NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Nitrate Rules Cost Communities Millions

February 3, 2004

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) standard for controlling nitrate levels in public water supplies is based on shaky science, causing compliance costs to unnecessarily increase by millions of dollars, says Alex Avery (Hudson Institute).

The federal maximum contaminant level (MCL) for nitrates was established back in 1963, when data linked nitrate consumption to "blue baby syndrome," a condition in which nitrites affect the hemoglobin in red blood cells, causing babies to turn blue. However, the data was hardly substantive. According to Avery:

  • It was originally based on only five cases of blue baby syndrome, occurring in 1949; further data gathered from 17 states found 214 cases of blue baby syndrome, but the majority of cases involved very high nitrate levels of 40 parts per million (the EPA standard is 10 ppm).
  • The EPA estimates that in 1990, 66,000 infants were exposed to drinking water that exceeds the EPA's maximum contaminant level; yet today blue baby syndrome is rarely seen by doctors.
  • The small town of Hennessey, Oklahoma is spending about $2 million to comply with the EPA standard, yet the entire state has reported only one blue baby case in 40 years.
  • Homeowners using private water systems that exceed EPA nitrate standards must pay $1,000 per tap to install treatment systems, or dig new wells.

Consequently, says Avery, U.S. communities might pay about $150 million dollars annually to meet compliance standards.

Source: Alex Avery, "Nitrate Alarmists Cost Consumers Plenty," Environment and Climate News, Heartland Institute, December 2003, vol. 6, no. 10.


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