New Study Published on Nitrate and Environmental Justice

Researchers from the Silent Spring Institute recently published a study analyzing socioeconomic impacts from nitrate in U.S. drinking water. The study compiled nitrate data from 39,466 community water systems from 2010-2014 and linked this data with both city- and county-level demographic data from the Census Bureau.

The study found that the percent of Hispanic residents served by each system was significantly associated with nitrate even after accounting for county-level cropland and production data. Using 5 mg/L nitrate as the benchmark (noting that the EPA standard is 10 mg/L), community water systems in the top quartile of Hispanic residents exceeded 5 mg.L nearly three times as often as community water systems serving the lowest quartile.

Nitrate has been a compliance problem for many community water systems since EPA established the nitrate standard in 1991. It’s a complicated problem to solve due to the multiple parties (community water systems, farmers, state departments of agriculture, etc.) that need to collaborate to find solutions. The 2018 Farm Bill has expanded funds for source water protection, now it remains to be seen how effective this additional funding is in reducing nitrate levels in agricultural areas.