water pollution

Does the water in your shower smell funny? Follow your Nose


What is that smell?

One morning a few months ago, I turned on the shower and noted a pungent aroma. I ran the water a few extra minutes until the smell went away. I considered picking up the phone and calling my water retailer to inform them about the issue of funny smell in my shower. The reason I did not report this were two-fold:  I determined that if others noticed the odor they would bring it to the attention of the proper authorities, and I didn’t think there was a problem as I have never experienced any issues with the water in my house.

I later learned…about the shower smell

As it turned out, other folks had noticed the smelly water and informed the water retailer. I later read an article in the local newspaper that reported that the cause of the outbreak was an early season algae bloom accelerated by many days of heat more than 100 degrees. Musty water from blooms is not unusual for the summer. Algae is usually present later in the summer. The algal blooms produce two compounds, geosmin and methylisoboreal (MIB).

There is no health danger from these two compounds. Our noses are very sensitive to algae, allowing us to detect of even minute amounts—one teaspoon of either compound in a water equivalent of 200 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Never assume

One should never assume the next person will call and report an issue if the water in your shower smells funny. What if no one called the authorities? Can they be blamed for not resolving issues they are unaware of?  In the words of Toucan Sam, the cartoon mascot for the Fruit Loops breakfast cereal, “Follow your nose, it always knows”.