OWOSSO TWP. — The Shiawassee Conservation District, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, is offering free nitrate and nitrite screening for well water.

The screening is open to everyone in Shiawassee County who uses a private well for drinking water. Water samples will be accepted and screened at the Shiawassee Conservation District from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 24 and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 25.

Well owners may take a water sample in any clean bottle to the Shiawassee Conservation District office, 1900 S. Morrice Road.

According to the SCD, excessive nitrates in drinking water can affect a person’s health, sometimes causing “blue baby syndrome.”

Nitrates are converted to nitrite in the digestive system and react with the hemoglobin in the blood, which reduces the ability of the blood to carry oxygen.

In a baby, the effect can cause the child to develop a bluish coloring and possibly result in long-term digestive and respiratory problems. The syndrome occurs mostly in babies 6 months or younger, but it can also be found in older children and adults. Pregnant women and individuals with reduced gastric activity are also at greater risk from high levels of nitrates and nitrites in drinking water.

Blue baby syndrome is most common in rural areas where nitrates are used in higher levels for agricultural purposes. Leaching of nitrates generated from fertilizer may contaminate groundwater, the SCD said. The EPA regularly tests public drinking water to ensure that healthy levels of nitrates are maintained.

However, those who use well water may be at risk for high levels of nitrates, as they can be carried by rain or irrigation water through the soil and into the groundwater.

When collecting a water sample for testing:

Pick a tap that supplies water that does not run through any treatment devices (such as a water softener). An outdoor faucet often works the best.

Run the water for 15 to 20 minutes before collecting the sample. Remove hoses before collecting a sample. Rinse the sample bottle and lid thoroughly in the water before sampling; then fill and cap the bottle. Three ounces of water is adequate.

Keep the sample dark and cold (on ice or refrigerated) until it is delivered.

Samples must be less than 48 hours old.

For more information about well water screening or information on assessment tools used to help identify risks to groundwater or surface water associated with nitrogen fertilizer use, call the Shiawassee Conservation District Office at (989) 723-8263, ext. 3.

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