Polluted drinking water is a significant health threat that is sorely underreported and oft-ignored. A recent article in the Star Tribune1 highlights the very real struggle to access clean drinking water right here in the United States.“Debbie Carlson can laugh at the irony: She’s the wife of a well digger who can’t find good water for his own family. Like one out of three wells in Dakota County, hers is so contaminated with nitrates she won’t let anyone drink from it — especially her 8-year-old granddaughter.Most likely it comes from nitrogen used as fertilizer on the cornfields surrounding her home,” Josephine Marcotty writes.2 “‘Nitrogen was a great thing for the family farm,’ Carlson said. ‘But I am paying the price.'”
Minnesota Facing Growing Water Contamination Problem
In part due to the fact that Minnesota is prime farm land, many of the state’s inhabitants now face the problem of having elevated levels of nitrogen in their drinking water. The conversion of grasslands and pastures into chemical-driven, industrial crop land has eliminated much of the natural filtering of ground water that such native landscapes typically provide. The areas worst affected include:
- Dakota county
- Washington county
- Central Sands region (14 counties)
- Karst regionBesides the health risks — which include a potential connection to cancer, as well as thyroid and reproductive problems in both humans and livestock — groundwater contaminated by nitrogen is also a huge financial drain for affected communities.According to the featured article, about a dozen Minnesota communities so far have spent millions of dollars to clean nitrogen from their water supplies. However, well owners, such as the Carlson’s, are on their own.
Their only alternatives are to pay to dig a new, deeper well, or install their own treatment system. At present, an estimated six percent of private wells are contaminated with nitrogen; this despite the fact that farmers have actually cut their use of the fertilizer quite dramatically.“Now, through an emerging statewide strategy, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture is devising a range of fixes, including more water monitoring and guidance on how communities can restore some of the lost prairie landscape.In the process, officials and farmers will tackle two thorny questions: How will government use its power to regulate nitrogen use in contaminated areas? And even if every landowner follows the best guidance science can provide, when will they know if it works?Striking the right balance is crucial because the current approach, said Jill Trescott, Dakota County’s groundwater-protection supervisor, imposes a cost shift from agriculture to taxpayers and homeowners that is ‘just not fair.’ Says Carlson: ‘I think water is one of our most precious resources. What are our grandchildren going to be left with?'”
Is Your Water Safe to Drink?
Unless you are getting your water from a well that is located 800 feet or more below the ground surface, chances are your well water has been contaminated by some, if not many, toxic substances that have been dumped into the ground soil over past decades. Besides fertilizers like nitrogen, other common toxins that are dumped by the millions of pounds into soil every year are:
- Estrogen-mimicking hormones
- Drug residues
- Heavy metalsMany private wells in the United States have been affected by these types of chemical or heavy metal runoff from the surrounding ground soil, and this is to say nothing of the microorganisms living in well water as well. No matter how clean or pure your natural ground water looks, this has nothing to do with potential bacterial contamination or toxic pollution in the water. Many of the offenders in well water are just much too small to be seen with the naked eye.So, if your home uses well water, you really need to test to see what unwanted contaminants you’re piping into your house, and then filter it accordingly.If you get municipal water, you should have that tested too. There are more than 140 chemicals in U.S. drinking water supplies that are not regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).3 This includes gasoline, pesticides, rocket fuel, prescription drugs and more. More than 20 percent of U.S. water treatment systems violated key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act between 2004 and 2009 alone. Since 2004, the water provided to more than 49 million people has contained illegal concentrations of chemicals like arsenic or radioactive substances like uranium, as well as dangerous bacteria often found in sewage.
TAP – and don’t imagine the situation’s much different anywhere else in the world.