Sodium and nitrate levels in Simcoe water safe for healthy individuals

SIMCOE, OCTOBER 26, 2012 – Norfolk County’s routine water quality monitoring program has found elevated levels of sodium and nitrate in municipal water supplies in parts of Simcoe.

Sodium levels in the water coming from the Cedar Street wells have been above the 20 mg/L concentration for a number of years. So far in 2012, the levels have been hovering around 50 mg/L.

For healthy adults, this sodium level in drinking water does not pose a risk. In fact, the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality set an aesthetic objective of 200 mg/L, ten times higher than the aforementioned threshold. Sodium concentrations above this level do not affect the safety of the water, but may cause aesthetic effects, impacting the water’s odour, taste or discolouration.

However, sodium levels in drinking water exceeding 20 mg/L could present a health concern to those on sodium-restricted diets. For this reason, when results reveal sodium concentrations have surpassed this threshold, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s Medical Officer of Health informs local physicians, so that they may advise patients on sodium-restricted diets accordingly.

“The sodium currently consumed by drinking Norfolk County’s municipal water is a very small percentage of the average person’s sodium intake,” noted Sandy Stevens, Program Coordinator of the Health Unit’s Healthy Environment Team.

The main source of sodium in a person’s diet comes from processed foods such as snack foods, fast foods, processed meats, soups, crackers, and condiments. In comparison, while a litre of water from the Cedar Street well contains approximately 50 mg of sodium, a medium-sized dill pickle contains 835 mg of sodium.

Water softeners may also increase the levels of sodium in drinking water. As a precaution, it is recommended that water from a water softener not be given to infants and not be used in the preparation of infant beverages including formula and juice.

Nitrate levels in the same Cedar Street wells have been approximately 5 mg/L for a number of years, or half of the maximum allowable concentration in drinking water of 10 mg/L.

Like sodium, although these levels currently pose no health risk to healthy individuals, county officials are keeping a close eye on the test results, and considering the long-term changes that may need to be made to help lower the nitrate concentrations where required.   

Nitrates are present in water, and particularly ground water, as a result of the natural decay of plant or animal material, the use of agricultural fertilizers, domestic sewage contamination or geological formations containing soluble nitrogen compounds. Nitrates are also found in many foods such as spinach, beets, carrots, hot dogs and other meats.

Similar to sodium, drinking water contributes only a small percentage of the total amount of nitrates a person ingests. However, health officials at the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit are watching the nitrate levels in the municipal water supply, because if levels rise above 10 mg/L there are potential associated health risks for a particular segment of the population.

“High nitrate levels are a health concern for infants less than six months of age,” explained Stevens. “Nitrates can convert to nitrites and decrease the amount of oxygen carried in the blood, potentially leading to Blue Baby Syndrome in infants.”

If water has a nitrate level of more than 10 mg/L, it is recommended that a different water supply be used to prepare baby formula or food.

Residents serviced by municipal water can access annual water quality reports for each of Norfolk’s municipal water supply on Norfolk County’s website at www.norfolkcounty.ca/living/roads-water-wastewater or by contacting the Public Works and Environmental Services Department at 519-582-2100.

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Media contacts:

Sandy Stevens
Program Coordinator, Healthy Environment Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Ext. 3216 at either 519-426-6170 or 905-318-6623
sandy.stevens@hnhu.org

Bob Fields
Manager, Environmental Services Division
Public Works and Environmental Services Department, Norfolk County
519-582-4571 Ext.1500
bob.fields@norfolkcounty.ca