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Study: Drinking water in some Iowa systems has high nitrate levels

Ag/Outdoor, News

July 31st, 2020 by Ric Hanson

(Radio Iowa) – A study of drinking water systems shows communities in Iowa and four other Midwestern states have legal but potentially worrying levels of nitrates. The Environmental Working Group found nitrate levels in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma are trending up. Report author Anne Schechinger says spikes can occur after heavy rains and she found nitrate problems are more frequent in smaller communities.

“Small systems are more likely to be rural and they’re more likely to be ground-water systems,” Schechinger says, “and a third point, these smaller systems are way less likely to have nitrate removal treatment systems.” Schechinger says proximity to farm fields is also a factor. The report analyzed water data from ten states and praised Hastings, Nebraska, for building a system that removes nitrates before they enter the drinking water supply. Hastings’ environmental director Marty Stange says the innovative system is working well.

“We’ve actually seen it clean up that area that we’re getting our water from,” Stange says. “It’s actually cleaned up slightly faster than what we anticipated.” Stange says preventing nitrates from getting to the water is far cheaper than building a system to remove the pollutant once it’s there. Elevated nitrate levels can cause blue baby syndrome and more recently have been associated with upticks in colorectal cancer and certain birth defects.

(By Amy Mayer, Iowa Public Radio)