A U.N. lawyer comes to tiny Seville, Calif., to investigate unsafe drinking water. Clean-water advocates are elated, but a school board member says it makes the town sound like ‘a Third World Country.’ Reporting from Seville, Calif.- On a chilly day in March, a U.N. human rights lawyer came to this tiny farm town to investigate unsafe drinking water – part of a world tour that also included Bangladesh and Namibia.
Advocates who had long been trying to call attention to Central California’s increasingly tainted groundwater were elated. Ruben Tavarez, a school board member, was miffed.
Some 40 years ago, farmers started using nitrogen fertilizer to boost crops. Septic tanks and runoff from dairies also leak nitrates. Now, much of the San Joaquin Valley sits on nitrate-polluted groundwater. A recent study by Pacific Institute, an Oakland water policy research center, estimated that 1 million Central Valley residents at times have harmful levels of nitrates in their water, and the cost of cleanup would be at least $150 million.
High nitrate levels are linked to blue baby syndrome, which cuts off an infant's oxygen supply. In adults, nitrates are suspected of contributing to miscarriages, stomach disorders and certain cancers.
There has been no regulation of how much fertilizer farmers can use or how close fertilizers and feed lots can be to wells.
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