U.S. Water News Online
OMAHA, Neb. -- According to several environmental
Nebraskans and other mid-westerners living in rural areas, particularly those
with infant children, face serious health risks from the level of nitrates
in their drinking water.
A recent report by the Environmental Working Group warned of a
increase in "blue baby syndrome," a potentially deadly illness brought about
by exposure to nitrates in drinking water. The most common source
of nitrate in the environment is nitrogen fertilizer, which some citizen groups claim is
being overused by farmers. Rural water supplies of mid-western
farming states, whose sources are often untreated groundwater, are most
susceptible to high levels of nitrates which can be traced back to this source.
Though neither Nebraska nor Iowa has had a documented case of
blue baby syndrome in more than 15 years, The Environmental Working Group
said that as many as 2.2 million people, mostly in rural areas, obtain their
drinking supply from water systems that occasionally have levels of nitrates
exceeding federal health standards. The group added that there is evidence
nationally that this illness is under-reported.
Water agencies criticized the study by this environmental
saying it exaggerated health concerns about drinking water. But concern
over nitrates was also voiced by the Nebraska Audubon Society in Omaha. Donna
Rhee, an environmental chemist and representative for this branch of the
Audubon Society, said 43,596 people in 116 Nebraska communities have been
exposed to nitrate levels in water that exceed allowable federal standards
for safe drinking water. Those water systems, all in small Nebraska towns,
tested nitrate levels above federal standards at least once in the last
10 years. She encouraged the use of bottled water when mixing of baby formula.
Marla Augustine of the Nebraska Department of Health said all
water systems in the state are required to test for nitrates. If levels exceed
federal standards, officials are required to take corrective action, notify
the public, and provide another source of water for pregnant women
and infants. "I think the testing and monitoring system we have in place
assures infants are not at risk," Augustine said. "I think this
group exaggerates the risk."
Robert Johnson of the National Rural Water Association also
issue with the report, stating that in its latest report to Congress, the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that in 1994 only 0.1 percent
of water systems exceeded the federal health standard for nitrates. There
are 187,000 water systems in the United States. The EPA considers any level
of nitrates above 10 parts per million in drinking water to be a health risk.
But the Environmental Working Group's study of 200,000 water
dating back to 1986 found that 2,016 water systems over the last decade
had drinking water that exceeded the EPA nitrates standard at least once. Nearly
two out of three systems were repeat violators over that 10-year period.
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