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Water pollution from agriculture is worsening in California, new study says (Mar 13, 2012)
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A new study from UC Davis shows that 10 percent of people in rural parts of California may be drinking water that is polluted with nitrates. Because nitrates can occur naturally, the farming industry in California has long argued that it is not solely responsible for the contamination.

But the study shows the opposite, that 96 percent of nitrate contamination comes from agriculture. “I think it’s clear that to address this problem, we need agriculture to lead the way,” an executive at a water non-profit told California Watch

The study focused on the water in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley, where 2.6 million people live. It "is the most comprehensive assessment so far of nitrate contamination in California’s agricultural areas," according to California Watch.

"In the near future, this problem is going to persist and is likely to get worse," lead author Thomas Harter told the Associated Press.

Nitrate contamination has been linked to skin rashes, birth defects, hair loss and even thyroid cancer. The contamination is caused when nitrogen from ammonia, along with other sources, mixes with water. The use of synthetic fertilizers in farming has dramatically increased nitrate contamination, California Watch says. The news website interviewed a woman from San Jerardo, a farm-worker cooperative southeast of Salinas, who suffered from skin rashes and hair loss. “I got very concerned because some of the residents started passing away from cancers,” she told California Watch.

The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released a similar study this week about water contamination across the globe. The study found that water pollution from agriculture is costing developed countries billions of dollars each year. That figure will probably rise as China and India continue to rapidly increase food production, Bloomberg News reported.

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