Dr. Jesse Bell, Claire M. Hubbard Professor and Director of the Water, Climate, and Health Program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, briefed members of the Central Pratt NRD Thursday on UNMC’s ongoing health and water quality research in the region.
Bell’s presentation covered the impact of water quality on human health, including nitrates, atrazine and other possible pollutants.
Nebraska has one of the highest rates of pediatric cancer in the country, he told the CPNRD committee.
“This is a cancer that occurs in children,” Bell said. “We (Nebraska) have one of the highest rates of pediatric cancer in the United States.”
The high rates of childhood cancer have a number of different causes, including water quality issues, he said.
“We’re trying to understand this better to make sure we can understand that some of our challenges related to water quality in the state may be linked to some of the challenges in the state,” Bell said.
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When defining water quality, he said, it’s basically “the drinking water we consume and the potential contaminants in the water like nitrates, atrazine and other potential contaminants.
But, Bell said, there are other sources of contaminants in the water, such as natural contaminants such as uranium and arsenic.
Bell emphasized to the board that they are still looking for the reasons for the high rates of childhood cancer in Nebraska. While water-borne pollutants are one possible source, he said water quality is only one possible source of childhood cancer.
Nebraska communities, especially smaller ones, pay millions of dollars each year to fight dangerous levels of nitrates and other pollutants in their water supplies, Bell said.
Nitrates in drinking water come from a variety of sources, such as nitrogen fertilizers, animal and human waste, he said. The greatest exposure to nitrate contamination in drinking water is in agricultural areas and private wells. Unlike municipal drinking water systems, private wells are not regulated for contaminants, and many are not tested for water quality issues. Abandoned uncapped wells are also a source of water pollution.
Central Platte NRD regularly tests the area’s water for contaminants such as nitrates. Central Platte NRD has more than 1 million acres of certified irrigated acres in the region.
In 1987, the Central Platte NRD’s Groundwater Quality Management Program was the first program in the Central Platte Valley to address the widespread problem of high groundwater nitrate.
Over the past 34 years, nitrate levels in groundwater and vadose zones have been reduced through long-term management practices. Before the plan was passed, nitrate levels had increased to 19 parts per million in some areas. The current average has dropped to 13.3 ppm, but there are high nitrate areas in the region that need to be monitored.
In 2016, parts of southern Hall and northern Hamilton County, south of the Platte River, were moved from a Phase I groundwater management area to a Phase II groundwater management area due to increased nitrate levels.
The management planning phases are:
n Stage 1 – 0 to 7.5 ppm
n Stage 2 – between 7.6 and 15 ppm
n Stage 3 – 15.1 ppm or higher
n Stage 4 – Areas where nitrate levels have not declined at an acceptable rate
Bell said regulatory limits for nitrates in drinking water were set in response to the development of methemoglobinemia in infants.
Methemoglobinemia (MetHb) is a blood disorder in which abnormal amounts of methemoglobin are produced. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells (RBCs) that carries and distributes oxygen to the body. Methemoglobin is a form of hemoglobin.
With methemoglobinemia, hemoglobin can carry oxygen, but it cannot release oxygen efficiently to body tissues.
MetHb conditions can be inherited in families (genetic or congenital) or caused by exposure to certain drugs, chemicals, or foods (acquired).
Bell said many scientific studies have looked at the relationship of nitrates in drinking water to human health.
High levels of nitrates in drinking water have been linked to adverse health outcomes, such as methemoglobinemia, problems with preterm birth, birth defects, and cancer in children and adults, he said.
According to Bell, the most vulnerable groups include pregnant women and their fetuses, young children, children, people with oxygen transport or childbirth conditions such as anemia, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, sepsis and the presence of other structural hemoglobin variants.
Another vulnerable group includes people with high nitrate levels in well water. Also, diet can play a role.
In recent years, advances in agricultural technology, such as precision farming, have enabled farmers to apply fertilizers and chemicals to the areas of their fields that are needed, rather than applying these resources generally.
“Agriculture has made a lot of progress, but there are still a lot of historical practices that have led to some of the problems we face,” Bell said. “We still have a lot of issues to deal with because we do have areas of greater concern in Nebraska related to water quality. We also have areas of greater concern related to pediatric cancers and such. We found some of these overlapped with each other. Yes. That’s one of our concerns.”
Using science to determine how and why their problems are causing them is a vital health concern, he said. Families who have to deal with cancer or other illnesses may face unexpected costs, such as moving to a community where medical services can be provided, the financial burden of caring for family members with an illness, and higher rates of bankruptcy. Medical expenses are one of the main causes of bankruptcy.
“We do have water quality challenges in Nebraska,” Bell said, “and those water quality challenges can be related to human health. We want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to protect children and others who are more vulnerable to these water quality issues. .”
The Board of Directors approved a $20,000 grant from the Cairo Community Foundation.
The grant will be used to build a structure at North Ball Field that will double the number of bathroom cubicles, enhance the appearance of the venue and improve attendee hygiene.
According to the Cairo Community Foundation, when applying for the grant, they told CPNRD, “The ballpark is no longer a ballpark, but a home base for high school sports, and an outdoor activity center, such as Junk Jaunt, is also a valuable addition.” Sustained economic growth.”
Grant applications require up to $40,000 through the Urban Conservation Program. Implemented in 2019, the program aims to provide cities, villages and counties with a range of conservation recreation opportunities.
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