Well Management
Safe Drinking Water For Your Baby

While most drinking water in Minnesota is safe, drinking water that is unsafe can make your new baby sick. To make sure that your drinking water is safe, there are some basic steps to consider before giving the water to your baby or using it to make formula or juice. The most important steps are:

  • Find out where your drinking water comes from. Is it from a public water system or private well?
  • If your water comes from a public water system, let the water run for 30-60 seconds before using, to reduce levels of lead.
  • If your water comes from a private well, have it tested for bacteria, nitrate, and arsenic. Also, let the water run for 30-60 seconds before using, to reduce levels of lead.

More details about making sure your drinking water is safe are provided below.

On this page:
If Your Water Comes From a Public Water System...
Reduce Lead in Drinking Water
Be Alert for Water Quality Notifications
Read Your Consumer Confidence Report
If Your Water Comes From a Private Well...
Make Sure That Your Well is Properly Located and Constructed
Test Your Well Water for Bacteria
Always Test Your Well Water for Nitrate Before Giving It to an Infant
Reduce Lead in Drinking Water
Test Your Well Water at Least Once for Arsenic
Test Your Well Water for Fluoride
Testing Your Well Water for Other Contaminants
Finding a Water Testing Laboratory

If Your Water Comes From a Public Water System...

Public water systems (such as municipal water utilities, rural water systems, and manufactured housing parks) are required by law to test their water regularly and must supply safe drinking water. You can, however, take action to further ensure that your infant’s water supply is safe.

Reduce Lead in Drinking Water
Too much lead can harm the physical and mental development of your child. Water can pick up lead when it passes through household plumbing containing lead (such as lead solder or brass fixtures). The longer water sits without use, the more lead it can absorb. Because lead can enter the water after it leaves the treatment plant, consumers should check on lead levels at their homes.

You can find out how much lead is in your water by testing it at a laboratory. You can also contact your water system or read your Consumer Confidence Report for information about lead. In general, lead levels should not exceed 15 micrograms per liter (µg/L).

A simple way to reduce lead is to let faucets run for 30 to 60 seconds before the water is used for making formula, drinking, or mixing juice.

Flushing the faucet takes old water out of the pipes and replaces it with fresh water that contains less lead. Home water treatment systems can also reduce lead, but must be properly operated and maintained in order to be effective.

Lead dissolves more quickly in hot water, so never use the hot water supply to make baby formula. If you need warm water for formula, start with water from the cold water tap. Do not boil the water, however, as this may increase the lead concentration.

Be Alert for Water Quality Notifications
Your public water system is required to inform its customers if water quality problems do occur. Notice may be given by TV or radio, in the newspaper, or by a flyer in your water bill. Notices will describe the problem and give you instructions on how to obtain safe drinking water.

Read Your Consumer Confidence Report
Community public water systems must provide their customers with an annual report of water testing results called a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). If you have any questions about your CCR, contact your water system or the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

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If Your Water Comes From a Private Well...

Make Sure That Your Well is Properly Located and Constructed
Properly constructed and maintained water wells can provide safe water for many years, but like any other mechanical devices, wells will eventually deteriorate or become damaged, and may allow surface contaminants to enter the water. If your well is old, or has not been inspected for many years, contact a licensed well contractor and have the well inspected.

If your well has outlived its useful life, it should be properly sealed and replaced with a modern, safe well. You should also seal any unused wells on your property to protect your groundwater from contamination.

Note: Under Minnesota law, only a licensed well contractor can seal a well.

Test Your Well Water for Bacteria
Water that has become contaminated by human or animal wastes can transmit a variety of infectious diseases with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and sometimes fever. These diseases can be particularly serious in infants. Test your water for “total coliform bacteria” to find out if your well is contaminated. These bacteria do not usually cause disease themselves, but their presence indicates that surface contamination may have found its way into the well and disease organisms may also be present.

When total coliform bacteria are found, water must be boiled at a full, rolling boil for at least 1 minute, then cooled, before it is consumed. The well should be disinfected with a strong solution of chlorine, and then retested. You can hire a licensed well contractor to perform the disinfection or contact MDH staff for instructions on disinfecting the well yourself. (PDF: 222KB/10 pages)

more > Bacterial Safety of Well Water

Always Test Your Well Water for Nitrate Before Giving It to an Infant
Nitrate is a common contaminant of Minnesota groundwater. Elevated levels of nitrate are often caused by runoff from barnyards or feedlots, excessive use of fertilizers, or septic systems. Wells most vulnerable to nitrate contamination include shallow wells, dug wells with non watertight casings, and wells with damaged, leaking casing or fittings.

