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From: Ground-Water Hydrology of Jefferson County, West Virginia by W.A. Hobba, Jr., Prepared by the US Geological Survey in cooperation with the WV Geological and Economic Survey and the Jefferson County Court, Environmental Geology Bulletin EGB-16, 1981


Nitrate Levels are Potential Problem in a Few Locations

Nitrate concentration in water of the county ranges from 0 to 182 mg/l, with the higher concentration almost always associated with limestone aquifers.

Nitrate may be derived from chemical fertilizers, waste from humans, animals, and industry, minerals in the rock, or biological processes in the soil. Nitrate concentration in the water of Jefferson County ranges from 0 to 182 mg/l, with concentration in most of the water usually less than 45 mg/l. Concentrations higher that 15 mg/l are nearly always found in water from limestone.

When concentration exceeds 45 mg/l, the water ran be toxic to infants, The digestive system of some infants converts nitrate to nitrite, and the nitrite in turn oxidizes hemoglobin to methemoglobin, thereby causing cyanosis (Brown and others, 1970, p. 119).

Apparently, nitrate concentrations in ground water may change significantly from one time to another, under similar conditions. Analysis of water collected in March 1975 at five wells and springs, immediately after a recharge period, indicated higher nitrate concentration than during a period of little or no recharge in September 1974.

High nitrate concentrations may be derived from "mineral nitrates characteristically associated with the limestone. . . (Bieber, 1961, p. 36); overland runoff carrying nitrate into the limestone through sinkholes, caverns, and fractures; or both. Thirty-two ground-water samples collected in February 1970 showed that concentrations exceeded 45 mg/l at many sites in the county (Friel and others, 1976; Hobba and others, 1972). The concentration in these samples ranged from 0.3 to 70 mg/l*

Some high nitrate concentrations may be associated with faulted zones, which also yield water having high chloride concentrations and high specific-conductance values. The high nitrate concentrations in water from isolated wells may be derived from septic tanks, barnyards, or fertilized farm land.

(Many of the wells yielding water with nitrate concentrations above 45 mg/l were resampled in April 1977. It was found that nitrate concentrations were about the same as in September 1974 see Ground-Water Hydrology map in envelope at beck of this report; red table in lower left corner. However, concentrations may have fluctuated during the interim period. Most of the samples contained little or no ammonia or organic nitrogen; this would indicate that the nitrate was not derived from recent human or animal waste. Some of the nitrate may have derived from agricultural activities, because nearly all of the resampled wells are located on or near farmed land or orchards. Much of the land here has been cultivated for the past two hundred years.)

*These nitrate values are not the sum of nitrite (NO2) plus nitrate (NO3), expressed as nitrate, as are the values included in this report. However, they should be comparable to the reported values because nitrite is converted to nitrate under aerobic conditions, which often prevail. Of 188 samples collected in September for this study, 92 percent had so little nitrite that it did not affect the reported value of nitrate.