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Thursday, May 06, 2021

After more than an hour of discussion Tuesday, county commissioners unanimously voted in favor of sending a letter to the state, voicing concerns about high nitrate levels in West Alachua County wells.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection never responded to an initial letter on the issue, said Robert Knight, the director of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute. 

Knight said it is scientifically proven that drinking toxic nitrates could lead to cancer, thyroid problems and birth defects.

“Are you going to take that risk with your family?” he said.

Nitrogen is sometimes converted to nitrate in soil, especially in agricultural areas, said Anthony Dennis, the environmental health director for the Alachua County Health Department. The department sent out teams to test the water and discovered the elevated nitrate levels.

Many homes in rural regions, he said, get drinking water from wells where nitrates sometimes seep into the water undetected.

Dennis said there is no proof that nitrates in drinking water can cause cancer, but legitimate concerns exist.

“The most adverse health effect from nitrates over this level is (methemoglobinemia), or blue baby syndrome, which causes oxygen deprivation in infants generally less than 4 months old,” Dennis said.

He said the Department of Health provides an alternative water source to homeowners when nitrate levels exceed the maximum contamination level.

Alachua County Commissioner Mike Byerly said it was not possible to immediately mandate a reduction in nitrogen fertilizer use.

Instead, the letter will call for improved sampling and the mapping of nitrogen concentration in county wells.

“I’m happy to support resending the letter with more exclamation points and red ink,” he said. 

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