Nitrates Found in California Wells

SAN FRANCISCO, May 17 (UPI) — Harmful levels of nitrates have been found in wells supplying water to more than 2 million Californians in the past 15 years, state officials say.

The nitrates turned up in testing by the California Environmental Protection Agency, the Bay Area News Group reported Sunday. But because the tests were conducted at the well, not the tap, it’s not certain how many people actually consumed water with harmful levels, the news outlet said.


Nitrates are a byproduct of farm fertilizer and some wastewater treatment systems. While not considered as toxic as other contaminants, nitrates have been linked to low oxygen levels in babies and to cancer in laboratory animals.

The number of wells in California that exceeded nitrate limits rose from nine in 1980 to 648 in 2007. The state has issued 248 enforcement actions against 44 polluters for nitrate contamination in the past six years but only one ordered the cleanup of contaminated groundwater, Bay Area News Group found.

Darrin Polhemus, deputy director of the State Water Resources Control Board’s division of water quality, said his agency has higher priorities than nitrates, such as perchlorate and dry-cleaning solvents.

“On the scale of things we deal with, while nitrates is certainly a concern and we’re managing for it, I don’t rank it high up there as something that makes me stay awake at night,” he said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates half or more of community and domestic water wells nationwide are contaminated by nitrates. The U.S. Geological Survey says 15 percent of contaminated wells have been found to exceed safe levels.

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