Monday, November 05, 2018

With 43 million in U.S. on private wells, 1/5 of which are polluted, rural residents wonder about lax regulation

Worries about increasingly contaminated well water have begun to emerge as an election-year issue, Jack Healy reports for The New York Times. "Rural communities call it their own, private Flint—a diffuse, creeping water crisis tied to industrial farms and slack regulations that for years has tainted thousands of residential wells across the Midwest and beyond," Healy writes. "President Trump’s actions to loosen clean water rules have intensified a battle over regulations and environmental protections unfolding on the most intensely local level: in people’s own kitchen faucets."

Much of the reported contamination comes from large-scale farms and concentrated animal feeding operations, which can taint nearby wells with nitrates from fertilizer or E. coli bacteria. Environmental groups complain that Republicans running Midwestern states have weakened pollution rules and cut funding for environmental enforcement and inspections, Healy reports.

About 43 million Americans get their water from private wells, and one in five of those wells are contaminated, according to sampling by the U.S. Geological Survey. And once those wells are drilled, there are few water-quality rules to regulate them, so there's no easy redress for those with polluted water, Healy reports. Homeowners say they have to install expensive filtration systems, dig deeper wells, ignore the problem, or move.

"In Wisconsin, a state report recently found that as many as 42,000 of the state’s 676,000 private wells, or 6 percent, were likely to exceed the federal health standards for nitrates, which can come from fertilizer use and manure spreading," Healy reports. "Nitrates have been linked to a dangerous blood condition in babies and may increase cancer risks in adults."

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