LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — Officials in Wisconsin are considering how to respond to growing concerns over nitrate contamination in private wells.
A special task force has been set up in La Crosse County to find new ways to curtail contamination and recently presented its findings, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The group suggested setting up a new system to alert residents of both contamination risks and instances where there is better access to municipal water systems.
The county has between 7,000 and 9,000 private wells, according to Carol Drury, the environmental health and laboratory manager at the La Crosse County Health Department.
The department warned 2,000 households last spring that their private wells could be contaminated with high levels of nitrates.
“We tested 540 wells during that time just from this particular area, the town of Holland and the town of Onalaska, and 30 percent of those tested at levels about the recommended levels of nitrates,” Drury said.
The county’s findings are high, said Mark Borchardt, a research microbiologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The national average across the U.S. is between 4 and 5 percent. In Kewaunee County, on a countywide basis, the number of private wells that exceed the 10 parts per million limit was 7 percent,” he said.
High nitrate levels have been linked to health troubles, Borchardt said.
“It looks like the evidence is pointing toward high nitrate levels being associated with colorectal cancer, central nervous system birth defects and thyroid disease. So, it’s not something to be taken lightly,” he said.
Drury said preventing pollution is a long-term goal and that the department is committed to better informing the public.
“That’s going to take our local government working together and trying to come up with recommendations,” Drury said. “Those are all processes that we know take time. So in the short term, we want to do what we can.”