A Kansas town called Pretty Prairie faces a drinking water crisis — and they know it. The bucolic town is surrounded by farm fields that grow corn and soy beans, yet because those crops rely on the heavy use of nitrogen-based fertilizers is causing tap water pollution.
In this case, the pollutant in the town’s drinking water is nitrate, a chemical compound produced from fertilizers that is linked to thyroid problems and cancer. Despite nitrate levels testing twice the federal standard for drinking water safety at the time of author Elizabeth Royte’s visit, concern by many residents was low since the invisible, odorless and tasteless chemical’s health effects were not evident.
Because the cost of a water treatment plant to remove nitrates was an exorbitant $800,000, it was inconceivable that the town would pay for the infrastructure. Of course, the best and cheapest path forward is to curtail pollution by requiring farmers to reduce fertilizer use and runoff, but the town is hesitant to upset their farming neighbors. [Harpers]