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The question

I've noticed that my tap water leaves an orange-brownish ring around my sink drain. Should I worry about drinking that water?

The answer

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This is likely from iron or manganese, two elements that are common contaminants in water. In general, they are not hazardous to health but can result in an offensive taste or appearance, including orange or reddish stains in sinks.

Iron is abundant in nature and in groundwater. There are generally two ways iron gets in to our water supply: It either seeps in naturally from the surrounding area or leaks out of our pipes. If the pipes are old, minerals can collect, creating sediment on surfaces that can colour the water as it passes through. (If you think iron sediment is building up in your plumbing system, it could indicate the pipes are corroding and may eventually leak.)

That said, iron is an essential element for our health. How much we need varies depending on age, sex and health conditions. Though taste and appearance can be affected, concentrations of iron in drinking water of less than one to three mg/L is thought to be safe. In general, the amount needed to stain sinks is approximately 0.3 mg/L.

While it's likely the water coming out of your taps is safe to drink, I would still recommend checking the levels by calling your municipal water service to perform an assessment or by using a home detection kit, which can be bought at most hardware store.

If the levels are determined to be within safe standards, you could consider using a water filter. For advice on which filters may be best for different types of minerals, visit Health Canada's website. Boiling water likely will not help and can actually increase their concentration of these minerals.

A special consideration for those who use well water for drinking: Depending on the age, location and depth of the well, there can be higher concentrations of different minerals. If this is the case, it would be prudent to regularly check your water quality to ensure it meets health standards.

Send family doctor Sheila Wijayasinghe your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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Read more Q&As from Dr. Wijayasinghe.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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