Farms, Food Industries to Buy Water Filters for Hundreds in Morrow County

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By Alex Baumhardt

In response to the groundwater nitrate emergency in Morrow County, a coalition of food processors, an industrial dairy and an energy company working out of the Port of Morrow will pay for water filters for hundreds of people with contaminated wells.

The Boardman Chamber of Commerce released a statement Friday saying Beef Northwest, Boardman Foods, Calbee America, Lamb Weston, Oregon Potato, PGE, Threemile Canyon Farms and Tillamook County Creamery Association will contribute to the Morrow County Health Department’s Safe Drinking Water Filtration Project. That project involves distributing reverse-osmosis filters to people who have well water testing higher than federal water safety limits. Reverse-osmosis filters are specialized systems that cost about $220 apiece and are typically installed beneath a sink. They separate nitrates and other contaminants from water molecules.

Morrow County well users draw water from the Lower Umatilla Basin, which has become increasingly contaminated with nitrates during the last 30 years from farm fertilizers, animal manure and wastewater from the Port of Morrow and other area food processors. About 1,300 households in Morrow County draw water from that basin. Many who rely on those wells for drinking water are low-income and Latino.

Water high in nitrates consumed over long periods can lead to stomach, bladder and intestinal cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute, as well as miscarriages and “blue baby syndrome,” inhibiting oxygen from moving through an infant’s bloodstream.

Most of the businesses in the coalition were involved in the launch of a well water testing effort last month in coordination with the County Health Department. County Commissioner Jim Doherty said about 30 water samples were submitted a day for testing early in the effort. They are now getting about 10 to 12 samples each day to test. Doherty said up to 200 samples have come back with nitrate levels above 10 parts per million, the limit established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

For the complete story, see the Oregon Capital Chronicle.