An epidemiological survey to assess the effect of well-water nitrates on infant health at Rietfontein in the northern Cape Province, South Africa

Hesseling P.B. ; Toens P.D. ; Visser H. (1991)

When chemical analysis of water from different boreholes in the Rietfontein area was performed to locate a suitable central water supply for domestic and sewerage purposes, a nitrogen (N) level in excess of 10 mg l-1 in some samples raised concern about the risk for methaemoglobinaemia and health in infants. Every child aged below 1 yr in Rietfontein village (43 infants) was examined physically and blood was obtained for a methaemoglobin assay and a full blood count. The mothers were questioned on their obstetrical history, health of other siblings and dietary pattern of the infant. Every patient was visited to obtain a household borehole water sample for partial chemical analysis. A contour map of nitrate as N in mg l-1 was constructed. The present water quality criteria of the Department of National Health and Population Development have maximum values for three levels of risk: no risk (ideal), insignificant risk (the practical upper limit) and low risk (the maximum limit). For nitrates the limits are 6, 10 and 20mg l-1. Under conditions such as those prevailing at Rietfontein, applying the maximum level of 20mg l-1 will result in better utilization of this scarce resource without appreciable risk to the community. -from Authors

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