agents", such as: salt storage, airports, and highways.
  • You are located near a salt manufacturer or near a landfill.
  • You detect a change in the "taste" of the water or you notice evidence of corrosion or coatings/precipitates that appear gray to white.
Try Our Level 1 Drinking Water Self-Diagnostic Tool
Have water issues? Answer our self-diagnosis questionnaire from your observations to get an initial diagnosis. Then follow our recommended steps to remediate your issue.
Self-Diagnostic Tool

Level 2 | Do-It-Yourself Water Testing

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.

Notes on Level 2 Testing for Sodium

There are really no low-cost home screening tests for sodium, but there are good quality screening tests and meters that can measure the conductivity and estimated Total Dissolved Solids concentration of your water.

Level 3 | Informational Water 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.

Notes on Level 3 Testing for Sodium

Most comprehensive informational water quality tests include a test for sodium and the other cations and anions that are commonly associated with sodium. If you are considering a Reverse Osmosis unit, you may want to consider ordering a National Testing Labs test kit.

Level 4 | Certified Water 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.

Notes on Level 4 Testing for Sodium

If there is an issue with sodium, it is critical to identify the source or sources.  We have seen sodium issues associated with road runoff, salt storage, chemical applications and storage, brine water management, improper well construction, septic system influence, and with wells that have been drilled too deep into zones of saline or connate water.  We strongly recommend information testing and getting a Neighborhood Environmental Report.

Get Treatment | Sodium

Sodium can really only be removed from drinking water using a Reverse Osmosis system, Distillation, or Deionization systems. These systems will require pretreatment to prepare the water for treatment and it is likely that only a portion of the household water can be treated. If the level of sodium is elevated, it may be necessary to change plumbing piping and fixtures to materials that are not vulnerable to corrosion. Periodic testing should be maintained after the treatment system is in place to ensure objectives are being met and the system is operating properly. Most systems will require maintenance on at least an annual basis and many of these systems generate rejected water that is briny which may create a disposal problem.

Short-Term Treatment

If the water has a salty taste, the primary recommendation is to use an alternative potable water source for consumption. The use of the water for other purposes, such as showering or bathing, would depend on the plumbing fixtures and appliances in your home. Boiling the water or the use of a carbon block filter does NOT reduce the level of sodium in your water. In some cases, the water requires significant pretreatment because of associated water contaminants.

Contact a KnowYourH2O Recommended Professional

Submit a Request for Consultation with the Know Your H20 Team. Contact Us

Long-Term Treatment

In the long term it will be necessary to know the source of the sodium and the other constituents of concern and in some cases it will be necessary to mitigate the source or the cause of the problem. Is the well too deep? Does the well have enough casing? is the road salt stored properly? Is the well being over-pumped? Will it be necessary to change the piping and fixtures in the home and what about the appliances? Can we utilize a whole-house system approach and will this impact our septic system? A problem with sodium in your water seems easy, but can be very complex. We strongly recommend working with a professional. The most economical treatment system to manage sodium is probably a Reverse Osmosis treatment system. For the record, we have seen and worked on whole-house reverse osmosis treatment systems used in rural houses that have saline groundwater or have been impacted by road salt. Under no circumstances use an ion-exchange water-softening treatment system to reduce sodium. Such a system adds sodium to the water

Contact a KnowYourH2O Recommended Professional

Submit a Request for Consultation with the Know Your H20 Team. Contact Us

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