U.S. Water News Online
EUGENE, Ore. -- Water samples collected in the southern
Willamette Valley over the past three years show thousands of
residents drinking from wells contaminated by nitrates, state
The source of the contamination wasn't clearly established. But it
likely included fertilizer runoff, livestock manure and leaky septic
Because of the abundance of nitrates in shallow well water in
Lane, Linn and Benton counties, the Department of Environmental
Quality has proposed creating the first groundwater management area
in Western Oregon.
The area would include the cities of Coburg, Junction City,
Harrisburg and parts of Monroe.
Tests showed nitrate levels in more than 10 percent of wells in
the area approach or exceed the federal government's safe drinking
The federal standard for nitrate in public water supplies is 10
milligrams per liter, but levels exceeding 7 milligrams are cause for
concern, said state geologist Audrey Eldridge.
``There are a lot of folks in the southern Willamette Valley who
are drinking groundwater, and a lot of that groundwater is
contaminated with nitrate,'' Eldridge said.
The Department of Environmental Quality found widespread nitrate
contamination at levels greater than 7 milligrams per liter, she
High nitrate levels in drinking water may be harmful to people and
animals, although the long-term effect on adults is not well
understood. Infants and pregnant or nursing women are considered
Nitrates can interfere with the ability of blood to carry oxygen
to vital tissues in infants younger than six months. This can lead to
``blue baby syndrome,'' a rare condition that can be fatal in extreme
Infants may be especially vulnerable if fed with formula mixed
with contaminated well water.
Some research suggests that nitrate may play a role in spontaneous
miscarriages and in the development of some cancers in adults.
Residents of the southern valley ``should be curious about their
water quality,'' Eldridge said. ``If I had a shallow well, I would
want to test my water.''
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