Inspection of water analyses on file at the Delaware Geological Survey revealed that 25 percent of the shallow wells yield water with nitrate concentrations approaching or in excess of the Delaware State Board of Health and U. S. Public Health Service limit of 45 parts per million (ppm). Nitrate concentrations greater than 45 ppm seem to be detrimental to the health of infants during their first few months of life; adults drinking the same water are not affected but breast-fed infants of mothers drinking such water may become ill. The illness ("blue baby sickness" or methemoglobinemia) results from the conversion of nitrate to nitrite by nitrite-forming bacteria in the upper part of the digestive tract of some infants and the further conversion of hemoglobin to methemoglobin which is incapable of transporting oxygen; the result is oxygen starvation. Little is known about the low level effect of undetected methemoglobinemia on infants.
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