We recently read an article that discussed the dangers associated with elevated levels of sulfates in drinking water and resultant health conditions in livestock. According to the article, a condition known as polioencephalomalacia (PEM) may result when livestock consume water containing sulfate levels in excess of 3,000 parts per million (ppm) and bouts of diarrhea may result when cattle consume water containing sulfates in concentrations greater than 1,500 ppm. ( source )

Electrical Conductivity & Temperature Meter
Temp & TDS Meter

Recent drought and drought-like conditions have resulted in normal environmental sulfate levels becoming more concentrated in available water supplies due to evaporation and no replacement of the evaporates water by usual rainfalls.

Experts, who help veterinarian clinics offer telemedicine, urge ranchers to test any bodies of water that livestock drink from for sulfate levels. Such bodies include, but are not limited to, bodies of surface water, ground water, stock dam water, and well water. While the bitter taste of sulfate contaminated water may prevent animals from drinking the water under normal conditions, higher than average temperatures will make the animals a lot more likely to drink the water despite its unappealing taste.

Signs that livestock may have consumed water that contained elevated sulfate levels include reduced food intake, lethargic behavior, staring off for long periods of time for no reason, an activity called ‘head-pressing’, uneven walking patterns, falling to the ground for apparently no reason, and (of course) death.

Afflicted livestock may progress through the various stages of the illness quite rapidly if not caught in the early stages and treated with the help of a knowledgeable veterinarian.

Testing for sulfates in water

At this time we do not know of any simple dip-n-read test strips that can detect sulfate levels like the ones mentioned in the article but we DO know that sulfates typically enter the water as a salt and as such can get detected (semi-quantitatively) with the use of conductivity meters.

Devices of this nature sometimes get called ‘EC Meters’ and get used quite often in hydroponics, aquaculture and other freshwater systems to monitor amounts of dissolved nutrients, salts or impurities in the water. The more of each contaminant detected, the greater the conductivity.

So, while a conductivity meter will not tell you specifically that a body contains too many sulfates, it will give an indication that the water has a high level of dissolved items that could include unwanted levels of certain salts… like sulfates.

How about testing for sulfates in DRINKING water?

For drinking and well water testing, we carry the WaterWorks Sulfate Test Strip in our Water Test Kit Store.