Drinking Water for Millions in Rural America Contaminated With Suspected Carcinogen
Drinking water supplies for millions of Americans in farm country are contaminated with a suspected cancer-causing chemical from fertilizer, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group.
The contaminant is nitrate, which gets into drinking water sources when chemical fertilizer or manure runs off poorly protected farm fields. Nitrate contaminates drinking water for more than 15 million people in 49 states, but the highest levels are found in small towns surrounded by row-crop agriculture. Major farm states where the most people are at risk include California, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kansas.
Nitrate can be fatal to babies who ingest too much of it, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) legal limit for it in drinking water was set 25 years ago to protect infants from so-called blue baby syndrome. But the new report, Trouble in Farm Country, details the previously undocumented adult cancer risk posed by drinking water polluted with nitrate at only half the EPA's legal limit.
Data in the report comes from EWG's Tap Water Database, compiled from test results of almost 50,000 local water utilities in all 50 states. The data show that relatively few U.S. water supplies had nitrate levels in 2015 above the EPA's legal limit of 10 parts per million, or ppm. But more than 1,600 systems serving small towns had levels above 5 ppm, which studies by the National Cancer Institute have found to increase the risk of colon, kidney, ovarian and bladder cancers.
New Report Finds 'Erin Brockovich' Carcinogen in Water Supply for 250 Million Americans https://t.co/ScUL56WY04 @EcoWatch— EWG (@EWG)1503492241.0
"Farmers can take often simple steps to keep fertilizer and manure out of drinking water sources," said Craig Cox, senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources at EWG. "But far too few farmers are taking action and federal farm policy doesn't do enough to help them. The result is that rural Americans are burdened with the health risks and cleanup costs of unchecked farm pollution, when it makes more sense to keep nitrate and other contaminants from getting in the water in the first place."
The risk is acute in small towns like Pretty Prairie, Kansas, population 672, where for more than 20 years tap water has been contaminated with nitrate exceeding the EPA's legal limit. In 2014 and 2015 the level was twice the legal limit.
In Pretty Prairie, parents with infants under six months old, and nursing or pregnant women, can get free bottled water. But that does nothing to protect other residents from cancers that may not show up for years or decades. A new water treatment system to lower nitrate levels could cost $2.4 million—far more than $3,000 for every person in town.
Farmers are largely exempt from federal or state regulations that could stem water pollution. The Department of Agriculture pays billions of taxpayer dollars a year to farmers who adopt conservation practices to control runoff. But EWG's report shows that much of the money does not support the most effective practices in areas where drinking water is most at risk.
The upcoming federal farm bill, which Congress is beginning to consider, is a remarkable opportunity to help local communities secure clean and safe drinking water by keeping nitrate and other contaminants out of water in the first place.
"Under the new farm bill, Congress should insist on an iron-clad quid pro quo with farmers," said Cox. "Farmers and landowners who receive federal farm and crop insurance subsidies, courtesy of taxpayers, must agree to take simple steps to keep fertilizer and manure from getting into our water. Department of Agriculture conservation programs should be surgically targeted to areas where drinking water is most threatened."
A "trash tsunami" has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.
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More long-finned pilot whales were found stranded today on beaches in Tasmania, Australia. About 500 whales have become stranded, including at least 380 that have died, the AP reported. It is the largest mass stranding in Australia's recorded history.
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
In another win for climate campaigners, leaders of 12 major cities around the world — collectively home to about 36 million people — committed Tuesday to divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing in a green, just recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
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