Tainted Tap Study Identifies Nitrate Pollution in Maryland's Drinking Water

Oct. 22, 2020

The study "Tainted Tap: Nitrate Pollution, Factory Farms, and Drinking Water in Maryland and Beyond" was released

Two counties on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore have unhealthy levels of nitrate in drinking water. 

This is due to hundreds of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), reported Maryland Matters

According to a recent study by The Center for Progressive Reform, more than a third of Wicomico and Worcester counties’ population (at least 61,000 residents) may have been or are currently exposed to dangerous nitrate levels.

Additionally, one in every 25 private drinking water wells in the two counties have nitrate levels above the U.S. EPA’s safe drinking water threshold. One in every 14 wells had nitrate levels below the threshold, however. 

The measurements were taken between 2018 and 2020, added Maryland Matters. One public water utility reported nitrate levels above the EPA threshold while more than half reported nitrate levels below.

“On Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore, the number of CAFOs has proliferated in recent years,” said the study’s executive summary. “Over-application or mismanagement of nitrogen-rich manure can cause nitrates to leach into the groundwater that Lower Eastern Shore residents rely on for drinking water, with serious implications for public health. Nitrate pollution has been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, and neonatal health issues, including a condition fatal to infants.”

No state is required to periodically test private well water, but the study found that Maryland was one of the top five states with the fewest policies protecting residents from nitrates in private well drinking water. Water from private wells in Maryland are only required to be tested at the time they are constructed.

“These findings are troubling on their own, but they raise larger questions,” said co-author of the study Katlyn Schmitt in a statement. “What don’t we know about nitrate contamination in private wells and public water sources on the Lower Eastern Shore? Are health hazards lurking just beneath the surface, unknown and unaddressed because of a lack of testing and transparency? Additional investigation and more testing are needed to determine the extent of nitrate pollution and its impacts in this region.”

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