ST. JOESPH COUNTY, Ind. – We’ve been telling you that the St. Joseph County Health Department is concerned about the high levels of nitrate found in county well water. Nitrates suggest that septic systems have leaked into the groundwater.
On Tuesday we set out to find what the actual health risks are if you consume high levels of nitrate.
Dr. Matthew Teters, M.D. with Memorial Medical Group said that it’s normal to have small amounts of nitrate in your drinking water.
"It's important to have some nitrate in the body. It helps with all kinds of normal functions,” said Teters.
But too much of it causes the blood stream to not get enough oxygen,
"Nitrate when introduced to the blood stream can combine to hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the molecule in the body that carries oxygen, so by combining with hemoglobin, it makes it so that the body does not carry as much oxygen that it should,” said Teters.
He said it could be comparable to your body suffocating.
Teters said the biggest health risk is for pregnant and nursing mothers and children. Kids are smaller, so it can have an effect on their bodies faster.
Here are the symptoms you could see if someone consumed too much nitrate.
“What you'll notice first is sometimes confusion, fatigue, kids being tired, and that can lead all the way up to lethargy, and up to a serious state of discolored or even blue,” said Teters.
This is referred to as Blue Baby Syndrome, and if you every think your child is at risk he said he get medical attention right away.
"They should take that baby to the ER immediately,” said Teters. “The diagnosis can be made very quickly with a simple blood test.”
Adults could have similar symptoms if they’re exposed to high levels of nitrate over time.
Teters said a common practice is to boil water that people believe is contaminated. He said in this case, boiling makes the dangers worse.
"Boiling water to try to get nitrate out won't help, it will actually make it worse, so if you boil water to remove nitrate it will actually concentrate the nitrate,” said Teters.
Teters said a reverse osmosis filter could help in removing nitrates from water, which can be found at most stores, and installed fairly easily.
The St. Joseph County Health Department made a presentation to the Rules Committee of the County Council on Tuesday night.
The Health Department along with the St. Joseph County Regional Water and Sewer Board of Trustees hope to form a county-wide plan for groundwater, septic, sewer, and water.
It will be up to county leaders on how to move forward with this information on what to do about a county-wide water and sewer plan.