Nitrates will lure you with her “I’m composed of good things: oxygen and nitrogen” line just to suck your oxygen away. Let’s face it, she is a sexy synthetic fertilizer. She got California’s agriculture so addicted that she’s exempt from regulations that are meant to protect water sources. That is a starlet for you! She is also found in many food products, including bacon, cured meats and cheese products, and recent studies link her to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetes. Now that’s a deadly doll.
Her capacity to interfere with blood’s ability to carry oxygen allowed her to achieve acting greatness in the “Blue Baby Syndrome”, but she also has graced us with such health effects as miscarriages, and thyroid disruption. Very notable too are her appearances as a fish killer and as a facilitator for algae blooms that suck the oxygen out of the aquatic ecosystem. And she has this little thing for rural, low-income communities. She enjoys enormously supplying them with the most toxic water. With such agents as the powerful synthetic fertilizer industry it is clear that recent efforts to monitor her won’t stop her career. Whatever the future may bring, she already has such a presence in our environment that we can rest assured she will be leaching into our waterways for years to come. Oh yes!
- Learn more at Community Water Center (pdf)
- Also see the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR): ToxFAQ Nitrates and Nitrites
- Recent headlines at Environmental Health News
Nitrates are chemical salt compounds containing the polyatomic ion nitrate, consisting of nitrogen and oxygen. The most common forms used in fertilizer are potassium and calcium nitrate.
Nitrate stars as a leading cause of well closure in California. Salinas Valley and Tulare Lake Basin, which contain almost half of the state’s farmland, also supplies some of the most toxic drinking water to its residents. Roughly 254,000 people in these areas are currently at risk for nitrate contamination in their groundwater. The leading cause? Over-application of synthetic fertilizer in commercial agriculture.
Nitrate has had free range to strut her/his stuff as California’s post World War II agricultural industry has grown into a $37.5 billion enterprise that relies heavily on synthetic fertilizers, with little, if any regulation of its effects on groundwater. Rural, low income communities of color are particularly at risk.
RECENT CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
Excess fertilizer that doesn’t percolate into our groundwater supplies as nitrate offgasses as nitrogen oxide, a potent greenhouse gas that promotes ozone development and respiratory problems.
There is a crack in nitrate’s drinking water pollution supremacy however, thanks to a decision in March 2012 by the Central Coast Regional Water Board to begin requiring agricultural interests to begin monitoring and limiting their impacts on groundwater. But nitrate still has a future in our water systems. Even if we reduced nitrate use in California today, its current levels in the environment will continue to leach into our waterways for years to come.
As a real life “femme fetale”, Nitrate is best known for her effects on infants who are exposed through drinking water and breast milk. Methemoglobinemia, or “blue baby syndrome”, occurs when nitrates interfere with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen through the body, and has in many cases, caused death. Other health effects linked to ingestion of nitrates include developmental impacts such as miscarriages or premature births; Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS); hypotension (low blood pressure); gastrointestinal problems; certain types of cancer; and thyroid disruption.
Nitrates also collect in waterways close to land at levels that can inhibit growth in aquatic species and cause immune impairment and kills fish. They can also lead to algae blooms which suck the oxygen out of the aquatic ecosystem (known as water anoxia) and create dead zones.
Rural communities in particular should beware. Nitrates used in fertilizers build up in the environment, enter drinking water sources, and are then consumed at dangerous levels by the public. While there are rules about how much nitrate is allowed in drinking water, there are no rules about stopping them from entering water sources. Consequently, they have had a free reign in the environment and the problem is getting worse.
It’s clear that nitrate has been helped in its career by California’s long exemption of agriculture from laws that would limit their ability to contaminate our water supplies, laws that other industries must follow.
With such agents as the powerful synthetic fertilizer industry it is clear that recent efforts to monitor her won’t stop her career. Whatever the future may bring, she already has such a presence in our environment that we can rest assured she will be leaching into our waterways for years to come. Oh yes!