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Nitrate clinic finds well water OK

Sarah Zellmer, an intern with the Douglas County Soil and Water Conservation District, tests drinking water for nitrates during a free nitrate clinic Monday. (Karen Tolkkinen / Echo Press)

The 17 people who brought samples of home drinking water to a Douglas County nitrate clinic on Monday all learned that their water is completely safe to drink — at least when it comes to nitrates.

"I've never had a well before, so I'm kind of leery," said Teresa Day, who lives on Lake Victoria and went away with a satisfactory score and her hands full of pamphlets about well water. City water gets tested regularly, and well water should too, she said.

The federal government says drinking water should have nitrate levels of less than 10 milligrams per liter. Higher levels can cause blue baby syndrome and even permanent brain damage in children. Studies have also found some association with nitrates and some types of cancer.

In 2016, state testing found levels of up to 28.6 milligrams in some Douglas County wells. The highest level was in Ida Township, although only 1.6 wells tested in that township were found to have unsafe levels, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. The highest percentage of unsafe levels of nitrates was in Spruce Hill Township, where 5.6 percent of 71 wells had at or above 10 milligrams.

Joe Capistrant brought a jar in from his home in Carlos Township, which is near farms.

"I just thought it was time to check it again," he said.

Nitrates comes from fertilizers, septic systems, feedlots, industrial waste and food processing waste, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It advises homeowners to regularly test their wells for nitrates.

The testing is free, and happens twice a year, said Jess Albertsen, education outreach coordinator for the Douglas County Soil and Water Conservation District.

The next clinic is set for 8:30-4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 20.

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