High Levels of Nitrate Foul Tap Water in Illinois Corn Belt

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High Levels of Nitrate Foul Tap Water in Illinois Corn Belt

ewg.org

Northwest Illinois is the most productive regions for corn-growing. However, the manure and fertilizer in heavy use in these corn fields have caused nitrate pollution, reported Environmental working group.
Nitrate causes serious illness or infants’ death and is associated to increased risk of cancer as per the National Cancer Institute.

Nitrate in tap water

In 2015 December, the Erie Ill 1500 residents received a warning to avoid giving under 6-month-olds the tap water. The water tests showed the nitrate level on average is 11 ppm, surpassing the EPA’s 10ppm legal limit. The level dropped, and within a year in October 2016, the residents were warned the water was unsafe for infants.

This became a regular occurrence in small towns of the Corn Belt. The communities faced seasonal spikes of nitrate, and it was not only the infants at risk, informed the EPA.

The National Cancer Institute linked the long-term water exposure to nitrates in tap water at 5 ppm and this indicates increased risk of kidney, colon, ovarian and bladder cancers.

Nitrate from manure and fertilizers runs in the farm fields and into the groundwater aquifers supplying the drinking water. Illinois Geological Survey data showed northwest Illinois has high to excessive nitrates leaching above their fields.

The solutions are to cover crops after harvesting or planting cover crops, such as oats, radish, and cereal rye, so the nitrate amount is reduced.


Federal conservation programs are working towards protecting drinking water. In fact, incentives were given to northwest Illinois farmers to plant cover crops.

There is room for improvement and Congress should ask farmers to safeguard drinking water, at least as a return for the taxpayers providing a generous income each year.

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