Drinking water is one of our most precious resources and also one of our most vulnerable, especially along coastal areas such as Delmarva. Researchers from the University of Delaware's Graduate College of Marine Studies (CMS) will be screening well-water for nitrate levels during Coast Day, the colleges annual open house and marine festival. Coast Day, sponsored by CMS and the Universitys Sea Grant College Program,will be held at the Hugh R. Sharp campus in Lewes, on Sunday, October 4, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
According to Joseph R. Scudlark, the laboratory technical coordinator at CMS who will conduct the testing, nitrate is a soluble form of nitrogen that appears at low concentrations in most surface waters as a result of natural biological productivity and decomposition. Higher concentrations in groundwater are usually derived from agricultural and/or sewage disposal practices.
"Nitrate contamination of drinking water is particularly problematic in the coastal region, where the combination of a shallow water table and sandy, unreactive soils allows nitrate at the surface to rapidly infiltrate to the water table," he says. "At low levels, nitrate poses no known hazard to consumers. But high levels have been linked to adverse health effects, specifically 'blue baby disease,' a disorder affecting oxygen blood levels of young children, infants, and fetuses."
A recent survey estimated that one-quarter of the wells sampled in Sussex County, Delaware, exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's maximum concentration guidelines for nitrate, which is 10 parts per million. Nitrate in groundwater has also been identified as a source of contamination for coastal waters such as Delaware's Inland Bays, where excess nutrient inputs have been linked to a variety of adverse ecological consequences.
If you would like to have your drinking water tested at Coast Day, you will need to bring a sample with you in a small, clean (preferably glass) bottle. The sample should be drawn from the cold water faucet, if possible, from a location that is closest to the wellhead, such as an outside garden spigot. To collect a sample, let your faucet run for about 10 minutes, and then rinse the bottle three times with water. After the third rinse, fill the bottle with water and immediately refrigerate it. For the results to be accurate, the sample should remain refrigerated until tested, and you are urged to keep the sample on ice during the trip to Coast Day.
"Testing water samples is an ideal way to provide a valuable public service while also gathering useful data for our studies of nutrient levels in Delaware's groundwaters," says Scudlark. "The results of the analyses will also be used by scientists to map the nitrate levels on Delmarva. So we will need to know the location from which the sample was collected. Researchers would like to know the depth of the well sampled, the year the well was drilled, the drilling permit number, and the name of the drilling contractor, if known."
Samples should be dropped off in Room 125 Cannon. Results will be available within several hours, or they will be mailed within one week of Coast Day. Should a sample's nitrate level exceed the recommended maximum concentration, instructions will be provided on where to go for further assistance. For more information on this water testing, contact Scudlark at (302) 645-4300.