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Where We Stand: Testing of Well Water

In the United States, about 15 million families get their drinking water from private, unregulated wells. Studies show that a significant number of these wells have concentrations of nitrates that exceed federal drinking-water standards. These nitrates are a natural component of plants and nitrate-containing fertilizers that can seep into well water, and don't pose any toxic risk to humans on their own. But in the body, they can be converted to nitrites, which ​are potentially hazardous.

In infants, they can lead to a condition called methemoglobinemia, a dangerous and sometimes fatal blood disorder that interferes with the circulation of oxygen in the blood. Babies whose formula is prepared using well water may have a high risk of nitrate poisoning.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that if your family drinks well water, the well should be tested for nitrates. If the well water contains nitrates (above a level of 10 mg/L), it should not be used for infant formula or food preparation. Instead, you should prepare food or formula by using purchased water, public water supplies, or water from deeper wells with minimal nitrate levels.

Breastfeeding is the safest way to nourish your infant, since high levels of nitrates are not passed through breast milk.

How Often Should Well Water Be Tested?
Tests should be done every three months for at least one year to determine the levels of nitrates. If these tests show safe levels, then a follow-up test once a year is recommended.

Talk with your pediatrician

If you have questions about well water, talk with your pediatrician. Your regional Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) have staff who can also talk with parents about concerns over environmental toxins.

More information

Last Updated
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 7th Edition (Copyright © 2019 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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