Thousands In California May Be Drinking Nitrate-Polluted Water

Thousands of California residents may be drinking nitrate-polluted water, according to the most comprehensive report of its kind.

The study, released today by researchers at the University of California, Davis, says groundwater contamination from fertilizer and animal manure is not only severe, but worsening for Central Valley’s thousands of residents, wrote the Food & Environment Reporting Network. About 10% of the 2.6 million people who live in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley might be drinking nitrate-contaminated water, researchers found.

Worse, if steps aren’t taken to correct the problem, said the report, most—about 80%–of residents there could be in jeopardy of health and financial problems by 2050, said the Food & Environment Reporting Network.

The report was concerned with California, but notes that nitrates in groundwater is an issue for farming communities nationwide, adding that health risks, while significant, are not the only problem. The financial impact is massive, with an estimated $20 million – $36 million, annually, expected to have to pay for water treatment and alternative supplies for at least the next two decades, said the Food & Environment Reporting Network.

High nitrate levels in drinking water have been associated with thyroid cancer, skin rashes, hair loss, birth defects, and “blue baby syndrome,” which is a potentially fatal blood disorder seen in babies, said the Food & Environment Reporting Network.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says nitrates are generally used as a fertilizer and can cause serious health problems, especially in infants under the age of six who drink water containing nitrate in excess of the maximum contaminant level (MCL). In addition to blue baby syndrome, symptoms include shortness of breath.

The problem is much, much, much worse than we thought,” said Angela Schroeter, agricultural regulatory program manager for the state agency, Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, wrote the Food & Environment Reporting Network.

Although the issue of nitrate-contaminated water is a well-documented in much of California’s farmland, the agricultural industry has long argued that the blame is not with it since nitrates originate from a number of sources, said the Food & Environment Reporting Network.

The UC Davis report disagrees, saying that 96% of the nitrate contamination there is from agriculture; only 4% is traceable to water treatment plants, septic systems, food processing, landscaping, and other sources.

“If we don’t address this, we’re going to have a very serious issue in California,” Schroeter said.

Nitrates are odorless and tasteless compounds and form when nitrogen from ammonia, and other sources, combine with water. Although naturally occurring, nitrogen and nitrates in drinking water has increased significantly with the use of synthetic fertilizers, said the food & Environment Reporting Network.

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