Blue Baby Syndrome: What it is and How to Act

December 16, 2014 | Water Issues

baby

Blue baby syndrome occurs in bottle-fed babies when nitrate-rich water is used to prepare the formula. The scientific name for it is methemoglobinemia, which means blood’s inability to carry oxygen to the vital organs and systems of the body. Hemoglobin is what delivers the oxygen throughout your body and nitrates cause hemoglobin levels to rapidly drop, causing a variety of symptoms characteristic of oxygen deprivation.

Symptoms of the Blue Baby Syndrome:

  • lethargic or irritable behavior
  • pale or greyish skin
  • blueness around mouth, hands and fingernails
  • trouble breathing
  • diarrhea and vomiting

If not treated promptly, methemoglobinemia can lead to coma and subsequent death. There is, however, another cause of the blue baby syndrome, which is a heart defect known as Tetralogy of Fallot. In most cases, it is diagnosed at birth and addressed immediately, so it is not as fatal as methemoglobinemia, which can occur at any moment when caring for the baby at home or in a daycare facility.

If you notice any of the above symptoms, call your doctor right away or take your child to the ER.

Why is Your Water High in Nitrates?

Ground water in some areas is naturally high in nitrates due to the erosion of natural deposits, while in other situations the excess of nitrates could be coming from agricultural runoff. Many fertilizers are nitrogen-based, so if you have farmland surrounding your house, this is likely the source of nitrates in your water. The World Health Organization recommends “controlling nitrate levels to below around 50mg/L” as an effective preventive measure, but nitrate levels as low as 22mg/L are known to have caused the blue baby syndrome.

In order to determine if your home or daycare facility has a nitrate problem, your water should be tested. Even if you had it tested in the past, do it again because the conditions could have changed. Generally, testing your well water every 2-3 years is a good idea, and not only for nitrate control. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a maximum contaminant level for nitrate at 10mg/L, so if your water tests above this threshold, you’ve got a nitrate problem.

How to Solve the High Nitrate Problem

The following three methods have proven effective in reducing nitrate levels in drinking water and are recommended by the EPA.

  • Ion exchange process is similar to that of a regular water softener, but in order to catch nitrates, a special anion exchange resin is used. The resin can be regenerated with common salt or potassium chloride. Ion exchange can successfully remove over 90 percent of nitrates from your drinking water.
  • Reverse osmosis uses pressure to separate minerals and nitrate from your drinking water. While it doesn’t guarantee 100 percent nitrate removal, it can easily bring nitrate content down to safe levels, and the entire unit fits underneath your sink.
  • Distillation is also known to remove most impurities from water, including nitrates. The process involves boiling the water to the point of evaporation and then condensing it again into the liquid state.
  • Dilution means adding a second stream of water to your nitrate-contaminated source to reduce the nitrate concentration. This could work if you have another well on your property that doesn’t have a nitrate problem.

Need a consultation on a Maryland water treatment system that will work for your home to remove nitrates? Contact R & G Water Systems today at 410-239-0700.

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