HealthDay News — Nitrate pollution of drinking water has serious health and economic consequences, according to a study published online June 11 in Environmental Research.

Alexis Temkin, Ph.D., from the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C., and colleagues conducted a comprehensive assessment of nitrate exposure from drinking water for the U.S. population. Annual nitrate-attributable disease cases were examined, as were associated economic losses due to medical costs and lost productivity.

The researchers calculated that nitrate exposure from drinking water could be related to 2,939 cases of very low birth weight, 1,725 cases of very preterm birth, and 41 cases of neural tube defects annually. Combining nitrate-specific risk estimates for colorectal, ovarian, thyroid, kidney, and bladder cancers, the number of annual nitrate-attributable cancer cases ranged from 2,300 to 12,594. This burden of cancer corresponded to an annual economic cost of $250 million to $1.5 billion for medical expenditures alone, with a potential impact of $1.3 billion to $6.5 billion due to lost productivity. A statistically significant positive association was observed for nitrate exposure and colorectal cancer risk through a meta-analysis of eight studies, with a cancer risk of one in 1 million at a level of 0.14 mg/L nitrate in drinking water.

“Millions of Americans are being involuntarily exposed to nitrate,” Temkin said in a statement. “The federal government is not doing enough to protect Americans from tap water contamination.”

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