Nitrates in drinking water are becoming a growing concern

Adapted from the Des Moines Register.

As nitrate levels in the water of Iowa’s cities continue to climb, many are beginning to question the safety the 10 ppm federal allowable for nitrates in drinking water.

State sources in Iowa say that the water supplies of about 260 cities and towns are now highly susceptible of becoming contaminated by nitrates and pollutants — about 30 percent of Iowa’s 880 municipal water systems. The state data centers on the cities reporting nitrate levels of 5 milligrams per liter or higher, a warning sign that nitrates are approaching harmful levels.

While it it true that cases of “Blue Baby Syndrome,” the health issue most often associated with nitrates in drinking water at 10 ppm or higher, are quite low, there is growing evidence that lower levels of nitrates can be linked to a host of ailments, not in babies but in the general population.  For example,  the Des Moines Register, lists:

  • Birth defects: Studies conducted in Iowa, Texas, Canada and Australia found statistically significant links between elevated nitrate in drinking water and neural tube defects of the brain and spinal cord, including spina bifida, some oral cleft defects and limb deficiencies.
  • Bladder cancer: Researchers who followed a large group of post-menopausal women in Iowa over many years found an increased risk for bladder cancer as nitrate concentration in water supplies increased. Other likely influences, including exposure to nitrate and nitrite through dietary and other sources, also were considered. Studies in Spain, Germany and Taiwan reported similar findings.
  • Thyroid cancer: One of the most rapidly increasing cancers in the United States, thyroid cancer, also has been associated with extended exposure to high nitrate levels in drinking water in two large U.S. studies.

Nitrates get into water mainly from agricultural runoff from fertilizers and animal feed lots. It is very costly for municipal water suppliers to remove nitrates. For homeowners,  an undersink reverse osmosis unit takes care of nitrates easily.

Reference: Des Moines Register.