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article imageNew Study Shows Increased Nitrate Levels in Lake Superior

By Bob Ewing     Jun 7, 2007 in Environment
New study says that Lake Superior water may eventually become unsafe to drink, however, this study can act as an early warning which may prevent future problems. Pay attention now, avert disaster later.
A study that was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and published online in the Geophysical Research Letters journal indicates that nitrate levels which have been increasing steadily over the past century continue to rise and may one day reach a point where the water will be considered unsafe to drink.
The study was conducted by University of Minnesota (UMN) researchers and found that the Lake’s nitrate levels, are 2.7 percent of the way to make the water unfit to drink. Researchers are, as yet, unable to predict when the water may reach unsafe levels because the possible causes of the nitrate rise are complex and difficult to determine.
While there is still considerable time before anyone needs to be alarmed about these situations, it is important because Lake Superior contains 10 percent of the Earth's supply of surface fresh water.
While nitrate exposure is fairly common, in small amounts, through eating fruits and vegetables, nitrate contamination of drinking water can expose people to harmful levels. Oxygen levels in the blood may be reduced though too much nitrate consumption and this poses a risk to infants and children or adults with lung or cardiovascular disease. In addition, excessive nitrate consumption over time may cause cancer.
Nitrate is a compound that is made from nitrogen and oxygen and is a component of agricultural fertilizers and is generated by fossil fuel combustion. Nitrate in Lake Superior has increased about five-fold since the earliest measurements in 1906.
Nitrate levels may have increased as our use of fossil fuels and fertilizers have increased and decreased due to the effects of the Clean Air Act of 1972, according to Robert Sterner, a limnologist at UMN and the study’s lead author.
"We're still a long way from drinking water advisories based on nitrate for Lake Superior, but it's not too early to give this situation more attention," Sterner says. "We cannot easily or quickly reverse trends in this enormous lake."This study of Lake Superior tells us that if we ignore results of basic research on lakes and the changing biochemistry of their waters, we do so at our own peril," says Don Rice, director of NSF's chemical oceanography program, which funded the research.Lake Superior is vast and this fact means that the Lake registers change slowly and converts other forms of nitrogen within the lake--in decaying plant matter and sewage--into nitrate.
If we consider this an early warning, perhaps a very early warning of what may happen and continue to monitor developments we may be able to avoid any problems with the water supply from one of our Great lakes.
More about Lake superior, Nitrate, Rise
 
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