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Why are elevated nitrates a concern in drinking water?
The Environmental Protection Agency has set a primary standard for nitrates at 10 mg/L. Elevated nitrates in drinking water are mostly of concern to infants under six months, pregnant women, and women who are breast-feeding. The problem that nitrates creates is an illness called methemoglobinemia or "blue baby syndrome." Blue baby syndrome is caused when bacteria in the intestines cause nitrates to form nitrites. The nitrites react with the baby’s hemoglobin and change it into methemoglobin. In this form, the blood can not carry the much-needed oxygen to the baby’s cells. Symptoms of blue baby syndrome are a bluish color to skin, hands, feet and nails. The infant may have trouble breathing and in extreme cases, the infant may suffocate.
How do nitrates get into the groundwater?
Nitrates can occur in soil naturally due to certain geologic formations. Other sources are from septic tanks, animal feed lots and manure storage facilities. When more nitrates occur in the soil than the plants can use, it can percolate into the groundwater.
How to remove nitrates from drinking water?
If elevated nitrates are suspected from a certain source, eliminate the source. Improper septic system construction can be modified. Manure storage should be kept at least 100 feet and down gradient from well, etc.
Water treatment systems such as reverse osmosis, ion exchange, and distillation units are effective at removing nitrates.
Do not boil water to reduce nitrates, boiling will concentrate the amount already in the water.
If elevated nitrates are suspected:
Call Bernalillo County Office of Environmental Health to schedule an appointment to get your well water tested
Once elevated nitrates are confirmed in your water, discontinue consumption and find alternate source of drinking water until the problem has been fixed
Have your water tested regularly