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Report Shows Link Between Nitrates in Drinking Water and Cancer

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- According to a recent report, experts say nitrates often found in drinking water are responsible for more than 12,000 cases of cancer each year nationwide.

That report from The Environmental Working Group said Iowa is one of the leading states for those cancer diagnoses because of chemicals the agricultural industry uses and the nitrate runoff it produces.

“This study points out one in particular, colorectal cancer where there is an association in the other cancers where we see the association with increased nitrates in the water and cancer include bladder cancer kidney cancer thyroid cancer ovarian cancer and possibly pancreatic cancer as well,” MercyOne Dr. Richard Deming said.

The national standard is to have no more than ten milligrams of nitrates per liter of water. Des Moines Water Works said the average here is below five milligrams per liter which is largely due to their nitrate treatment facility.

“The unfortunate thing is that this facility is likely not large enough to keep up as our water demand increases and the concentration of nitrate in the river continue to increase we’re going to have to do something to increase the amount of nitrate removal treatment available here in Des Moines,” Des Moines Water Works Interim CEO Ted Corrigan said.

Deming said even with the report findings generally people shouldn’t be overly concerned with drinking tap water.

“I’m not going to stop drinking tap water. I’m not going to just drink bottled water. I think that this research is important research. We still need to work on how to do nitrates in the water cause certain types of cancer but then how do we advocate for a good public policy to reduce nitrates in the drinking water,” Deming said.

Corrigan said they have made some efforts to focus on water upstream because nitrates are only the tip of the iceberg.

“Toxins are something that’s even harder to remove and more expensive to remove than the nitrates. So it isn’t a question of just treating the nitrate when it gets here, we need to focus on keeping it out of the water in the first place,” Corrigan said.

Deming said the reports findings may help national entities in future efforts to change the standard level of nitrates that's acceptable in drinking water.

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