What are the Chemical Contaminants found in Carroll County?

  • Nitrates are the main chemical contaminant.
  • A minor chemical contaminant is turbidity.
  • Lead may found in specific water supplies due to lead soldering used in older plumbing systems.


 Facts you should know about nitrates are:

  • A source of water containing nitrates in amounts above 10 ppm must not be used in infant's drinking water or in the feeding formula up to age of 12 months.
  • In large amounts nitrates can cause infantile methemoglobinemia also known as Blue Baby syndrome (not to be confused with the blue baby due to a heart defect). More information on this disease is given below.
  • Studies have linked birth defects to increased nitrogen levels in water consumed by pregnant women.
  • Nitrates can also cause cancer because they react with natural and organic compounds in the stomach during digestion.
  • Boiling or disinfecting the water will not lower the nitrate concentration.
  • If the nitrate levels in your well remain at high concentrations then it should be understood that this problem should be considered permanent.
  • There are nitrate treatment devices on the market. You should consult your plumber for information about these devices.

Sources of Nitrates common to CC:

The Nitrogen Cycle

As you can see from this diagram manmade fertilizers, animal fertilizers ( manure, intentionally placed or not), nitrogen deposition from the air due to combustion of fossil fuels, including vehicles, ( a big problem for the Chesapeake Bay) are inputs which can lead to nutrient ( N) overload. Additionally, acid rain can change the pH of soils to increase nitrogen release.

This nitrogen cycle diagram is from the following web page:

Health Effects of Nitrates on Humans an article by Charlotte Mills Fant

 Health Effects: What is infantile methemoglobinemia?

  • is a very serious condition
  • almost exclusively occurs in infants less than 3 months old but can also occur in children and adults
  • Babies who have this condition turn blue due to a lack of oxygen transport throughout the body.
  • is dependent on the bacterial conversion of nitrate to nitrite before or after ingestion.


Why do nitrates cause these condition to occur?

  • This condition occurs when too many nitrates are ingested and broken down into nitrites. The nitrites are then able to oxidate ferrous iron in hemoglobin to ferric iron and convert hemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the lungs to the tissues, to methemoglobin.
  • The methemoglobin that is formed is not capable of binding to molecular oxygen and is unable to carry oxygen to the other parts of the body. This causes oxygen deprivation or suffocation. This is what causes the babies to turn blue.

    The following are recommended if elevated nitrate levels are found in your water:

    1. Do not use the water for infants under 12 months old.

    2. If you do have a child under 12 months consult your physician to hear what he/she recommends. The child could have already ingested the water before you knew it was contaminated.

    3. If someone in the household is pregnant , consult a physician because they too may have ingested contaminated water without knowing it.

 Turbidity is dirt and other solid materials in water.

  • These materials can be seen with the naked eye floating in the water. The particles can clog openings and wear down valves and washers in wells.
  • Sources of turbidity are dirt and sand in the well and can also be caused by runoff into water supplies.
  • The particulates can be trapped with filtering devices, such as cartridge and tank filters.

**** This information was compiled from brochures given to us by the Carroll County Health Department.

Compiled by Stephanie Price , Western Maryland College

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