Nitrate is the most common contaminant in aquifers and tap water throughout the world, but its effects on human health remain largely unknown.
A group of international researchers led by Leslie Stayner, professor of epidemiology in the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, will conduct the largest-ever study of the effects of maternal consumption of nitrate-contaminated drinking water on birth outcomes among approximately one million babies born in Denmark.
“There are several animal studies that show high levels of nitrate consumption are linked to adverse birth outcomes, but there are only a handful of studies in humans, and those have relatively low numbers of participants and numerous design limitations,” Stayner said. “We very much need large and well-designed population-based studies to determine what the impact of this very common chemical is on human health.”
Nitrate comes from nitrogen, a plant nutrient supplied by fertilizers and animal manure, both of which are used extensively in farming. While water filtration facilities can remove many contaminants before water reaches homes, most county facilities in the U.S. cannot remove nitrates because the process-called reverse osmosis-is too expensive.
Stayner says Denmark provides “a practical treasure trove for epidemiological research” because its national health care system maintains a high quality database of patient medical records that is made available to qualified researchers. Stayner and his colleagues from Aarhus University in Denmark, the University of Copenhagen, the Geological Survey of Denmark and Iceland, and the Staten Serum Institut of Copenhagen, will examine the medical records of babies born in Denmark between 1997 and 2013, and will look for specific adverse outcomes, such as pre-term delivery, low birth weight,…