University of Iowa's Dr Peter Weyer on cancer and birth defects due to elevated nitrate in drinking water
This episode of the EnvIowa podcast features Dr Peter Weyer, Interim Director of the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, discussing his recent research on nitrates in Iowa drinking water and their effects on human health. A number of studies suggest links between elevated nitrate concentrations in drinking water and other health issues, including birth defects, cancers, thyroid problems and a variety of other health concerns.
In order to protect against blue-baby syndrome, the EPA’s maximum contaminant level or MCL is set at 10 mg/liter. Since blue-baby syndrome has not been seen as a problem of late, there has been a pressure to raise the limit and allow more nitrate in drinking water. However, there is now a pushback from the public health community to look at the studies that show a definite health risk. One is the Iowa Women’s Health study of 2200 women, over twenty years, drinking water with known nitrate levels. Even with levels of 2.5 mg/liter, there was a 2 - 3 fold increase in bladder, ovarian, and thyroid cancers. When looking at birth defects, there was also a significant increase in spina bifida, limb deficiencies and cleft palate, even given the mothers consumed the water with nitrates only a few months. In all animal studies, it was shown that water with elevated nitrates was a carcinogen.
There are significant public policy implications of this work - listen to the podcast for Dr. Weyer's take on this. Blog post by LWV UMRR's Vice-chair, Mary Ann Nelson, with help from the blog editor.