Don't use tap water for infants, Westminster says

Officials issue warning after elevated levels of nitrate are discovered in one of the Carroll city's 11 wells


Westminster officials are warning parents not to use its tap water for infants younger than 6 months old or to make baby formula with it because of elevated levels of nitrate found in one of the city's 11 wells.

City officials issued the warning yesterday - the second incident involving the water system in less than two months - after taking its Cranberry Water System off line to flush out the nitrates.

"The well will stay out of service until we have two weeks of sampling below the maximum contaminant level of 10," said Jeff Glass, assistant director of the city Department of Public Works.

When the well was taken off line Wednesday, tests that day revealed a nitrate level of 10.7, while initial tests that were performed Nov. 3 showed a nitrate level of 10.5.

"As soon as [the Nov. 3 results] were confirmed, we took the well off line," Glass said last night.

The warning affects about 5 percent of city residents, primarily in the area near Westminster High and Robert Moton Elementary schools.

Julie Oberg, a spokeswoman with the Maryland Department of the Environment, said municipalities are required by law to notify the public within 24 hours when they have two consecutive tests indicating elevated levels of nitrates in the water system.

"The well is going to be tested weekly until it shows two consecutive weekly samples that are acceptable," she said. "It'll go back to regular monthly testing after that."

Westminster officials issued a warning that infants who drink the water could become seriously ill and, if untreated, could die.

While nitrates are not considered harmful to adults, the warning indicates that anyone who is pregnant or has specific health concerns may want to consult a physician before drinking tap water.

Water with elevated levels of nitrate can be dangerous to infants because their digestive systems lack the stomach acids that destroy bacteria that can convert the nitrates into nitrites, which can lead to a condition called "blue baby syndrome," said Ed Singer, Carroll County's director of environmental health.

Singer said he considers the risk from this incident to be "minuscule" and that parents who have used the water to prepare baby formula or given it to their babies should not be worried.

"I don't want people alarmed that their infants are at risk because of drinking the water," he said. "There is virtually no risk to public health. ... There are nitrates at some level in drinking water all the time. [But] the lowest level I've read is about 40 before it has caused blue baby syndrome.

Symptoms to watch for in infants include shortness of breath and blueness of the skin, an indication of blue baby syndrome, which can develop rapidly, according to the city's warning. City officials caution parents to seek immediate medical attention if these symptoms occur.

Water, juice and formula for infants should not be prepared with tap water. Parents should use bottled water until further notice.

Yesterday's warning advises residents not to boil water because doing so does not reduce nitrates, and excessive boiling can make nitrates more concentrated.

After a torrential rain in mid-October, Westminster water treatment plant operators issued an advisory to boil drinking water after noticing a spike in turbidity levels - a condition that could allow parasites to contaminate the water. A lapse in communication between officials from the city and the Maryland Department of the Environment resulted in a nearly two-day delay in issuing the boil-water advisory.

The city treats an average of 2.3 million gallons of water a day and pumps it to about 8,000 customers.

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