Many times in life we will unknowingly get exposed to potentially harmful contaminants — and never know about it. Other times we know about it and just don’t know what to do about it. Today’s inquiry came to us from a woman named ‘Rachel’ who asked,

Hi..I work in an office building in brooklyn (11211) and the water in the bathroom sink smells really bad. If you wash your hands…which we all do…your hands smell too. I have talked to the landlord many times about this and they have not done anything My staff has complained about the same thing. The land next door used to be a chemical plant and nothing was allowed to be built for years..Could something be seeping in the water somehow. I would like to have the water tested. I am not sure what to test for exactly so hoping you can advise. How much $ will I have to spend to get the water tested and if it is found to be contaminated somehow…then what do I do?

A couple of questions came to mind right away while reading Rachel’s question about water quality in her office:

1) What type of smell or odor do you detect emanating from the water? Does the unpleasant odor resemble the stench of rotten eggs (i.e. does it smell like sulfur)?

2) Does the odor come from both hot and cold water or just from one or the other?

We ask those questions because problems with hot water heaters often serve as the source of odor(s) in many homes and offices.

Water containing dissolved hydrogen sulfide gas produces an offensive (and VERY unpleasant) “rotten egg” or “sulfur” odor and will also have a similar taste. In a lot of cases the odor seems a lot stronger when one first turns on the water or runs hot water from the faucet. ( source )

If the smell you get from the water does not meet the profile above, and actually even it does meet the above profile, we highly suggest getting the water tested by a certified water testing laboratory like National Testing Laboratories or a local laboratory recommended by your local health department.

Water Test Kit Store: WaterCheck Laboratory Test Kit
WaterCheck Laboratory Test Kit

Filter Water: Well Driller Master Test Kit
Well Driller Master Test Kit

Given the history of the property (next door) we suggest going w/ the most comprehensive test you can afford. Why? Quite simply because many of the ‘more interesting’ contaminants resulting from industrial activities may not get detected by commonly offered water testing packages.

History… Not just for students anymore!

See what you can learn about what REALLY went on next door before the company closed up shop. What sorts of chemicals did they produce? Why did they shut down? Why did the city (or other agency) put a ban on building there after the company shut down?

While we believe it unlikely that the ‘issues’ left behind by that company have much to do with your current water woes since your water comes from the city, we would not rule it out entirely.

Do your homework, find a certified lab that can test for the sorts of nasty things that company may have left behind, make sure the results of their findings can get admitted as evidence in a legal proceedings, have the results examined by a qualified water specialist, and then determine what needs to happen next — be it legal action on the part of your landlord against the company or the city or the landlord simply installing the correct filter to remove the contaminants that make the water smell so awful.