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Kansans Who Drink from Private Wells are Largely Blind to Possible Contamination

(Photo by Brian Grimmett / Kansas News Service)

Federal regulations require public drinking water to be regularly tested for a long list of potential contaminants. But as Brian Grimmett of the Kansas News Service reports, owners of private wells test -- or don’t test -- what they want. And some experts say that’s unnecessarily risking the health of more than 150 thousand Kansans.


New research from Kansas State University shows that groundwater quality in the Great Bend Aquifer in south-central Kansas rates far worse today than 30 years ago. The main culprit is a dramatic increase in the amount of nitrate. It’s a byproduct of the Green Revolution of the 1960s that turbo-charged modern farming toward greater yields, especially the use of chemical fertilizers.

Farmers learned that soil laced with extra nitrogen could squeeze more bushels from an acre of land. But not all that nitrogen stays put or gets absorbed in wheat, corn, sorghum and soybeans. Some runs off into streams, or trickles into underground reservoirs. “The change that we see is comparable to the most extreme change measured by a nationwide study,” Matthew Kirk, associate professor of geology at Kansas State University, said. “So this is a pretty big increase in nitrate.” Read more about this story

The Kansas News Service is a consortium of public media stations, including Kansas Public Radio, reporting on the health and well-being of Kansans. Discover more at ksnewsservice.org

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