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2013 Winter Issue 3 (February 1, 2013)

Are There Nitrates in Our Water Supply?

February 1, 2013
By J.M. Hanley

“We don’t have anything to worry about.”

That’s the message Mitch Miller, Carleton’s Maintenance Director, has for community members concerned about water quality on campus.

Concerns about campus water had arisen following the publication of an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in late December.  The piece documented widespread nitrate pollution in groundwater across much of southern Minnesota, including in Dakota County, where Carleton is located.

The predominance of corn and soy in Dakota County agriculture results in high concentrations of nitrogen in the soil.  When precipitation comes, it is washed down to the water table with little filtering by the area’s sandy soil.

The effects of nitrate poisoning can include cancer, sterility, and “blue baby” syndrome.

Carleton’s water is drawn from a well on campus, filtered, and pumped into the water tower located in the Arboretum.  According to Miller, the school, like any municipality, must regularly submit to water-quality tests conducted by the state of Minnesota.  

The most recent results from state testing warn that water sensitivity is “high” because of “the local geological setting.”  

However, the report confirms that “None of the contaminants regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act for this public water supply system have been detected in source water.”

A consumer confidence report for the school’s water reveals minimal amounts of chlorine, water disinfectant, and lead attributed to the filtration process and pipe corrosion.  However, no nitrates were found.

According to Miller, students on Northfield Option might see different levels of contaminants, since water for off-campus housing comes from Northfield’s municipal water system.

However, according to the Star-Tribune, natural filtration in western Dakota county, where Carleton is located, are much stronger than those in eastern Dakota county, with the result that water quality is generally higher.

“It’s safe.  It’s all safe,” Miller said.

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