The Dangers of Nitrate in
Your Drinking Water
A clean, safe supply of drinking water is essential to good public health. In this country we are so accustomed to a safe, plentiful supply of water that we sometimes ignore possible threats to that water supply until they become public health problems.
One such threat to public health comes from nitrate contamination. High concentrations of nitrate in drinking water can cause a life-threatening condition in infants called methemoglobinemia. This can be particularly dangerous to children less than 6 months old and pregnant women, if nitrate levels exceed 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L). Methemoglobinemia is caused when nitrates (from contaminated water) reduce the blood's ability to carry oxygen. This illness is referred to as "blue baby syndrome" because it causes a blue tint in the infant's skin due to the lack of oxygen in the blood and tissue within their body. Because of that potential health-risk, people should have their well water tested for excess nitrate levels before using that water to prepare infant formula. Pregnant women should also avoid drinking water that is contaminated with nitrates.
In areas where nitrate contamination is a problem, wells should be tested regularly, because the quality of well water can deteriorate abruptly due to drought, heavy rainstorms, flash flooding or spring thaws. An application of nitrogen fertilizer, followed by rain, can also produce a rapid change in local water quality. It is important to note that simply boiling your water that has high levels of nitrate will not reduce the nitrate levels, and in fact may actually increase the nitrate concentration in your water.
Although nitrate in drinking water is not normally considered harmful to older children or adults, its presence indicates that other disease causing contaminants may be present. Common potential sources of contamination include: improperly located or constructed sewage treatment systems, refuse dumps, animal wastes, chemical storage or disposal sites and agricultural fertilizers and chemicals. If your well has been contaminated with excessive nitrate, you have several options, but your first step should be to immediately stop drinking the contaminated water. You can either choose to eliminate the source of the contamination, find a new water source or purchase a removal system. Wells that are no longer in use should be properly closed and abandoned in order to avoid contaminating the aquifer.
Scott County has made arrangements with a lab that is certified by the Minnesota Department of Health to provide testing services. If you have any questions, or are interested in purchasing a water test kit, please call our office at 952-496-8475 or see How to Order a Well Water Test Kit on the left side of this page.
Please note, the Coliform & Nitrite test kit available through this web site meets the requirements for foster care licensing.