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Oily film on water sample: Panipat, Haryana: Reason?

A sample was collected from a Hand-Pump situated at a village Nain in District Panipat of Haryana.The depth of the pump is 50 feet.The total hardness was 300ppm, chlorides 550ppm, TDS > 2200ppm and taste was brackish.

On letting the sample stand overnight an oily suspension was noticed on the surface of the sample. What could be the reason behind this?

Amit Kumar Singh,
Chemist (HSC-II)
PWD Water Supply & Sanitation,
Water Testing Lab, Karnal - 132001 (Haryana)
Mobile# 09416-204-204




Dear Mr. Amit Kumar

Most of the time film is formed over the underground water when kept for overnight. This is due to the temporary hardness which is precipitate out & form the film. This film become shining like oil if it contents iron. Please check iron in water.

You may filtered out the water on the filter paper and find out what type of the material floating on water.

Simple filtration through sand bed can solve the problem.

Prof R. V. Saraf
Viraj Envirozing India PVt. Ltd. Pune


Dear Amit Kumar Singh,

A sampled was taken from 50 feet, which is considered as sub-soil water. It could be due to external contamination. Please get any bore which is more than 100 ft. There is a distinct possibility that you won’t find such oil in that sample.


Tushar Trivedi
Head, Bottled Water Segment
Bottled Water India
New Delhi


Dear Amit,

The oily film may be a layer of scum which means the sewage is inside the ground and seeping to the water. Please check the fecal coliform content to confirm. It may also be industrial presence which may be less likely but I feel it could be presence of sewage or organics.


Taral Kumar
Executive Director
Akar Impex Pvt. Ltd.
Noida, Uttar Pradesh


Dear Amit Kumar Singh,

I think you have to check mineral oil (Gas Chromatographic Method) in the water. If it is beyond 0.03 mg/l, then undesirable taste and odour after chlorination take place. Please check it also by adding chlorine/ B.P. / hypochlorite solution etc.

What is the concentration of iron?


Dr Arunabha Majumder
Indian Water Works Association (IWWA)


Dear Amitji,

The oily film in the ground water is a common problem when the sample contains Soluble Iron (Ferrous iron) in significant amout.

Generally when soluble iron is more than 3 mg/l , one finds oily film in the sample. If one visits the site of Hand pump and observe the drain where the unused water flows can find the same Oily Filmin the sagnant water.

In a study in coastal Orissa we have reported these oily films as Iron reducing Bacteria ( Non-pathogenic). So I would request you to check the soluble Iron content of the sample and publish in this website for further discussion.

sibasis panda, Chemist

sibasis Panda


Dear Amit Kumar Singh,

Oily film is due to the presence of E-Coliforms. This is due to the contamination of sewerage. The Borewell should be cleaned and check for the presence of sewerage and proper care should be taken for the clear passage of the sewage water. As also the problem persist pass the water through sand bed of one inch thick and marble of one inch thick and give little aeration the bacterial contamination will be removed and clean potable water can be stored for use.


M.V. ShashiRekha
Chief Chemist
Department of Mines and Geology


Dear Amit Kumar Singh,

In my opinion, the well water is contaminated by oil of some kind. Mr.Singh is in the best position to confirm my opinion by analyzing the suspension. The source of the contamination could be anything nearby where oil is stored and handled, or even untreated waste water generated by a factory or something.


Ion Exchange


Dear Amit Kumar Singh,

As the depth of handpump is only 50 feet there are chances of external contamination seeping through the broken platform or inadequate drainage system therefore it is necessary to test the water for bacterial contamination.

The water should also be tested for colloids, which diffuse very slowly in the solution and whose solution cannot pass through the animal and vegetable membranes e.g. starch, glue.albumin, gelatin, silicic acid, proteins and other amorphous substances.

Thanks and best regards

Abhishek Mendiratta


Dear Amit,

I appreciate for the good service you have been rendering by publicising water-quality problems encountered during your professional work.

The 50-feet bore well fitted with hand pump must have been constructed some years ago with its water not put to any use owing to its salty taste. Development of oily suspension on the surface of water sample kept overnight is evidently because of its high bacterial content and bio-fouling. The source of bacteria can be of indigenous origin or infiltration of surface water contaminated with sewage water, leachate from garbage dumps, industrial effluents etc.

Keeping the well idle without use appears to be the main reason for the high bacterial content of its water. The humic upper soil layers that infiltrate into the underground through percolating solutions provide the necessary nutrients for the microbiological activity. The requisite carbon for microbial life is provided by bicarbonate and carbon dioxide present in soil and water.

An oxygen-deficient atmosphere favours growth of anaerobic bacteria. Iron and sulphate reducing bacteria are the most common groups of micro-organisms responsible for bio-fouling. Bacteria in addition make use of some locally available simple organic compounds. The rusting iron of the casing pipe and other parts of the hand pump must have contributed the necessary iron.

From the above account, it can be concluded that there would not have been bacterial growth had the bore well water put to regular use. I have observed many idle deep bore wells in and around Tirupati fitted with deep-well hand pumps to carry polluted water with have bacterial content.

As abandoned and unused wells are potential sources of groundwater pollution, many countries in the world have framed laws for scientific sealing of such wells. India has yet to take such an action. In the larger interest of protecting groundwater quality, it is high time India takes a similar action.

Good luck in your work.

Dr. R. Jagadiswara Rao
Retired Professor of Geology
Sri Venkateswara University
Tirupati, AP 517502

Dr. R. Jagadiswara Rao, Professor of Geology Retired, Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, AP 517502, India


Dear Amit Kumar Singh,

The water sample is highly polluted. There's every chance of an unknown oil source infiltrating the concerned aquifer. You should verify if there's a refinery or an oil pipeline nearby. If not, then a geologist should be immediately being consulted.


Nupur Bose
Lecturer & Coordinator
Department of Environmental Sciences
Patna, Bihar


Dear Amit Kumar Singh,

The Panipat refinery is close by and there could be a leak from the refinery at Panipat and this could be getting into the ground water at 50 feet deep. Have you contacted the Panipat refinery about this, this occurs also in the US. The refinery should do groundwater monitoring down gradient of their site and this data should be made available to you and the public.

Raj Rajaram

Box 4981
Oak Brook, IL 60522-4981


Dear Mr Amit

I do not understand how oily film can appear in ground water if sampling procedure is free of all errors. No ground water in Panipat area have oil content. Soil can not allow to percolate it through 50 feet bed.

Panipat refinery is situated nearby but there is no discharge of effluent. It is zero discharge refinery. Other than that there are state of the art effluent treatment plants which can remove oil to the zero ppm level and this treated effluent is made feed of de - mineralised water treatment plant.

High TDS of 2200 ppm and low hardness and high chlorides indicates there is a dye house in the vicinity of this sample source. Dye houses use NaCl for textile coloring.

Chances are your sample is not contaminated with oil. In my opinion oil possibility is nil.

AK Singla
Power & Utilities Engineer( Water treatment section)
Panipat Refinery



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