Morrow County Declares Emergency Over Groundwater Nitrate Pollution


By Alex Baumhardt

In an unprecedented action, the Morrow County Commission Thursday declared a local state of emergency over groundwater nitrate pollution that has compromised drinking water for many in the region.

Commissioners Jim Doherty, Melissa Lindsay and Don Russell voted to make the declaration – in effect until the end of the year – establishing the commission to act as an “emergency management agency.” This gives commissioners the authority to establish procedures to “prevent, minimize and respond” to the water pollution issue, and to coordinate with state and federal agencies for emergency financial assistance.

The pollution comes from decades of nitrogen from fertilizers, manure and food processing wastewater seeping into the groundwater and converting to nitrate. Water high in nitrate that is 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 the oxygen moving through an infant’s bloodstream, turning them blue.

An investigation by the Oregon Capital Chronicle found that despite the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s commitment to solving nitrate contamination in Morrow and Umatilla counties three decades ago, the agency failed to regulate and enforce severe penalties on polluters, including the Port of Morrow.

For the complete story, see the Oregon Capital Chronicle website.