Oct 04, 2018

Study Investigates Nitrate Pollution in U.S. Drinking Water

The study found small communities are at the greatest risk and prevention falls short

Study finds nitrate pollution widespread in U.S. drinking water
Study finds nitrate pollution widespread in U.S. drinking water

In a report released Oct. 2, 2018, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed tests of public water systems and found that 1,700 communities across the U.S., regularly have nitrate levels that the National Cancer Institute says can increase the risk of cancer. Two-thirds of those systems, serving more than 3 million Americans, have no nitrate treatment process.

Furthermore, researchers at the University of California at Davis devised a method to make an informed estimate of the range of nitrate treatment costs per 1,000 gal of water treated. Then, EWG calculated that the cost of building and maintaining an ion exchange treatment system could add as much as $666 a year per person to the cost of drinking water in a small community. Additionally, a reverse osmosis system could add up to $2,776 per year.

Centralized treatment to reduce nitrate to safe levels in all affected communities could cost as much as $765 million a year, with the highest cost in communities that can least afford it, EWG says. In the smallest communities, the group calculated that nitrate treatment could add more than $50 a month per person to the cost of drinking water. To remove nitrate from drinking water, the U.S. EPA recommends ion exchange or reverse osmosis treatment system.

The study underscores the need for in-home water filtration, the Water Quality Assn. (WQA) said.

“The consumer plays a vital role in ensuring good quality drinking water in the home,” said WQA Executive Director Pauli Undesser. “In-home treatment provides a final barrier to many contaminants not removed by centralized treatment or that can be picked up in service lines along the way to your residence, or that occur in private well water supplies.”

Most nitrate contamination is from animal waste or fertilizers. The federal Safe Drinking Water Act sets the legal limit for nitrate in drinking water at 10 ppm, but recent National Cancer Institute research indicates that drinking water with 5 ppm or more of nitrate increases the risk of kidney, colon, ovarian and bladder cancers. Other studies have demonstrated a link between nitrate and blood disorders in infants.