Nitrates in wells increase in county - Beloit Daily News: Health

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Nitrates in wells increase in county

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Posted: Monday, July 8, 2013 4:00 pm

There has been a significant increase in well water nitrates over the past two years throughout the county. In Rock County alone, 1 in 3 wells test high for nitrates.

Nitrate is a natural compound formed when nitrogen combines with oxygen or ozone. Nitrate levels in drinking water can be an indicator of overall water quality. Elevated nitrate levels suggest the existence of other contaminants that could cause health problems.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), major sources of nitrates in drinking water include fertilizers, septic systems, animal feedlots, and industrial or food processing waste.

Nitrogen is essential for all living things and occurs naturally in surface and groundwater, usually without causing health problems. However, high levels of nitrate in drinking water can be dangerous to health and cause methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby syndrome,” in which the blood is depleted of oxygen, causing bluish tint to fingers, lips, and other extremities.  Infants under six months are at especially high risk for developing “blue baby syndrome.” This condition can be serious and life threatening. Pregnant women who drink contaminated water have an increased risk of having miscarriages, and older children and adults can develop health problems from their blood not carrying enough oxygen. In animals, nitrates can also cause thyroid problems and other illnesses.

The first step in protecting your family is to have your well water tested.  The Safe Drinking Water Act requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine the level of contaminants in drinking water at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur. These regulations do not apply to privately owned wells, which makes owners responsible for ensuring their water is safe from contaminants. If it is determined your nitrate levels are high, do not boil the water to use. While boiling water kills bacteria, it actually increases the concentration of nitrates in the water. Immediate fixes include purchasing bottled water for drinking and cooking, installing a nitrate removal system on your private well water supply, drilling your well deeper or drilling a new well. 

Well water should be tested regularly, at least once a year. The Rock County Health Department provides lab services to test water for nitrates and bacteria.  Water specialists distribute well water information, provide testing bottles and explain test results to well owners. Call the Health Department at 608-757-5441 to inquire about having your water tested today.

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