Increased concentrations of nitrates in ground water in Burgenland were reported by various media last week. Also in Styria there are problematic regions in this respect.
Nitrate is absorbed and used by plants as nitrogen source. The excess nitrates which are not taken up by plants accumulate in the soil. Water flow from rain and melted snow can wash out the nitrates deeper in the aquifer to the groundwater and through this process nitrates can reach also rivers and lakes. Through intensive human activities, such as agriculture, industry, domestic effluents and emissions from combustion engines it can happen, that the nitrate enters into ground water in increased concentrations, possibly staying there very long depending on the regional renewal times of ground water.
Nitrate in these amounts do not pose a risk to healthy adults but can be harmful to embryos, infants and people with disordered intestine. Long-term exposure to high nitrate levels in drinking water is potentially also associated with thyroid dysfunction and cancer. When the values for nitrates in drinking water exceed the statutory thresholds (currently 50mg/l, or precaution value 45mg/l), the drinking water has to be processed accordingly. This can lead to higher drinking water prices since the processing costs pass to the consumers.
Knowing where and what type of risks to ground water exist can alert water-resource managers and private users of the need to protect water supplies. A regulation of the Austrian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management over the action program 2012 for protection against pollution of the waters by nitrates from agricultural sources should actually prevent the nitrate pollution by strict provisions. In this respect it is quite understandable that there is profound interest to find out the exact sources of the still increasing nitrate concentrations in ground water.
A question where isotope analysis can provide reliable answers. Imprint Analytics provides comprehensive support for environmental forensics and monitoring. More detailed information to the method you can find here.
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