Nitrate Pollution in Drinking Water Linked to Cancer
Nitrate pollution is linked to 12,594 cases of cancer each year, according to a groundbreaking new study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). In the first national analysis of its kind, researchers reviewed nitrate occurrence data from all 50 states in order to estimate the number of adverse pregnancy outcomes, cancer cases, and economic costs associated with nitrate exposure. The study revealed that exposure to nitrates in drinking water not only elevates one’s risk of developing cancer, but also puts pregnant women at increased risk of adverse birth outcomes.
What Are Nitrates?
Nitrates form naturally when nitrogen combines with oxygen. They originate from human and animal waste, fertilizers, and crop residues. Nitrate is harmless, but nitrite – the compound it turns into once ingested – is linked to various forms of cancer, including colorectal, ovarian, thyroid, kidney, and bladder cancer. Low levels of nitrate are typically not dangerous. However, high nitrate levels are hazardous, particularly to vulnerable groups such as infants and pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Federal Regulation of Nitrate Levels in Drinking Water
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for drinking water at ten parts per million, or ten milligrams per liter. This standard, set in 1962, is considered outdated by epidemiological experts, who have found that serious health effects in people exposed to much lower levels than the EPA limit. One study’s authors suggest that the limit should be set at .14 milligrams per liter, a level at which no adverse health effects have been shown.
According to the study published in the journal Environmental Research, millions of Americans are being exposed to dangerous levels of nitrate in their drinking water. Researchers report that from 2010 to 2017, approximately 81 million people had a mean level nitrate level of one milligram per liter or above in their drinking water and six million had a mean level of five milligrams per liter.
Results of the Study
The study concludes that nitrate levels in drinking water should be lowered to reduce the incidence of nitrate-associated diseases and the associated economic costs. Based on the researchers’ exposure assessment and meta-analysis of several studies, nitrate in drinking water is linked to these annual estimates:
- 2,939 cases of abnormally low birth weight
- 1,725 cases of extremely premature births
- 41 cases of neural tube birth defects
- 2,300 to 12,594 cases of colorectal, ovarian, thyroid, kidney, and bladder cancers
- $250 million to $1.5 billion in economic costs
- $1.3 to $6.5 billion in lost productivity
The EPA has suspended its plans to reevaluate its nitrate standard. It remains to be seen whether the federal government will do more to protect its citizens from what the senior science advisor at the EWG describes as the serious problem of tap water contamination, or continue its recent subservience to the interests of corporations and polluters.
Philadelphia Environmental Lawyers at Williams Cedar are Dedicated to Protecting Your Right to Clean Water
If you or someone you love developed an illness due to toxic exposure, contact an experienced Philadelphia environmental lawyer at Williams Cedar. Our dedicated attorneys fight tirelessly to ensure that responsible parties are held liable and that our clients obtain maximum compensation for their injuries. With offices in Philadelphia and Haddonfield, New Jersey, we represent clients across Pennsylvania and South Jersey. For a free consultation, please complete our online contact form or call us at 215-557-0099 or 856-470-9777.