Groups seek emergency action from EPA on nitrate pollution in Minnesota

A coalition of environmental groups is petitioning federal regulators to take emergency action to protect residents of southeastern Minnesota from “imminent and substantial endangerment’ to their health from the contamination of drinking water sources by a pollutant linked to cancers and other health problems.

Nitrate contamination in the region ” is a widespread issue that has stubbornly persisted through decades as state officials continuously fail to effectively address the problem,” the petition states.

The effort echoes pleas from public and environmental health advocates around the country over the harmful impacts of nitrate contamination, which mainly originates in agricultural runoff. Nitrate contamination of drinking water has been linked to “blue baby syndrome,” or methemoglobinemia (a sometimes-fatal condition affecting infants), as well as certain cancers, and thyroid disease, even in studies where contamination was below legal limits.

High levels of nitrate in water can be a result of runoff or leakage from fertilized farm fields, landfills, animal manure, and other sources.

The petition calls on the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use its powers under the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure safe drinking water for Minnesota residents, calling nitrate pollution a “too-long ignored health crisis.” Among other steps, the groups want the EPA to block the development of new large animal feeding operations, which are considered significant contributors to nitrate pollution because of the large amounts of animal manure generated.

“We need help,” said Jeff Broberg, director of the Minnesota Well Owners Organization whose own well water is contaminated with nitrates. “Our drinking water quality keeps getting worse.”