Monroe County Health Department has been awarded $10,000 from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services to upgrade environmental public health in Monroe County by improving private well water testing.

Health department director Sharon Nelson said the grant will address the lack of testing in the county. In Monroe County’s 24 towns there are an estimated 4,646 private wells. According the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Well Water viewer, between 1988 and March 2017, 25 percent of private wells were tested for nitrates, 11 percent for bacteria and 3 percent for arsenic.

“This shortage of data means that Monroe County Health Department is unable to properly educate residents about the contamination risks in their part of the county, and it’s more difficult for the Land Conservation Department to address land uses that impact water quality or provide water stewardship guidance to county residents,” Nelson said.

The county health department, Land Conservation Department and UW-Extension will be working to educate residents of Monroe County about the importance annual well testing. Two-hundred and fifty wells will be tested as a result of this project by providing reduced-cost testing.

“Public health touches all parts of people’s lives − where they live, learn, work, and play − so we’re excited to be collaborating with the Land Conservation Department and UW-Extension,” said Nelson.

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Project activities are expected to get under way in late 2019 or early 2020.

Bacteria in a drinking water supply can be a serious health risk because harmful germs could also be in the water, Nelson said. At high enough levels, bacteria may cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Additionally, some strains of the E. Coli bacteria can cause serious illness. In particular, young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems can be more at risk of getting infections and developing illness from bacteria in drinking water.

Nelson said high levels of nitrates in drinking water should be avoided by all, but especially infants and women who are or may become pregnant. Exposure to high levels of nitrates can cause “blue baby syndrome” which can be fatal if not treated promptly. In infants under six months of age, ingestion of nitrates can reduce the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. In the case of blue baby syndrome, the infant’s skins appears blue-gray or lavender in color, which is caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood. All infants are at risk, but infants who are premature or have other health problems are at even higher risk, Nelson said.

The project in Monroe County is one of seven environmental public health projects being funded throughout the state through the Taking Action with Data funding opportunity from the Wisconsin Environmental Public Health Tracking Program, which is housed at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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