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Tainted Water Might Be Linked to Miscarriages in Indiana

July 5, 1996

ATLANTA (AP) _ Three Indiana women who miscarried a total of six times within two years may have been sickened by well water polluted by a hog farm nearby, the government said Friday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the women were drinking well water that contained high levels of nitrate, which is found naturally in trace amounts in many vegetables but can be harmful at the high levels present in animal and human feces.

The three women, who miscarried between 1991 and 1993, all lived within a few miles of each other in LaGrange County, a farming community in northeastern Indiana.

One 35-year-old woman miscarried four times, all within the first 11 weeks of pregnancy. A 37-year-old woman miscarried within the first eight weeks. She had given birth to her first child three years before moving to the area. The third woman, 20, lost her first baby, also within the first eight weeks.

A fourth woman who lived 10 miles away from the first three also had two miscarriages in 1994. She was found to be drinking well water contaminated not by a hog farm but by the family’s septic system.

County health officials checked area wells after a resident alerted them to high nitrate levels in her water. Nineteen families were interviewed, including five women who had given birth without trouble.

``We found the women who had miscarriages had wells closer to the hog farm than the women in the area who had term deliveries,″ said Michele Lynberg of the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health.

All four women have changed their drinking water and have since given birth, the CDC said.

``It’s no fun having to interview a woman who just had a miscarriage. But after we told them what we found, they were happy to at least know it wasn’t a problem with them,″ said William Grant, LaGrange County Health Department administrator.

About 13 million U.S. households get their drinking water from private wells, which are not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, Lynberg said.

``The CDC recommends that anyone with a private well evaluate the quality of that well periodically,″ she said.

Households with infants should also beware because high nitrate levels have been linked to methemoglobinemia, or ``blue baby syndrome,″ Lynberg said. Symptoms include a blue tinge on the nose and ear tips, diarrhea, lethargy and coma.

The county, meanwhile, is developing rules to regulate feedlots and barnyards.

``Locally, there are no guidelines for manure maintenance,″ Grant said. ``I think a lot of the contamination is just ignorance, really. We need to educate people that this manure can almost end up being a hazardous waste.″