Well water containing nitrate at levels above the state health limit of 10 milligrams per liter as nitrogen (10 mg/L as N) should never be given to infants less than six months old, because it can cause a potentially fatal disease called “blue baby syndrome.” In many cases, constructing a deeper well can reduce or eliminate a nitrate problem.

Home water treatment units are not recommended for treating high nitrate water which will be given to infants. There is no foolproof way of knowing when a treatment system may fail, and blue baby syndrome has been known to occur after just one day of exposure to high nitrate water.

more > Nitrate in Well Water

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Reduce Lead in Drinking Water
Well water in Minnesota usually does not contain detectable levels of lead. However, the pipes and other components of the household plumbing system (faucets, valves, or fittings) may contain lead. See the information on lead under “If Your Water Comes From a Public Water System...,” as the steps to take are similar to those for public water system users.

more > Lead in Well Water Systems

Test Your Well Water at Least Once for Arsenic
Arsenic occurs naturally in about half the wells in Minnesota, and about 10 percent of Minnesota wells produce water which exceeds 10 µg/L, the national drinking water standard. Arsenic is more prevalent in western Minnesota, but can occur almost anywhere in the state.

Long-term consumption of arsenic above the drinking water standard may increase the risk of health problems of the skin, circulatory system, or the nervous system, including some forms of cancer.

Every private well should be tested at least once or twice to determine if arsenic is present, and at what levels. Long-term consumption of well water with arsenic levels above 10 µg/L should be avoided. Special types of water treatment systems which are proven effective in removing arsenic from drinking water include “reverse osmosis” with pretreatment, and “distillation” systems. In addition, several promising new technologies for removing arsenic are currently under development. Contact a reputable water treatment dealer in your area for information about water treatment systems.

more > Arsenic in Minnesota's Well Water

Test Your Well Water for Fluoride
Although most well water in Minnesota has little natural fluoride, a fluoride test can give your dentist useful information when considering fluoride supplements. A small number of wells, primarily in northeastern Minnesota, do exceed the recommended health limit for fluoride, which can cause discoloration of tooth enamel.

Testing Your Well Water for Other Contaminants
When pesticides are detected in Minnesota wells, the levels are usually very low, less than 1 µg/L (part per billion) – but there are exceptions. Wells most at risk of pesticide contamination are shallow or old, located close to areas of pesticide use or storage, and located in geologically sensitive areas such as sand plains or some limestone areas. Wells that have high levels of nitrate are also more likely to have detectable levels of pesticides. If you have an old or shallow well and you live in an agricultural area, or if your well has a high level of nitrate, consider testing your well water for one or more of the pesticides used most frequently in your area.

Volatile organic chemicals, or “VOCs” are common components of gasoline and other fuels, as well as products such as solvents, paints, cleaners, and degreasers. It is estimated that 2 to 5 percent of private wells in Minnesota may have detectable levels of one or more VOCs. Long-term exposure to VOCs above state health limits may damage the nervous system, liver, or kidneys, and some VOCs are known to cause cancer. If you live near a commercial or industrial area, a gas station, or a landfill, and especially if your well is old or shallow, you should consider having your water tested for VOCs.

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Finding a Water Testing Laboratory

Water samples should be tested by a laboratory which has been state-certified to perform the test(s) that you want. Your county health department can provide some testing or help you find a certified lab. You can also look in the phone book under “Laboratories-Testing” to find a certified laboratory.

Additionally, a list of certified water testing laboratories is available on the MDH website. Regardless of which tests you want done, always make sure to use a laboratory that has been certified to perform each of those particular tests.

Before taking water samples, be sure to talk to the lab about any special procedures you will need to follow in collecting the samples.

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Questions?
Contact the MDH Well Management Section
651-201-4600 or 800-383-9808
health.wells@state.mn.us

Minnesota Department of Health
Updated Wednesday, 15-Aug-2012 14:34:14 CDT