Misconceptions about water, nitrates


I’d like to clear up some misconceptions about nitrate in ground water and the Lower Yakima Valley Groundwater Management Committee.

There are 22 members of the committee, including private citizens and government representatives. Twenty are working harmoniously toward water-quality improvements supporting the conclusions of scientific studies.

But two members became part of this committee with fixed ideas of causes and pre-determined solutions. For them, the cause of nitrate in groundwater is dairy farms – their solution is to rid the area of them.

But their conclusions are wrong. Nitrate exists in higher levels in many areas of the state that have few or no dairy farms. The valley has far fewer wells with nitrate levels above EPA standards than most farming areas.

Studies done for the committee show other non-dairy sources, including on-site sewage systems, are major contributors.

Yakima’s head of public services noted about this data: “It’s shocking to some people; I don’t think it matches their preconceived perceptions.” The “some people” are the two committee members who have worked to hinder the efforts of the committee whenever it didn’t support their conclusions about dairy farms.

The misconceptions about our dairy farms started with media coverage in 2009 that created a sense of crisis about nitrate levels in groundwater and the impact on health.

Some media blamed dairy farms for the crisis. They got it wrong: nitrates are not the public health issue they claimed. The valley has less nitrate in water than other farming areas and dairies are not the cause of the nitrate levels.

A reference to an EPA “science” report is particularly disturbing because it was the highly inflammatory and false reporting of some media that triggered the EPA study. Furthermore, the study has been thoroughly discredited by every legitimate scientific expert who reviewed it.

Details of the false nature of this report are provided on our website. It’s no coincidence the “science report” was done under the direction of the same EPA administrator who approved spending $500,000 of taxpayer money on a lobbying campaign filled with viciously false accusations against dairy farmers.

Some media needs to be better informed on the current state of science on nitrates and human health. In 2002, the EPA concluded there is no cancer risk associated with nitrate in groundwater, and an EPA scientist demonstrated clearly the link between nitrate and an infant disease, based on a faulty 1940s study that is not supported by evidence.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry notes: “Most people are not exposed to levels of nitrate and/or nitrite that would cause adverse health effects.”

It notes that methemoglobinemia, the infant disease some associate with nitrate in water, is likely “from bacteria or viruses in the drinking water or from other sources not related to nitrate.”

A group of scientists from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, reviewing all the studies related to nitrate in water, concluded: “On one hand there is evidence that shows there is no clear association between nitrate in drinking water and the two main health issues with which it has been linked, and there is even evidence emerging of a possible benefit of nitrate in cardiovascular health.”

The benefit of nitrate is clearly established by the National Institutes of Health which promotes the DASH diet because of nitrate’s support of heart health.

Dairy farmers are committed to environmental sustainability including improving water quality. Despite continuing progress, our family farmers face continuing accusations of two who insist, against all evidence, that our dairy farms contaminate water with a “toxin” recommended by the National Institute of Health.

Sadly, some media choose to continue their anti-farm campaign.

— Bill Dolsen is the director of Yakima Family Farmers. To respond to his column, email news@dailysunnews.com.


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