Drinking water in Philippines, Thailand contaminated with nitrates, Greenpeace says

Feature story - November 22, 2007
Water in key agricultural areas in the Philippines and Thailand are already contaminated with nitrate pollution, Greenpeace warned today at the launch of a new report, Nitrates in drinking water in the Philippines and Thailand. The report, launched simultaneously in both countries, is the result of a Greenpeace Water Patrol investigation which studied nitrate levels in drinking water sources and their relation to nitrogen fertilizer use in farming areas.

Vegetable farms in Atok, Benguet were the crops are mostly carrots, potatoes, and cabbages.

A Greenpeace volunteer collects water samples from a well in Atok, Benguet.

Vegetable farms in Atok, Benguet were the crops are mostly carrots, potatoes, and cabbage.

Vegetable fields in Atok, Benguet.

This artesian well in Atok, Benguet is located in the middle of vegetable fields.

Rice fields in Angat, Bulacan.

Farmers spray chemicals on crops in Barangay Loo, Buguias, Benguet Province.

The study shows that drinking water from 30% of all groundwater wells   sampled in both countries showed nitrates levels above the World Heath   Organization safety limit of 50 mg l-1 of nitrate (NO3-). This nitrate   pollution was highest in the most intensive crops, with nitrate levels 3   times the WHO safety limit (>150 mg l-1) in asparagus farms in   Kanchanaburi, Thailand. Groundwater wells in vegetable farming areas in   Benguet, Philippines were also polluted with nitrates levels above WHO   limits.

  "Greenpeace has been sending out warning signals that the quality of   freshwater sources in both the Philippines and Thailand is declining,   and this study is yet another shocking example of how water protection   measures are inadequate. The nitrates pollution that we discovered in   farming areas is particularly worrisome--communities think that the   water they drink everyday is clean because physically, it doesn't smell   bad or look bad. But it is actually laced with nitrates from fertilizers   which people don't normally associate with pollution," said Greenpeace   Campaigner Daniel Ocampo.

    In the Philippines, the Greenpeace Water Patrol investigation looked at   crops and farming practices in key agricultural areas, Benguet and   Bulacan provinces, surveying and testing nitrate levels in water from   wells and streams around farms, and interviewing farmers and townsfolk.   Five out of the 18 artesian wells in Benguet and Bulacan contained   nitrates levels well above the WHO drinking water safety limit. The   highest levels were found in groundwater in Buguias, Benguet at 50   percent above the WHO safety limit.

"Clean and safe drinking water is a basic human need. We believe that it is possible to produce food without compromising the integrity of our water systems."

Beau Baconguis

Greenpeace Southeast Asia Toxics Campaigner

Examples of water pollution with nitrates were found in intensive   farming areas in Thailand's Central Plain (Kanchanaburi and Suphanburi).   Samples taken from Kanchanaburi show a clear example of heavy fertilizer   use related to water pollution with nitrates in asparagus farms. In six   out of 11 asparagus farms surveyed, nitrates levels in groundwater wells   were above the WHO drinking water safety limit, and even in the other   five wells nitrate levels showed evidence of pollution. In Suphanburi,   two of the five wells in farms sampled had nitrates levels higher than   the WHO safety limit

According to Reyes Tirado of Greenpeace Research Laboratories in the   University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, and author of the report,   the results of the study indicate that the nitrates pollution in   drinking water sources sampled in the study correlates with intensive   farming practices where nitrogen fertilizers are applied in excess.   Nitrates pollution could have serious health implications for the local   populations. Groundwater is the main source of drinking water in the   selected sampling sites.

Drinking water with high levels of nitrate can cause serious health   problems, especially in children. The greatest risk of nitrate poisoning   is 'blue baby syndrome' or methemoglobinemia, which occurs in infants   given nitrate-laden water, and particularly affects babies under four   months of age. Blue-baby syndrome can provoke cyanosis, headache,   stupor, fatigue, tachycardia, coma, convulsions, asphyxia and ultimately   death. Drinking water contaminated with nitrates also has a potential   role in developing cancers of the digestive tract, and has also been   associated with other types of cancer such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma,   bladder and ovarian cancers.

"This case shows that drinking water sources are threatened not just by   pollution from industrial sources like factories, but also by chemical   intensive agricultural practices. Unless the government implements   policies to ensure the proper use and application of fertilizers in   agriculture, we will lose more of our valuable water resources.   Government agencies must implement stronger measures to protect our   groundwater from pollution from agricultural chemicals. Nitrate   pollution must consistently be monitored and prevented, and the   dangerous practice of over-using fertilizers in intensive agriculture is   a serious threat that must be stopped; instead fertilizer subsidies must   be phased out and fertilizer reduction policies implemented," said   Natwipha Ewasakul, Greenpeace Campaigner based in Thailand.

As part of its regional water project launched last September,   Greenpeace has been highlighting freshwater sources in Thailand and the   Philippines that are being threatened by pollution.

"Clean and safe drinking water is a basic human need. We believe that it   is possible to produce food without compromising the integrity of our   water systems. To protect our dwindling freshwater resources,   agriculture--just like industries--must focus on pollution prevention.   Government must adapt a thorough approach at water pollution prevention   and look at policies that will eliminate harmful chemicals from source,   that is, the production process itself," said Greenpeace Southeast Asia   Toxics Campaigner Beau Baconguis.

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