Drinking Water in Benguet, Bulacan Contaminated with Nitrates

Filipinos in key agricultural areas in the country are already drinking water contaminated with nitrate, Greenpeace warned adding that drinking water with high levels of nitrate can cause serious health problems, especially in children.

Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 42, November 25-December 1, 2007

Filipinos in key agricultural areas in the country are already drinking water contaminated with nitrate, Greenpeace warned during the launch of a new report, ‘Nitrates in drinking water in the Philippines and Thailand.’ The report, launched simultaneously in both countries, is the result of a Greenpeace Water Patrol investigation which studied nitrate levels in drinking water sources and their relation to nitrogen fertilizer use in farming areas. The study shows that nitrate pollution in important farming areas are alarmingly well above World Health Organization (WHO) safety limits.

“Greenpeace has been sending out warning signals that the quality of our fresh water sources is declining, and this study is yet another shocking example of how our water protection measures are inadequate. The nitrate pollution that we discovered in farming areas is particularly worrisome–communities think that the water they drink everyday is clean because physically, it doesn’t smell bad or look bad. But it is actually laced with nitrates from fertilizers which people don’t normally associate with pollution,” said Greenpeace Campaigner Daniel Ocampo.

“The results of the study indicate that drinking water from artesianwells shows evidence of pollution from nitrates, and that the pollution correlates with intensive farming practices where nitrogen fertilizers are applied in excess,” said Reyes Tirado of the Greenpeace Science Unit in the University of Exeter and author of the report.

In the Philippines, the Greenpeace Water Patrol investigation looked at crops and farming practices in key agricultural areas, Benguet and Bulacan provinces, surveying and testing nitrate levels in water from wells and streams around farms, and interviewing farmers and townsfolk.

Five out of the 18 artesian wells in Benguet and Bulacan contained nitrates levels well above the WHO drinking water safety limit of 50mg/l NO3. The highest levels were found in groundwater in Buguias,Benguet at 50 percent above the WHO safety limit. The pollution could have serious health implications for the local population. Groundwater is the main source of drinking water of the local population in the study sites.

Drinking water with high levels of nitrate can cause serious health problems, especially in children. The greatest risk of nitrate poisoningis ‘blue baby syndrome’ or methemoglobinemia, which occurs in infants given nitrate-laden water, and particularly affects babies under four months of age. Blue-baby syndrome can provoke cyanosis, headache, stupor, fatigue, tachycardia, coma, convulsions, asphyxia and ultimately death. Drinking water contaminated with nitrates also has a potential role in developing cancers of the digestive tract, and has also been associated with other types of cancer such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bladder and ovarian cancers.

Surface waters were also sampled in both provinces and generally showed lower nitrate levels than groundwater sources, mainly due to the rapid cycling of nitrates in surface waters in tropical climates. However, for both surface and ground waters, the high input of nitrogen into the aquatic ecosystems also have negative environmental effects on the local and regional level, such as the growth of harmful algal blooms in coastal waters.

“This case shows that drinking water sources are threatened not just by pollution from industrial sources like factories, but also by chemical intensive agricultural practices,” said Ocampo. “This report shows that unless the government implements policies to ensure the proper use and application of fertilizers in agriculture, we will lose more of our valuable water resources. Both the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture must implement stronger measures to protect our groundwater from pollution from agricultural chemicals. Nitrate pollution must consistently be monitored and prevented, and the dangerous practice of over-using fertilizers in intensive agriculture is a serious threat that must be stopped.

Fertilizer subsidies must be phased out and fertilizer reduction policies implemented,” said Ocampo.

Last month, Greenpeace highlighted fresh water sources in Cavite and Marilao which were threatened by heavy pollution from industries. Water Patrol activists called attention to Marilao River, one of the country’s 50 dead rivers due to high levels of toxic heavy metals from industries along its stretch, and delivered samples of toxic groundwater taken from around Cavite’s Export Processing Zone, to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“Clean and safe drinking water is a basic human need. We believe that it is possible to produce food without compromising the integrity of our water systems. To protect our dwindling freshwater resources, agriculture–just like industries–must focus on pollution prevention. Government must adapt a thorough approach at water pollution prevention and look at policies that will eliminate harmful chemicals from source, that is, the production process itself,” said Greenpeace Southeast Asia Toxics Campaigner Beau Baconguis. Greenpeace/posted by (Bulatlat.com)

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