EWG Releases New Report on Nitrate Impacts

In a news release today, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) announced an analysis of the impact of nitrate pollution on small water systems.  The data EWG analyzed came from its Tap Water Database that compiles tests by almost 50,000 public water systems nationwide.  The database shows that in 2014 and 2015, the latest figures available, at least 1,155 communities with average nitrate levels above the increased cancer risk level did not have a treatment system to remove the contaminant from their water.  Research from the National Cancer Institute has found that drinking water containing 5 ppm or more of nitrate increases the risk of colon, kidney, ovarian and bladder cancers and that figure is used by EWG to compare against the test results from public water systems.  According to the EWG analysis, nearly 70 percent of these communities were found in ten states: Arizona, California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington.  The vast majority of systems without nitrate treatment serve 3,300 or fewer people, making the potential treatment cost per person served much more expensive than in larger communities. EWG calculated that in the smallest communities, adding nitrate treatment could cost more than $50 a month per person.

In their report, EWG singles out agriculture as the primary source for this excessive nitrate, reaching water sources through fertilizer and manure runoff.  The group clearly believes that more needs to be done-to control these sources of nitrate.  Without direct regulation under the Clean Water Act, voluntary measures have been relied on to prevent nutrient pollution.  The fact that landowners can stop preventative measures voluntarily is seen by EWG as a major flaw in the current voluntary program. EWG recommends that basic farm standards become a mandatory backstop for the voluntary actions of farmers.  The money invested in conservation programs should support those going beyond the basics controls.