Area residents can have their well-water tested for nitrate levels at the University of Delaware's 23rd annual Coast Day, set for Sunday, October 3, at the Lewes campus. The award-winning festival, featuring seminars, research demonstrations, a crab cake cook-off, and dozens of other activities, is sponsored by the University's Sea Grant College Program and the College of Marine Studies (CMS).
According to Joseph Scudlark, the laboratory technical coordinator at CMS who will conduct the free drinking-water 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 coastal areas, 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 of young children, infants, and fetuses caused by inadequate oxygenation of the blood."
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 also has 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. Let the 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 groundwater," says Scudlark. "The results of the analyses will also be used by scientists to map the nitrate levels on Delmarva."
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 the water testing, contact Scudlark at (302) 645-4300.
Coast Day is Sunday, October 3, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the University of Delaware's Hugh R. Sharp Campus, 700 Pilottown Road, Lewes. Admission is free; parking is $2. For more information, contact the Marine Communications Office at (302) 831-8083 or visit our Web site at www.ocean.udel.edu.