Revolutionary peer-reviewed study published in Environmental Research analyzes impacts on health and the economy of nitrate pollution in US tap water – could this be the cause of cancer cases?
Widespread chemical contamination from agriculture, such as nitrate pollution, which penetrates American tap water can cause up to 12,594 cancer cases per year, according to a new study reviewed by experts from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Pollution by nitrate that contributes to cancer cases
The EWG scientists estimated the number of cancer cases in each state that could be attributed to nitrate contamination of public water systems, caused largely by the runoff from the farm containing fertilizers and manure. They also estimated the costs of treating such cases by up to $ 1.5 billion (~ 1.33 billion) per year.
Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., senior scientific advisor to the EWG and one of the authors of the study, explains: "Potable water nitrate contamination is a serious and especially severe problem in the country's agricultural country."
"Now, for the first time, we can see the astounding consequences of this pollution."
Contamination of US tap water
The current federal drinking water standard for nitrates, established in 1962, is 10 parts per million, or ppm. However, several well-established epidemiological studies have linked nitrate to drinking water with cancer and other serious health problems at levels less than one-tenth of the legal limit.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency suspended plans to re-evaluate its outdated nitrate standard.
Four-fifths of the cases estimated by the EWG were colorectal cancer cases, with ovarian, thyroid, kidney, and bladder cancer making up the rest. Nitrate in tap water has also been associated with serious neonatal health problems.
The EWG estimates that nitrate pollution can account for as many as 2,939 cases of very low birth weight; 1,725 cases of very premature birth; and 41 cases of neural tube defects.
"Millions of Americans are being involuntarily exposed to nitrate, and they are also the ones who pay the high costs of treating contaminated tap water," said Alexis Temkin, Ph.D., an EWG toxicologist and lead author of the study.
"But the federal government is not doing enough to protect Americans from the contamination of tap water."
EWG scientists estimate that the level of adverse health effects caused by nitrate in drinking water would be 0.14 milligrams per liter – the equivalent of parts per million. This level, 70 times lower than the legal EPA threshold, represents a one million cancer risk.